Hope Despite a Tree Cut Down

Preacher: Jenn Hosler

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-8a, 12-13

Date: December 4, 2022

Do you consider yourself a hopeful person? A glass half-full or a glass half-empty kind of person? Or, perhaps a third way, do you see a glass filled with possibilities? You say to yourself, I can work with the amount of water in that glass: it could be poured over that houseplant in need of some refreshment or even be enough to tide you over until you can fill it up again.

We all have different temperaments and different baseline levels of optimism. Yet regardless of our individual temperaments, our culture and media can push all of us toward alarm, panic, and even despair. When there is incessant “breaking news” and media is biased toward the negative, there is almost always something to be alarmed about. Is it healthy to be caught up in the cycles of outrage and despair? Isn’t it appropriate to have dread for the state of our climate or country? Shouldn’t we be paying attention to all of the bad? Well, there is, after all, an Advent Scripture where Jesus warns his disciples to “Keep awake” (Matthew 24:36-44). If Jesus says, “Keep awake,” shouldn’t we be paying attention to all of the alarming things? Yes and No.

One illustration that came to mind as I pondered this was found in a television show that Nate and I are rewatching. The Mysterious Benedict Society is cute and funny and has Tony Hale, so it’s both wholesome and pretty sharp for adults too. In their world, no one can stop talking about “The Emergency” – it is not clear what the emergency is, but everyone is worried, frantic, and on the verge of panic. People keep repeating the same message as they worry, “it’s like there’s no one at the wheel.” We learn in short order that this ambiguous “Emergency” is being fed by subliminal messaging, telling people to prepare and panic.

A high latent level of uneasiness, dread, and panic can sound pretty familiar. There is a lot of legitimate bad in our world, past and present:  hateful politics, racism, bigotry, climate change, environmental degradation, economic injustice, and more. How do we recognize this while also not falling into a state of anxiety and constant doom scrolling for the latest injustice?

I’ve seen several recent guidelines or articles from mental health advocates that explain how we can get caught up in endless anxiety and doom scrolling about our world. “When uncertainty is high, it can cause anxiety. One way we cope with this anxiety is by seeking as much information as possible” (Bullis, 2020). Unfortunately, “Staying glued to the news actually increases our anxiety in the long-term because it contributes to the false belief that if we have enough information, we can remain in control.” We keep going back for more news in the desire to get things under our control, which, as most of us know, are not.

“Our extra exposure to what is going on in the world around us can be a positive thing – it can help us gain more knowledge, more empathy, and more power to make a difference. But in order to be best equipped to use this information to better our own lives and the lives of others, we must ensure our minds are best prepared to manage the stress it has the potential to cause.”

So back to the question about paying attention to all of the bad, I would say that yes, it is important to know what is going on in our world, ideally by tuning in to channels or websites or media that offer a balanced perspective. But at the same time, we need to avoid the 24/7 news cycle and venues that feed our doom scrolling or offer sensationalized news. We can limit how much we take in and self-reflect on both what we can control (and can’t control). We focus our mental and emotional energies on how we can make a difference. These are some of the recommendations from mental health providers. Keep awake, in a measured way that protects your mental health.

You may be saying, “Okay, Jenn, all and good. How do you connect this with Advent?” Advent, my friends and siblings, is about hope. Hope amidst harm, amidst devastation, amidst injustice. In a world with a lot of harm – including a lot of harm caused by Christians—it can be hard not to be overwhelmed with pain, loss, and grief at the pervasiveness at how broken our world has been, continues to be, and will likely be in the near future. Even if we aren’t doom scrollers ourselves, the inordinate and weighty amount of grief in our world is massively heavy.

Our theme for Advent this year is Holy Rhythms and our theme for this Sunday is hope.

Hope is believing, despite the relevant terrible evidence, that there is a future of wholeness up ahead. Hope is not just belief or feeling but includes action: acting in faith. Hope involves acting as if the relevant evidence is not the end of the story. In Advent, we remind ourselves to practice hope. Hope is a rhythm, an intentionality.

The rhythm of Advent is meant to remind us, jar us out of our tunnel vision and our doom scrolling. It is meant to remind of us holy hope. Not a Pollyanna lens where we only focus on the glad things. Advent helps to give us some holy bifocals, in a way. With these holy bifocals, we can see the terrible harm and also the prophesied wholeness. We can see oppression and we can also glimpse the Spirit of God also at work in this world.  Holy hope, like that in our Isaiah passage, gives us space to mourn oppression and pollution, gives us lamentations and words to cry out for justice and accountability.  Holy hope reminds us that we are not alone and that the end of the story is not bleak: we look ahead to the Trumpet Child who heralds the hope of God.

Our text in Isaiah 11:1-10 guides us into the practice of holy hope. Isaiah’s message here is one of new life after devastation, of a righteous ruler after corrupt and oppressive leaders, of justice for the poor and the meek, of historic enemies being reconciled beyond imagination, of ecological wholeness.

This is our Advent hope – that God will deliver, send a sprout out of the stump or the burned tree, raise up a righteous ruler to bring an end to injustice, and that our world will be redeemed and reconciled in almost unfathomable ways, like children, snakes, and lions cavorting.

Sisters and brothers, God is still at work and God is still working to usher in God’s promises. How can we look beyond what the news cycle points us towards and find testimony for what God is doing in this world?

I’d like to share one example of an issue where, at times, it feels like so much is painful and broken, but the story beyond the headlines is one of resilience and hope. Indigenous communities in North America continue to struggle with the legacy of displacement and forced removal, staggering amounts of abduction and violence against indigenous women, and systematic oppression of Native cultures and languages. Yet despite what some might call bleak circumstances, God is at work, empowering people to preserve their cultures and re-establish their languages. I’d like to share a video highlighting the work of Alaskan Indigenous women to translate the Old Testament into their Iñupiak language, a language diminished and almost lost due to a legacy of oppression.

            Despite the systematic oppression of their languages and the pain that colonization has brought, these Inuit sisters in Christ are acting in hope. Hope of a future, hope grounded in knowing that their language and culture have worth, dignity and value in the image of God.

This is our Advent hope – that God will deliver, send a sprout out of the stump, raise up a righteous ruler to bring an end to injustice, and that our world will be redeemed and reconciled beyond what we can imagine.

“May the God of hope fill you 

with all joy and peace in believing, 

so that you may abound in hope 

by the power of the Holy Spirit.” AMEN


Bullis, J. (2020). Is Watching the News Making Your Anxiety Worse? Tips for Staying Informed and Managing Anxiety? Retrieved from https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/watching-news-making-your-anxiety-worse-tips

Headspace. (n.d.). How to deal with news anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.headspace.com/stress/news-anxiety

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