I’ve talked about the downfall of my hometown of Flint, Michigan before. I’ve told you about what Flint was like growing up in the 1970s and 80s and how it is so different now. Sometimes when I think about Flit, I think about ruins. If you were to drive around the city, it’s not too long before you find wide swaths of land that is devoid of anything except a giant concrete slab that stretches for acres and miles. Travel pass the large Buick complex where my Dad worked. This was a huge complex, Donald Trump huge. The Buick complex was miles long. It would start just north of downtown and go almost to the city limits. That’s all gone now and what is left is…basically nothing.
When you read Isaiah 61 this what comes to my mind. The glory days are gone and all that is left is, a whole lot of nothing.
There is one former auto factory in Flint that I find interesting. It was a Chevy plant located just west of downtown Flint. Because it was set at the bottom of a hill, it had a nickname: “Chevy in the Hole.” Like most of the auto plants I knew as a kid, it has been torn down and there was a giant slab left. But that’s not how it was left. I will get back to that in a moment.
In Isaiah 61, we find a people that are at a loss for words. This passage was written during a time when the people of Israel who had been in exile for decades were allowed to return. When they were taken into exile, they were going to live in the Babylonian empire. Over time, the Persian empire defeated the Babylonians. It was common practice among the Persians to allow people of conquered territories to return and set up their lands as provinces of Persia. A number of Israelites made the journey back to the Promised Land. They carried with them dreams; dreams that the elderly have about the good old days and dreams that the young who never had been there, but had heard stories of a grand place. Maybe they’d need to do a little dusting off, but things would be wonderful, things would be normal.
But it wasn’t.
This when reality hits. Jerusalem was destroyed. The temple was ruined. All in all this wasn’t what people were hoping for.
Into this sadness, comes this prophet who tells the people that God’s Spirit is on them to preach good news to the poor (maybe the people who didn’t leave), binding up the brokenhearted (those who returned) and preaching liberty to the captives, those who are still in Persia. He fashions a world using the practice of the Year of Jubilee, where things are set to right. The desolated cities will become gleaming new metropolises teaming with human life. Things are bleak now, but the prophet says better things are around the corner.
The people hearing this message had to trust and hope that things woud be better. They would never live to see the full restoration. At the end of the day all they could do is hope.
Here’s the thing: hope doesn’t depend on us. It doesn’t happen our time schedule. We must have hope that things won’t always stay the same even though that hope is a ways off. Think about all of the people who worked for civil rights and never got to see the passage of laws that made my life easier. Maybe Martin Luther King’s best speech was his final sermon the day before he died and talked about never seeing the Promised Land of Civil Rights. But he had a vision of what was coming and that gave him hope. Hope comes, it may not come in the time we want or in the way we expect, but it does come.
Advent is a time of waiting and expectation. Our theme, On the Verge of a Miracle, tells us that hope will happen and we must take part in that hope. We wait for a Savior to heal us and make us whole. But we wait for this arrival even when it seems the world is falling down around us. We are all waiting and hoping for something. Maybe we have an illness and we are waiting to be healed. Maybe we are in need of employment and have to wait, because that is the job process. There are those who have no home or no food and are waiting for food or for money. There are those who depress and wait to have the sun shine again and life their depression. We are waiting and we cry to God asking why we have to wait. The only thing we know is that we have to wait, but what this passage tells us is that we aren’t forgotten. God is with us and hope is on the way.
As Christians, we are called to be bearers of hope. This is what today’s gospel reading is all about. Jesus uses this passage from Isaiah to announce his mission in the world and this is the mission we are called to do. We do that in our acts of kindness and justice, from giving food to the hungry to befriending the lonely. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.
So I was going to tell you about Chevy in the Hole. Like I said earlier this had been a Chevy plant for decades and in its last few years was the Westside plant for AC Spark Plug. But as the auto industry contracted, excess plants like Chevy in the Hole weren’t needed, so the plant closed.
The big question back home is what you do with these massive spaces. In many cases, they are considered brownfields because of the decades of industrial use. With Chevy in the Hole, the site was cleaned up and something happened, something hopeful in a city that has been short on hope. The old plant was on both sides of the Flint River and the idea started to germinate to make some of this area a park. Some 50,000 pounds of topsoil was brought in to cover up the concrete slab. Over time, trees and grass will grow over what was just a concrete slab. In a city that has had to deal with the loss of its principal industry and most recently water you couldn’t drink, trees will sprout up, a sign of new life where there was once death. What was Chevy in the Hole becomes Chevy Commons, the new name for this new park.
This is what hope is like. This is what Advent is like. We all find ourselves in holes that are barren and there seems to be no likelihood things will change. And yet, where there was emptiness, hope starts to grow.
In these fearful times, we don’t know what the future holds. We see things that makes us doubt hope can be found. But know this: hope is coming. Just will arrive. Maybe not how you expect, but it is on the way. There can be Advent even in the Hole.