Luke 21:25-36 &1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 1st Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert 29 November 2015
The Kragts, the Ciechanowskis, and the Notos all have new grandchildren. It’s a great when someone has a new baby. We all like to hear the news, to celebrate new life. We want to hear the baby’s name and see photos. We want to hear the mother and infant are healthy. We like certain details, like height, weight, amount and color of hair. What we don’t particularly want to hear is what the exuberant father or mother sometimes is eager to show and tell -- the details of labor and delivery, the blood pressure drop, the epidural needle headache, the bloody details. And yet those factors are a real part of the experience, especially for the woman. As the time draws near, the woman with child must be strong in faith and ready.
Similarly as we approach Thanksgiving, which often involves seeing family, we usually want to know who people are spending time with and where, but usually people are not prepared to hear the details of all the arguments and tensions that came with the holiday. And yet it is a very real part of the experience for most people – that family time can be as challenging and difficult as it is joyful.
Now we are approaching Christmas, and we all want to jump right into the Silent Night and imagine it as a utopian night of birth and a glorious, amazing night it was when God entered the earth as a tiny child. But we don’t want to hear about the mysterious second coming of Christ, but it is a very real part of the tradition of Advent and the ultimate purpose of Christ in making a new creation. We don’t want to think about how this middle eastern couple, Mary and Joseph, looking for a place to lay their heads, and have their child born in safety reminds us of many modern-day Middle Eastern people who have no place in the inn or in any country where they are safe from harm.
Paying attention to the deep hope of Advent, which is the connection between the first coming and second coming of Christ – is the way to stay strong in faith and ready. Being ready for Advent and Christmas has little to do with your tree, your house, or your gift list. It has everything to do with the strength of your Spirit, your hopeful longing for God’s will to come to fullest expression, and your own willingness to act courageously in love and faith. Our two New Testament scriptures today encourage us to be strong in faith and ready. We will read and sing the Psalm in the middle which also reminds to be strong, as we wait for the Lord whose day is near.
"There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27 Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near." 29 Jesus told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God's kingdom is near. 32 I assure you that this generation won't pass away until everything has happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away. 34 "Take care that your hearts aren't dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life. Don't let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth. 36 Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Human One." (CEB)
Now let us sing as we hear our Psalter reading for the day: Psalm 25:1-10 with
Taize music: Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Take heart!
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (NRS)
I bet you have not thought much about the second coming of Christ in the last week. No, if you are like me, you are just trying to get to tomorrow. So why think about something that seems so remote, so far away? I know when my family needs to mobilize, I try to tell them ahead of time. “Leaving for the beach or for the theatre or church in three hours. Everyone be ready.” But when I tell them, no one jumps up to start getting ready. They are thinking that they will be ready when the time comes, and that right now, since there is still time, they need to do nothing. Even more so with the second coming of Christ. I stand here and say to you, my Christian family: Let us prepare ourselves for the second coming of Christ, and all of you yawn, and think “Yes, another day down the road I will do that. There’s no rush.” Perhaps especially when it says in Luke, 32 I assure you that this generation won't pass away until everything has happened. So we think if it did not happen in Biblical times, it’s not happening now. The folks who have tried to predict the exact time have always been wrong. Maybe it is wrong to worry about when, but we should just put our energy into being strong in faith and ready.
Most of the references to return of Christ challenge us to be prepared: Keep your lamps burning. Don’t go to sleep, figuratively speaking. Watch for signs. Stand up straight. Raise your heads. Don’t be careless and drunk, nor racked with anxiety. Stay alert. Be strong. Increase in love for one another and for all.
Strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father.
Isn’t it interesting that long before there was a Christmas celebration as we know it, there was Advent, a waiting and longing for the second coming of Christ. Why is it that the Church has wanted us to think so much about the second coming, as we celebrate the first coming? Perhaps we cannot welcome him rightly to earth celebrating his birth, if we do not know how to welcome him again, to give final birth to the new creation. Christ will come to complete was begun in the Incarnation, the entry of Christ into our humanity and our humanity into the Godhead.
How will you know that Christ has returned, if you are not thinking of Christ, knowing Christ, following Christ, praying fervently to know the mind of Christ, to have the mind of Christ? If you are so busy with many ordinary things, how will you see the changes that alert you? How will you be strong enough to escape and stand before the Lord? We are sometimes too callous and presumptuous, trusting in the boundless grace of God so carelessly that we cannot see how far removed we are from it in our attitudes, in our lifestyle, in our discipleship. Draw near to God, friends. Do not accept the grace of God in vain. Take your faith seriously, I beg you.
Paul prays, actually the word is more like “begs” that he will be able to restore in the church whatever is lacking in their faith. I can relate to that prayer. Every time I preach, I am praying that God will somehow use me to restore your faith, build up your faith, renew your faith, energize your faith. There is nothing more depressing to a pastor than a lukewarm, lackadaisical congregation full of people who care only a little bit about worship and service and sharing Christian love with the world. I want you to leave this place, filled with hope, charged up to go out into the world to love your neighbors, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God, sharing faith gently with others. How bad does this world have to get before you will increase your prayer life and your generosity of spirit?
While accurate numbers are hard to secure, in early autumn, the four year Syrian war toll was that somewhere between 85 and 112 thousand civilians have been killed. Civilians! In this country, 300 people are shot every day in this country, about 2/3 of them live, and the other 1/3 die. That’s about 36 thousand each year. And yet we go on with our busying ourselves with frivolous activities. How can we grow strong in faith, when we ignore the dignity of human life, and consider sports and other entertainment activities more valuable than the worship of God and Bible study of God’s people? I don’t mean to be harsh, but only to point out our weaknesses, yours and mine. If I did not have to preach this week, would I have studied the scripture? How can I inspire you to study? How can I challenge you to grow spiritually? To make this new year a season of growth in faith?
Paul wants God to strengthen the hearts of the Thessalonians in holiness so that they may be blameless before God at the second coming. Jesus in the Gospel of Luke wants the people to be ready when Christ comes with all the saints. Imagine that – Christ coming with all the saints.
Not everything you dream of doing in the holidays can be done. You are busy all year. You cannot add all these extra activities in the holiday season and hope to stay sane. So I invite you simplify on all the layers of tradition we have added to Christmas, and take more time to ponder both the first and second coming of Christ and ask yourself – am I ready, am I strong in faith, will God be pleased with me?