Advent I, Year C
December 3, 2006
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; and, Luke 21:25-36
+ Lord Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace: By your Incarnation you reveal to us the vision of one world where all peoples live together as children of the Creator of All: As we once more prepare the way for you, help us to remember to thank you for those who, following in your footsteps, continue to draw our hearts to an understanding of common needs, and who challenge us to live generously. Confirm in us our purpose to obey your will, that we may with joyous anticipation, prepare our hearts and our world for the coming of your righteous reign, now and forever. Amen.
In an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip – this conversation takes place.
In the first frame Calvin speaks to Hobbes and says: "Live for the moment is my motto. You never know how long you got".
In the second frame he explains: "You could step into the road tomorrow and WHAM, you get hit by a cement truck! Then you'd be sorry you put off your pleasures. So I say - live for the moment."
And then he asks Hobbes: "What's your motto?"
Hobbes replies: "My motto is – ‘Look down the road’."
Today's scripture readings call us to be wary: to look down the road for what is coming towards us. The readings are summed up by the promise that God made to us through the words of 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 will execute justice and righteousness in the Land." (Jeremiah 33:14)
This raises a lot of questions. What does this ‘fulfilled promise’ mean to us, here and now? What does it mean when Jesus says to us that there is a day coming when the Son of Man will come to us in a cloud with power and great glory? What do these promises mean in the midst of our busy lives, when our jobs, our families, and yes, even our church ask us for time and hours that we do not seem to have? What do these promises about the future mean when we are giving our all in the “now reality” of the present, when we are trying to be so many things to so many different people? What do these promises mean as we continue to read in the papers and see on television the senseless horrors that continue throughout the world; the threat of terrorism at home and a what appears to many to be a foolhardy and some would say senseless war abroad? Finally, what does this promised fulfillment mean in the context of the threats of schism, either real or imagined, within our church, and our government’s almost daily attempts to backpedal on basic human rights? So many questions.
It is probably no surprise that Jeremiah was not one of Judah’s favorite prophets. He was born into the priestly family of Abiathar whom Solomon had deprived of his office. He was a supporter of Josiah’s reforms, but when Josiah died and was replaced by Jehoiakim, idolatry once more crept back into the life and worship of Judah. It was from that moment that Jeremiah proclaimed the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
Jeremiah was always aware of his close union with God and of the value and responsibility of the individual. While he denounced the sins of Judah and proclaimed their coming punishment, he loved the people passionately and constantly interceded to God on their behalf. His many sufferings, caused by the ingratitude and misunderstanding of the people, as well as his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and his weeping over the doomed city are viewed as a foreshadowing of the life of Christ.
In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he refers to concerns that have reached him involving members of that community who had died and were believed would not be included in the realm of God upon Jesus’ triumphal return. The faithful believed that the day of the Lord was at hand, and as a result, were able to have confidence and perseverance in the face of almost constant persecutions. Paul seeks in this letter to reassure them. “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 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. And may God so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:10-13) For the people in Thessalonica, this was a prayer of hope in the midst of perceived hopelessness.
Our lessons for this morning take on a heightened sense of prophecy for us here and now as a result of the events we have shared at various times and places over the last five years. Terrorist attacks, war, corporate corruption and an economy that has not been overly generous all function together to make us feel that our lives are neither safe nor secure. Yet in spite of all this, today’s readings point us to a future when, as Luke says, “…you know that the realm of God is near,” (Luke 21:30) offering us reassurance in light of all signs to the contrary.
The Season of Advent gives us the chance to reflect upon our spiritual journey over the past year. A time to prayerfully set new goals, to begin again with renewed hope the next chapter in the journey of our lives. Advent for us should literally mean “the coming of the Second Coming.” A time when the church calendar begins a new cycle of lessons – Year C in our three-year lectionary cycle – with it’s particular focus on the Gospel of Luke.
The cosmologists tell us that if we look through the great Hubble* telescope floating weightlessly out there around us, not only may we see all the way out to the edge of space, but also, to the edge of time. The reason for this, we've learned, is that space and time are two sides of the same coin and were actually created simultaneously and inseparably in such a way that one simply may not exist apart from the other.
