Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent – December 2nd, 2018

Text: Luke 21:25-36 (RSV)

The Coming of the Son of Man

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Exhortation to Watch

34 “But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; 35 for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. 36 But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man.”

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

Andy Williams got it right: This really is the most wonderful time of the year!

When most of us think of this time, we can’t help but think of the Christmas story. We think of the angel appearing to Mary, we think of the journey to Bethlehem, and most of all we think of the Baby born in that manger. We think of these stories, which we have heard since we were children, and they’re really dear to us and help make this season special. It’s very hard not to think of Christmas – the stores are full with Christmas decorations, the Christmas carols are on the radio, Christmas specials on TV have already begun. Christmas is literally in the air.

I love this time of year. Mostly I love it because of the excitement all the children I know feel. I remember with fondness – and a little sadness – all those seasons of years past when my kids were small. I think back on all the gatherings of friends and family, some of whom are no longer with us. And I wouldn’t trade even one of these memories for all the gold in the world.

There are so many reasons why this is the most wonderful time of the year, and they all seem to feed on each other. We’re looking forward to the great day of the celebration of the Birth of Christ. The message of Advent is about the coming and arrival of Jesus – Savior and long promised Messiah. An angel of the Lord appeared to Shepherds and announced, “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior – yes, the Messiah, (Xristos – anointed one) The Lord – has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!” There can be no news greater or more welcome than that God has personally decided to intervene on our behalf.

Good News. Great joy. For all people. Who wouldn’t feel good hearing that?

And, because of what’s coming, this season really is full of hope. No matter what happens, we have that sense of the “sure and certain hope” that God is here with us, upholding us with his victorious right hand.

Because of that underlying sense of hope, this season tends to be one of increased fellowship – family gatherings, parties, children’s school and church programs, and so on.

That list is anything but exhaustive, but it illustrates the truth of what Alexander Pope once wrote: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” (Even though I quoted that in this month’s Chatter, it’s definitely worth repeating this morning!)

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (16:9)

The Gospel lesson for this morning is also a call for us to hope – even though it might not seem like it. It’s easy for us to get hung up on the images conjured up when we read about “men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world” and about the powers of the heavens being shaken. This is what’s been called the “little apocalypse” of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus talks about his Second Coming. Yet we also read “And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Last week, the theme was about submitting ourselves to the will of God for us – not in the sense of being slaves or robots, but in the sense of putting God in the driver’s seat of our lives. And this fits with the theme today of hope. What could be more hope-inspiring than knowing that God has your back?

What we are called on to do this week is the watch, wait, and prepare ourselves for the Coming of Jesus. The color of the season gives us a clue. The liturgical color for both Advent and Lent is purple. Purple is not only the color of royalty – and certainly, Jesus, being of the House of David, was royalty – but also the color of somberness and reflection. It is the color of waiting and penitence. It is the color of preparation of one’s soul.

For that is what Advent is. It is a time when we take a close look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves the questions like: How am I living out my call to be a follower of Jesus? How am I offering my humanity in his service? How am I serving others? Is the hope that Jesus represents growing in my life? How is the work of my hands becoming the Word made flesh, as I go about my daily tasks? Am I practicing patience during this season of waiting?

These are important questions, and we ask them by way of getting ready for that unbelievably magnificent, earth-shattering, and universe-changing event of the Birth of Christ, Immanuel, God-With-Us.

Our joy and happiness are not the product of our gift-giving, or parties, or time off from work, or even from seeing old friends and being with our families – all of this rests on something much deeper: The hope that, yes, this Christ Child is also our God, who loves us infinitely, and who will set all things right

We know that life can be hard.  That’s why the color for this season is purple – the color of penitence and preparation, as well as royalty. We read of people, we know people, who hate this time of year. They hate it because they don’t feel happy, or optimistic, or joyful. The hope we’ve been talking about this morning seems to have passed them by. Instead, they’re anxious, sad, even depressed. All the gaiety around them just seems to make things worse.

The fact is that no one escapes living.  And certainly, not one of us has been immune to sadness, or disappointment, or heartache.

And yet … it is because that life can be hard that our hope is so great and so real.

Dr. Jeffrey London puts it this way: “The redemption that is ours in Jesus Christ is not some sort of luxury cruise through the calm waters of the Sea of Pain-Be-Gone. God’s plan has never been to insulate His people from the rain that falls, but to prepare us for the storms that come our way.”

There can be no rainbow without the rain.

So, Advent is not a time for ignoring the unpleasant facts of the world around us. We’re not called on to just paint a happy smile on our faces and “get into the Christmas spirit.” We are called to take stock of our lives, not to make ourselves miserable, but to simply take a clear-eyed look at what is good and what needs changing. This is what Jesus is doing in today’s lesson – he’s making a truthful assessment of the world as it is to remind us of how much we need that coming Kingdom of God. A point that we shouldn’t miss is this: What seem to be signs of disaster are actually signs of God’s working in the world, signs that God is present and acting in human history, working inside the good things, and even the bad things, to bring about a glorious victory, a new creation where mourning and crying and pain will be no more, where God himself will wipe away every tear.

That is God’s promise; and God always delivers.  We have hope today because we now God is present and active in the world, all the time, rain or shine.

So, for us, a key point in Advent is: Don’t lose heart. We are covered by the presence of the King of Kings. This is all adding up to something, Jesus tells us. And that something will be mind-blowingly great!

Grounds for hope indeed!

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.