December 3, 2006 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 21:25–21:36
First Sunday in Advent
Happy new year! Lest you think that your senior pastor has had a premature senior moment, let me explain: today we celebrate the First Sunday in Advent. This is the beginning of the church year, and so it is a new year-not the calendar year, not the school year, not the fiscal year, but the church year. The plaques on the balcony wall of our sanctuary illustrate the different seasons of the church year, beginning with Advent. Advent means "to come," and the One who is coming is the One who has already come, and the One who comes now: Jesus Christ. Advent is not just a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus' birth some 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. As the opening paragraph in today's worship bulletin points out, Advent has a 3-fold emphasis: 1) Jesus' first coming as the Child of Mary born in Bethlehem; 2) Jesus' coming now in Word and Sacrament here in the fellowship of believers, as well as his coming to us in distressing disguise in the face of the hungry, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner (Matt. 5:31-46); and 3) Jesus' final coming on the last day when He will be revealed as the King and Judge of all creation. The world around us tells us that it is Christmas already, and to be sure we can celebrate and rejoice in Jesus' birth at all times. For us to get more than just surface stuff out of our celebrating, we need some time for preparation. That is what Advent is all about: a 4-week season of preparation. The deeper meaning of Advent is that third coming of our Lord, which calls for readiness and watchfulness on our part because we do not know when this will be. We only know that it will be, and so we are called to live in this world in such a way that we may be ready to leave it at any time. Advent is a time of hopeful expectation as we wait and watch for the Savior's coming. He has promised to come again, and the Lord keeps his promises. It is that theme of promises that I would hold before you today under the theme, "Advent Promises." May the Lord's rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus' sake.
"The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made" (Jeremiah 33:14). The Word of the Lord through Jeremiah came at a time of great national and religious uncertainty for God's people. Disaster loomed on the horizon with the powerful Babylonian empire and its army. We may be facing powerful challenges that are looming on the horizon in our own lives. The temptation is that we become overwhelmed and discouraged by these challenges, and so begin to lose faith. The people of Jeremiah's day certainly had these thoughts and feelings. Their whole world would come crashing down around them as their city and temple would be destroyed. And yet, there is hope. The Lord promises that He will raise up a righteous Branch for David, and He does. That righteous Branch is Jesus, who is David's Son, and yet David's Lord (Matt. 22:41-45). When our world and our lives come crashing down around us, there is hope. That righteous Branch promises that we are never alone, and that we are loved, even in the midst of uncertainty and disaster. Nowhere is that love more real than when that righteous Branch was hung on the wood of the cross. Because of that promise fulfilled in that tremendous sacrifice, our lives are more than just frantic activity or aimless wandering. We are people of hope who live with purpose and meaning in these gray and latter days.
Because God's promises are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, that righteous Branch, we now have promises to keep as well. Today's second Scripture reading (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13), reminds us that it is God alone who is able to make us "increase and abound in love for one another... [and] strengthen [y]our hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints." Sometimes those promises weigh heavily upon us because we realize all too well that we have failed miserably in keeping them. Instead of increasing and abounding in love, we have turned in on ourselves, shriveling up to a mere shadow of what God would have us be, not only for ourselves but for one another. Instead of strengthening our hearts in holiness, we are content with a half-baked kind of Christianity that is immature and selfish. We stand condemned before the One who has kept all his promises to us. Thanks be to God that when all is said and done, our salvation rests not on our promises, which as Mary Poppins points out, are "pie crust promises"-easily made and easily broken; rather, our salvation rests in the promise made and kept by God in his Son, Jesus. "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him" (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Today's Gospel lesson (Luke 21:25-36) is a call to watchfulness and faithfulness as we wait for the promise of our Lord to be fulfilled. That patient readiness is what Advent is all about. Jesus tells us not to be alarmed by signs in the natural world-the sun, moon, and stars, and the roaring of the sea. In fact, he tells us: "When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28). This posture of lifting up our heads is a sign of eager expectation. We're waiting for the One who loves us! This future promise shapes our lives today. We don't know how long we have on this earth, and so let us our lives be that living witness of Christ's Advent promise. There are countless people around us who are living without hope, and who have no clue about Jesus' promise. What better time than the approaching celebration of his birth to invite that friend or neighbor to come with you and hear that message of life and salvation! We are people of promise. We have been given the sure promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. It's time to share that promise with others. May God would use each one of us to be promise-bearers in the world, holding out his promise of life and salvation to others. May God make it so, for Jesus' sake.
Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.