The Days Are Coming
November 29, 2009 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 21:25–21:36
The First Sunday in Advent
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Luke 21:25-26 (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
“The Days Are Coming”
The days are coming, right? I mean, how can you not know? The signs are all over the place. Have you seen the special displays at the supermarket – you know, the ones selling themed cookie dough or Italian panettone? Are garlands and ornaments and trees starting to appear in your neighborhood or at your gas station? Have you been to a shopping mall in the past month? And I’m guessing that if you’ve watched anything on television recently, you’ve probably seen one of the surest signs that the days are coming: commercials featuring cars that are decked out in those giant, red bows. That’s pretty much a dead giveaway. The days are coming! It’s hard to miss the sights. But the sounds – the sounds are out there, too, just as much as the sights. There’s music in the air, literally. Stores have been pumping seasonal songs through their PA systems since around Halloween, it’d seem. Some radio stations have already flipped format to bring you a continuous stream of festive tunes from the like of Bing Crosby, the Chipmunks, and Adam Sandler. And don’t forget the concerts and pageants that are already popping up. Take in the sights! Experience the sounds! It’s not like you have a choice, right? But with everything going on this time of year, all the sights and sounds just start to pile up on top of each other until they become this kind of noise that settles over everything.
The days are coming! But which days, exactly? That part can be kind of confusing. The sights and the sounds are a little ambiguous, but these signs do point to it being some kind of holiday season. I think the proper term for it is “Christmahanukwanza.” Christmahanukwanza, from what I can tell, seems to be a predominantly American holiday celebrating peace, good will, and shopping – except that the peace and good will don’t necessarily apply to the shopping. And it looks like people are supposed to be joyful, though for some nonspecific reason. During the Christmahanukwanza season, there will be school and office parties, get-togethers with family and friends, and festivals with music and tree-lighting. At least, that’s what I can make out from the noise. What about you? Do you feel like the days of Christmahanukwanza are coming for you? If so, you’re not alone.
The days are coming, but the noise that surrounds us can confuse us. It steals our focus. This is what Jesus warns us against in our Gospel text from Luke: dissipation. “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life…” That’s the only time that this word “dissipation” (kraipa,lh|) shows up in the New Testament. In the original Greek, this is term used for “a drinking bout.” Like its English counterpart, though, this word means much more than drinking a lot of wine. Dissipation speaks to a loss of energy, wasting through misuse or distraction. The noise of the world distracts us and can steal our focus way from the truly important things, but not just at this time of the year. In our country, in our culture, the noise that is Christmahanukwanza really seeks to drag our focus down into the “cares of this life” like some kind of festive black hole. There’s always so much to be done, so many items to check off on our to-do lists in this season: travel to schedule, gifts to buy, cleaning and decorating the house – well, maybe the cleaning can wait just a bit longer. You get dissipated. And the noise isn’t just out there “in the world.” It’s in the church, too! Even in the very place where we come to prepare as a people for the days ahead, we can be distracted by the cares of this life, planning or participating in rehearsals, decorations, Sunday School lessons, service projects, and special events. In the community of the church as well as in the world at large, you get weighed down with dissipation when you focus on the noise.
The days are coming, and thankfully, God breaks through the noise. Today marks the beginning of a new season in our life and the life of the church; however, it’s not Christmahanukwanza, but Advent. In our Scripture readings for this day, God’s Word set a proper tone for the days and weeks ahead, helping us to keep watch and not lose focus. In the passage we read from Jeremiah 33, we hear the promise that pointed ahead to the arrival of a righteous Branch who would do a great thing for God’s people. And in the Gospel reading, Jesus, the fulfillment of that promise from Jeremiah, speaks of sights and sounds that will point ahead to the day of his return. Advent is a season of expectant watching – and listening. But instead of listening to the noise of the cares of this life, we can listen to the sound of God’s promise. We can focus on the hope that He gives through His Son.
The days are coming, and I am glad to tell you that God has an Advent gift for you today, to help you prepare. You can’t hold it or unwrap it, but it’s real. Imagine you’ve got a pair of headphones – studio quality, not the flimsy kind – and these headphones can filter out the noise of the world around you. Go ahead and put them on now, over your ears, and listen. In the quiet, shielded from the noise of Christmahanukwanza, listen to the message coming to you through these Advent headphones: “Jesus is come, for you. Jesus is coming again, for you.” This message is the now-and-not-yet of the Christian life. This is the message of the days for which we wait in Advent. We know that Jesus is coming back, because he has already been here. He is God-with-us, Emmanuel. He is God Who has come into our world, a world in which we are weighed down in dissipation. His is God Who lifts that weight and carries it Himself. With his life, Jesus paid the price for our dissipation, the energy we have wasted in the past on the cares of this life. And because Jesus has done this for us, we watch and wait for his return.
The days are coming. So, what then is Advent? We’ve established that it’s not Christmahanukwanza – but it’s not Christmas, either. In Advent, we experience expectant existence. We watch. We listen. We hope. And we wait. This is the time before. This is the time to get excited about what lies ahead. It’s like eagerly awaiting your best friend, who’s just about to arrive in town. It’s like anticipating what will happen next as your roller coaster car click-clack-clack’s its way up to the peak of the hill. It’s like looking forward to your vacation from work or school as those last few days get crossed off the calendar. The energy of expectation does not dissipate as the time draws nearer, it just gets stronger.
The days are coming. As you observe the signs, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds of this Advent, make use of the gift of focus that we have in the cross of Christ. Singing, praying, decorating, reading – in all the ways that you prepare in this season, rest in God’s grace as He filters out the noise of this world. Practice simplicity over and against the noise of the world around you, watching for the joy that waits ahead.
The days are coming. Blessed Advent to you!