Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 13:24–13:37
The First Sunday in Advent
November 29-30, 2014
On this Sunday after Thanksgiving as we figure out what to do with all those turkey leftovers and start the count-down to Christmas, I’d like for us to take a breather and think about the game of “Hide and Seek.” As we all know, it involves everyone hiding, except for one person who does the seeking. After counting up to a certain number, the person who is the seeker calls out, “Ready or not, here I come!”, and then goes out to find everybody else who is hiding. There is great anticipation and eager expectation as everyone waits to be found. On this First Sunday in Advent, the Lord Jesus calls us to be ready and prepared for that great day when he will call out, “Ready or not, here I come!” The message for today, based on Jesus’ words in the appointed Gospel lesson, is entitled “Advent Time.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Time is a funny thing, isn’t it? The younger we are, time often seems to drag by with the minutes, hours and days almost standing still when we want them to hurry along fast and faster. We can hear this in the Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 64:1-9) as the prophet Isaiah impatiently cries out to God: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down…” But the ironic thing is that the older we get, the faster time seems to go by, and we would give almost anything to slow it down so we would have more time. Today we enter into a new season of time with the start of Advent, this 4-week period that precedes Christmas. The purpose of Advent is not simply to prepare us to celebrate the Savior’s first coming; that is, his birth at Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. The primary purpose of Advent is to prepare us for his second coming; that is, the day when Jesus Christ will call out, “Ready or not, here I come!” The return of Christ in great power and glory on that last day occupies our attention during the season of Advent, inviting us to be ready and prepared for that unknown day when Christ will come again. Like the Lenten season, Advent calls us to repentance and returning to the Lord.
Advent time deals with past, present and future and we will look briefly at each of these three aspects. First, Advent calls us to remember the past, recalling God’s faithfulness to his people at all times and in all places. God is faithful, even when we his people are not. God keeps his promises and does not go back on his Word. Remembering God’s mercy and goodness to us is what we just celebrated at Thanksgiving, recounting the Lord’s many blessings that He daily and richly showers upon us. And the chief blessing that He has bestowed is the gift of his only begotten Son, Jesus, born of Mary, who lived, suffered, died and rose again for us. Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). And so we remember Jesus’ first Advent; that is, his first coming when He did for us what we could never do for ourselves: living that perfect, sinless life we could not and cannot, and dying the death we rightly deserved because of our sin and disobedience. In Advent, we remember the past.
Second, Advent calls us to receive the Lord in the present, this time of grace in which we now live and in which the Lord Jesus comes to us. And Jesus truly does come to us in his life-giving Word and in his Sacraments of holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He promises that He will be found here in these means of grace. Trusting in that promise, we gather each and every Lord’s day around Word and Sacrament because this is how Jesus comes to us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers and enlightens the whole Christian Church on earth, our eyes of faith are opened and we recognize and receive our risen, reigning and returning Savior as He comes to us. In his Word, through water, bread and wine, He comes to us and meets us in all of our need to strengthen, bless, and encourage us in our walk of faith. And as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 25:31-46), this same Jesus is the One who also comes to us now in distressing disguise, in the face of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and imprisoned. His words to us are clear that in rendering help to these, we minister to the Lord himself: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” The One who has come is the One who comes to us now, calling us to watchfulness and vigilance for the day when He shall come again. In Advent, we receive the Lord now in this present time.
Third, Advent calls us to rejoice in the future, “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8). Even as we remember and give thanks for God’s faithfulness in the past, and even as we receive Christ as He comes to us now, we rejoice when heaven and earth will pass away, when we will “see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). For those who have rejected Jesus, this will be anything but rejoicing. It will be weeping and gnashing of teeth; it will be fear and guilt for what might have been; it will be despair and anguish for lost hope. But for all who have received Jesus in faith from his first Advent, this final Advent is cause for rejoicing. Even though we do not when Christ will come again, we hold fast to what He tells us: “And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:27). This is the good news of Advent! Jesus’ final coming is to take his people to be with him forever. Until then, he calls us to stay awake, alert in faith, prepared and ready for the day of his coming. The One who has come and shed his blood to set us free is the One who comes to us now in Word and Sacrament, and He is the One who is coming again that we may be with him always. In Advent, we rejoice in the future.
In this holy time of waiting and watching that is Advent, we remember God’s faithfulness in the past and give thanks. We receive God in Christ as He comes to us now to uphold and strengthen us in our journey of faith. And we rejoice in that future yet to be revealed when Christ will come again to make all things new. Until then, we don’t need to play Hide-and-Seek with Jesus, holed up in secret until the day when He comes again. No, until that day Jesus calls us to love and serve others in his Name, even as He came to love and serve us. Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.