Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19                           Hope on a Rope


            Let me start with having you all do something for me. The passage in Psalm 80 starts with the idiom “Give ear.” What should that mean? Is that the same as merely listening? It is a different verb than is used in other passages that ask us to listen or hear, such as Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear O Israel the Lord your God is One.” This verb is not “Shema” but rather “Ozen” in the Hebrew. It will mean to literally cup your ears with your hands to help your hearing. So, go ahead and cup one ear with your hand and lean in as if you are trying to hear me. Now do the other ear. Now both ears together. Now say “mooooo.” You are so silly.

            Just to be sure, however, the Psalms are songs that were sung in the court of King David. Some were written by him. In fact, most Psalms are attributed to him. This one is not his. This song was written by a musician named Asaph. We see his name at the beginning of the text. We know nothing about this man, except that he was “a sap.” Ha ha ha.


            Our theme for this Sunday of Advent is “Hope.” Now, just like the verb “ozen” in Hebrew has a physical action attributed to it, so does the verb “to hope” in Hebrew. The word in Hebrew is “tikvah.” It is literally the word for “rope.” I will ask you to imagine that you are stuck in a deep dark hole. Let us say that you are stuck down a well somewhere. It is dark and dank. You look up and see the light of the sun at the mouth of the well. Sadly, there is no way for you to climb out by yourself. The sides of the hole are smooth and slippery. You call up to see if there is anyone on the top side that can assist you to ascend out of the depth of darkness. Then, when all seems lost, the shining face of your savior appears, looking down to see you in your utter distress.

            “Tikvah,” that is a rope, is lowered down from the top of the well. So, the rope is your only hope! You grab hold. You hold on to hope. You are too weak to pull yourself up, so you really on the strength of the one in the light of day to draw you up to salvation.

            When I was much, much younger, I was in the town of Mykene in Greece at the ancient citadel or acropolis where Agmemnon himself once ruled. At the top of the city, there is a well shaft that goes down several flights of steep rock steps to a quiet pool of water. I am fairly sure that tourists are not allowed down there anymore, but back in the 70's they had a rope for the tourists to hang onto to make it back up out of the darkness. In fact, that was your only hope as there was no natural light down there.

            Even in English, not just Hebrew, we have an understanding that we can “Hold on to hope.” We actually do not “hold onto” other good feelings. WE do not, for instance, say “hold on to love.” We just keep on loving! Yes, we have an understanding that we must hold onto hope. Just imagine that there is a rope descending from the ceiling of the church right here. You are in deepest despair but you find this rope that has been lowered by God that will lead you to your salvation and God is ready to do the heavy lifting to bring you back up out of your slump.


            I need to ask all of you a very serious question now: Is holding onto hope the same as “waiting around” for something? I bring this up because in Spanish, and I grew up in a Spanish speaking town East of Los Angeles, the words “wait” and “hope” are the same word. I am waiting for my meal to come “Estoy muy esperando de mi comida” is saying “I am hoping for my dinner.” 

            Are you stuck in the pit of despair waiting to die? Or, are you looking up to the light with the hope of the rope of salvation coming down to you? Christians hold on to hope! I have been asked this question so many times from non-Christians that it is almost becoming like a cliche. Christians are a hopeful group of people. What makes Christians different than others? WE HOPE. We are not just waiting around kind of people! We are always looking up to God, to the light of our salvation.

            Saint Paul himself makes this point to the Church in Rome in Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. . . “ In Rome, while he was imprisoned and about to face his own martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ, Saint Paul had hope of his release and continuing ministry so much so that he wrote to others that he would be coming to stay with them shortly. In other words, he was not just waiting to die. Yet, his hope was always in just serving the Lord.

            In the Old Testament we have the story of Rahab the Harlot in Jericho. You all might be wondering what that story has to do with Christmas?! Check out the “begats” in the first chapter of Matthew. In verse 5 we see that Rahab the Harlot was the mother of Boaz, husband of Ruth, in the line of King David, meaning in the ancestry of Jesus himself! You see, it is all connected! It is all part of God’s plan!

            In Joshua 2, we read how it is that Joshua was about to cross the Jordan and come into the Promised Land. The first city that needed to be taken was Jericho. Joshua sent two spies into the city to check out the lay of land, as it were. They come to Rahab the harlot. They promise her that if she helps them, she will be spared death when the invasion begins. When the guards come for the spies, she hides them and tells the guards that the men have already left. Early the next morning, she lets them escape down a rope from her window in the outer wall of the city. The spies tell her to put a red rope in her window so that she and her family will escape destruction when the walls of Jericho fall. Again, the rope is her hope! God will save her because she believed.

            In Acts 9:24 and on we see the story of Saint Paul being lowered by a rope over the city walls of Ephesus when a riotous mob wants to cause him harm. The rope was his hope.


            What happens if you do not have hope to hold onto in this life? When I was a boy I went on a hike with friends out at Joshua Tree National Park in California. At one point on the trail, one needs to hug the cliffside and walk along a ledge of sandstone. We were not roped together. Part of the ledge gave way beneath me. I ended up falling quite a distance down the cliff–about fifty feet. Those who saw it happen mentioned that I was extremely fortunate because the rocks were falling with me and I could have been crushed after landing. I was able to roll out of the way of the debris. Somehow I did not break any bones as well. I was a scraped up bloody mess, but I was able to walk out with eventually just bruises and bandages. It would have been better if we had had a rope. Getting out was very difficult.

            Being tied to someone else makes all the difference! Do not try to make it through this life without a good solid rope to others around you as well as that rope that you can hold onto that has been lowered for your salvation from God through Jesus Christ. If you do fall, you can only fall so far and you will make it out alive again.


            I have to admit that thus far in this sermon I have somewhat misrepresented God and Jesus. I have been talking about how God’s face will shine on us as God lowers a rope to us and pulls us back up to heaven. Well, the truth of the matter is that Jesus actually comes down that rope to save us. You see, we are so hurt and injured in the bottom of the pit in which we find ourselves, we cannot even just hold onto that rope. Jesus comes down, picks us up off the dirty floor, and carries us back up in his arms. That is the reference to the shepherd of Israel. Jesus is the one who comes after the lost sheep and carries us home again.

            Do you all recall the story of Jesus at the well in Samaria? Jacob’s well? John 4:6-15 tells us that Jesus went out of his way to be at that well while a woman was there who was in the deepest sin and turmoil in her life. Jesus went to her. She did not go to him. In fact, she tells him that a “Jew should not even be talking to a Samaritan.” Jesus responds by telling her of her life and the need for repentance. She is saved. She goes back and tells everyone about Jesus.

            At the time of the resurrection, Easter, we know that Jesus was in the tomb for three days. The apostles’ creed tells us, and this is biblically supported, that Jesus descended into the pit of hell. He climbs down that rope for us! This is our most sincere hope. WE are not just grasping a rope, we are holding onto Jesus–our hope.

            Just like in the song “Mary, Did You Know?” Mary is holding onto the baby Jesus, she is actually holding onto the savior who will in turn bring her back up to heaven! Mary’s hope is our hope today!