This new season of Advent returns each year, quietly, gently, without store-window decor or newspaper ads and thanks be to God, with absolutely no mall or elevator music dedicated to its cause.
It is actually a season to pity. For Advent, ever so much as its partner Christmas which gets all the press, suggests something in our human becoming, our human maturing that is very important not to overlook. That "something" is very similar to these new notions we've learned about time and space.
The stories from our family history we read through these days sound changes over and over on two great biblical themes of expectation: Blessed Baptiser John's clarion call, which brings anxiety for all, and Blessed Mary's baby, an anxiety of her very own. Advent gathers both these in one and points to the mysterious union of matter and spirit caught up in the star-crossed saving event of Christmas. And it is Christmas that brings the great themes of judgment and redemption into focus.
At first glance, this morning’s lessons hardly appear to be any sort of “Good News.” Today’s Gospel reading in particular portrays at first glance scenes of terror and violence…especially the picture that Luke paints for us of the skies just prior to Our Lord’s arrival. When you first read it, it seems that Jesus’ Second Coming is so violent and destructive that anyone with a bit of common sense will want to flee and run away “…to the valleys for safety.” We are told that the mountains will crumble and that “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.” (Luke 21:26). And yet in the midst of these uncertainties, we are given the assurance that this will be “…because our redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27)
But if the purpose of the second coming is to save us, why would we want to run away? It would seem that we are supposed to stand still and be ready for that redemption, whenever it might come. Luke also tells us that if we believe, we will know how to read the signs of the time…we will not be taken by surprise. And if we are always ready, always prepared, then there is very little chance that we will be caught unexpectedly.
This passage from Luke includes the reference to the sprouting of the fig tree and all of the other trees as a sign of the approaching summer – the time of new growth and life that comes at the end of winter. Despair and hope often go hand-in-hand. Luke’s message for us is the merging of the reality of despair and the boundless hope and faith that is the Gospel. While we are in this life and all of the things going on around us that lead us down the path to hopelessness and despair, even in the midst of all this we can find the seeds for the hope of a bright future – one in which Christ will be totally present with us. Faith, like the tiny mustard seed of the familiar parable, grows into a magnificent shrub in which birds make their nests and animals find shelter. This is the central message of the final Advent of our Lord.
In many of our lives there are times when violent events take on the appearance of being a foreshadowing of the end of time. There are times when we, like Elijah, if you remember how the story goes, hiding in the cave on Mt. Horeb, times when we are tempted to hide in caves of indifference, and are not willing to make a real commitment to our beliefs. We may be so disturbed by the violence of the storms swirling around us in our lives that we want to hide in fear, even from that still, small voice of reassurance that comes from within the deepest parts of our soul.
No matter what form fear of the unknown may take in our lives, we need to come out of the darkness of our hiding places, embrace and face the Lord of Light. We need to take stock of how our lives have been blessed by God, and especially during this past calendar year as it draws to a close. We need to ask ourselves what the best way would be to say "thank you" to God for all of our many blessings. Not only with the spiritual love that we carry in our hearts, but in the practical love that we show forth in the world with the work of our hands.
Hearts to love, Hands to serve. You will hear these words from me again and again in the year to come – it is the central theme that I want to use for our personal and corporate stewardship. It is not some catchy slogan to be bandied about and then forgotten; it is a mantra for our lives lived out together here at Grace Church in the here and now. Each and every one of us, with hearts to love and hands to serve. I invite each of you to hold it in your thoughts as we make our journey through Advent. Make it your personal prayer. “Lord, give me a heart to love and hands to serve.” Let these words shape and show this community, this diocese, this church and this nation who we are as the community of faith here at Grace.
If you want to welcome the coming Christ with joy into your hearts and homes this season, do not be distracted for a single moment by distant rumblings in the mountains, nor by signs in the sun, the moon or the stars, or by the distress among nations that are confused by the roaring of the sea and of the waves (Luke 21:25). For, as it is noted in the third verse of the sequence hymn we sang a few moments ago: “Christ shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth, and love, joy, hope, like flowers spring in his path to birth. Before him on the mountains shall peace the herald go; and righteousness in fountains from hill to valley flow!” (Hymnal 1982, #616, v. 3). Amen.