Monday, December 3, 2012

First Sunday in Advent

Sunday 2nd December was the first Sunday in advent for 2012. I was asked to preach at the 8.00am service and this is what I shared below.

Advent – The season of preparation which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and in which the church recalls its hope and expectancy in the comings of Christ, past, present and future. The days are often titled Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. 

Today is the first Sunday in Advent – Hope.

A time of expectant hope, like Mary, of the birth of Jesus our Saviour and Lord.

Why are these four weeks before Christmas called “Advent”? The term comes from a Latin word (adventus) meaning ‘coming, arrival’. We immediately think it refers to the coming of Jesus at Christmastime and that is correct. But it is not the whole story.

In fact, we can speak of three comings of the Lord and all are referred to in the Scripture readings today.

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Luke 21:25-36 
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 
Three ‘comings’ 

The First Reading from the prophet Jeremiah refers prophetically to the coming of Jesus, our King and Saviour: 
Jeremiah 33: 14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.
15 “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety, This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.’
That is the coming of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, which we anticipate and prepare for in these four weeks. That is what we may call the First Coming.

In Luke 21:25-36 Jesus is talking…we read
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this 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 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
This speaks in ominous terms of the end of the world and what we refer to as the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time.

It’s funny how signs continue to be predicted, watched for and ignored. Jeremiah and Jesus foretold coming events, some which were quite hopeful while others are more than a little unsettling. And there were the predictable ones like those seen in nature. We know that as days become shorter, leaves will fall from branches, winds will increase, skies darken and the cold of winter will be upon us. But now the leaves are appearing on the trees and the days are getting longer. But with it comes the dry scorching heat that can cause drought and crops to perish. Since all of these are normal, they don’t alarm us in any way. But when we think of end times we tend to do one of two things: disregard or hunker down in a bunker.

In this passage we must not get lost in all the dire signs and warnings. The point of them is neither to scare us nor to lead us astray into calculating particular dates and events. Instead, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (vs. 28). The promise is that in these events, God’s gracious purposes are being worked out; the divine promises are being kept. Even though it may seem like the world and our lives are out of control, God’s word of promise is given to us so that we will not be drawn into despair or cynicism. And God’s word will not pass away (vs. 33—another promise).
The focus is not on the apocalyptic signs but on the God who is at work.
It is not on the quality of an individuals faith or on one’s focused hoping but on the faithfulness of God, who will carry out the His divine redemption in spite of all we believe we see. The redemption here in this passage is not thought of primarily as forgiveness of sins but as rescue from tribulation as God defeats hostile forces.
This is a time not for predicting or trying to convince the world that the “End is Nigh”, but for testimony (v 13-15). Our testimony. Such testimony will involve both words and faithful actions of people like us infected by hope: we will ourselves be signs, our hope will be contagious, and some around us may also be infected with what is seen in us.

A few years ago, an elderly resident of a nursing home was found fully dressed sitting expectantly in her chair at bedtime. The staff person who discovered her chided: “Lucy, what are you doing? You know it’s time for bed. Now let’s get you into your night gown.”
With a smile on her face, Lucy responded: “No, I’m waiting for Jesus. He’s coming tonight.”
Following her announcement, the attendant figuratively rolled her eyes then insisted that Lucy prepare not for Jesus but for bed. After some resistance, Lucy, the weaker of the two, was forced to give in, dress in night clothes and get into bed. The staff person left but when she looked in the room a short time later, Lucy was dead. Her expression was peaceful for Jesus had, as she earlier predicted, come for her. Then it was that the attendant realized she had ignored the signs.

We read “Lift up your heads,” “Be always on the watch,” “Be careful”; these are not merely bits of moral advice from a great teacher. They are God’s word to all to whom the promises have been given, to encourage us to hope, prayer, endurance, testimony, and faithful obedience in the knowledge that our lives have a place in the great purposes of God as those have been decisively worked out in Jesus Christ.

This then is the Third Coming which forms an important and indispensable link between the First and Second Comings. That is what is spoken about in the Reading from 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
It is the welcoming of Jesus into our lives in the here and now. This is something which should take place every day. By it we both acknowledge the First Coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and prepare for the Second Coming at an unknown future date.

The birth of Christ in itself never saved anyone, but in the whole career of Jesus—his birth, teachings, deeds, crucifixion, and resurrection—the God of heaven and earth has drawn near to redeem us, and this work is being carried to completion even now. When we ask Jesus into our hearts and believe in the promises of redemption and the forgiveness of sins we are saved.
This message gives the church a “reason for hope.”

If we want to celebrate the First Coming of Jesus and prepare for his Second Coming, then the way to do it is to be aware of his coming into every moment of every day.
In the journey of life be aware of your surroundings, of the people around you. You may admire the beauty of a morning sky or the loveliness of trees or buildings you pass on your way. The journey and the destination are part of our reality. The going is as important as the arriving and one contributes to the other.

Even though both Jeremiah and Jesus proclaimed the coming destruction of Jerusalem, they also carried messages of hope. The end of one era would be followed by a more glorious and peaceful one. Both the prophet and Jesus called the people to be alert, to pay attention to the signs, like the fig tree and other trees, around them. There would be grief in one time followed by joy in another …the time between end times and beginning times.
According to Jeremiah: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
Jesus said: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

High school English teacher Leonard Beechy commenting on the lectionary passages for this day thinks of this time between the first and second comings of Christ as twilight time. Beechy writes, “Celtic folk called it, the time between the times, the enchanted moments at dusk and at dawn when the veil between his world and the world beyond us is thin, and we seem to breathe its air…The church exists to remind us that we live in the time between the times, between what is dying and what is being born, between the ‘already’ of Christ’s reign and the ‘not yet’ of Advent.” (Leonard Beechy, The Christian Century, November 17, 2009, p. 21)

Soon the signs of the season will be everywhere. Banners hang. Trees stand adorned. Lights shine from roof tops and windows. Music fills the air. We stand in the in-between-time, addressing our shortcomings, letting go of all that gets in the way of our faith, and preparing for the beauty that is promised, the Child who will bring new life to a dying world.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down…with the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly…Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

 All scripture is taken from New International Version 1984

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