First Sunday of Advent
November 30, 2008
Isaiah 64:1-9 Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
I Corinthians 1:3-9
In the name of the triune God who created us, who loves us, who redeemed us, and who cares for us.
Today is the day of a new beginning. This is the First Sunday of Advent. Today is the ecclesiastical equivalent of New Year’s Day. In the recent history of the church, Advent has taken a rather penitential feeling, very much like Lent. This is most likely due to the use of purple as the color for both seasons.
In an attempt to combat this, many churches have moved from purple to shades of blue.
“The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival." The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture reading for Advent will reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope of eternal life.”
This Advent I want to encourage you to expected the unexpected. One thing that has always interested me is that fact that the first Advent of Jesus came about in a most unexpected way. No one imagined the messiah as the simple son of a carpenter. In spite of all that was found in the Scriptures and in spite of the eager anticipation of the Jewish nation of a messiah who would come in great power and set things right, it just didn’t happen that way. Nope. God came in God’s own way and to serve God’s own purposes.
It must have been quite shocking for people to learn that their centuries held beliefs were to be turned upside down. That is if they were able to accept it at all. You see, many could not. They were unable to change their preconceived ideas to embrace Jesus as God revealed to them.
I think that it often seems that God never comes the way we plan on God coming in our own lives as well. That is why we need to expected the unexpected in our own lives. God will come to us in ways we perhaps never imagined. But if we insist on holding on to our own ideas and expectations we can miss God in our lives when God is right in front of us. We will allow ourselves to fall into the same trap that so many in the time of Jesus did. Those who recognized Jesus were rarely those of a religious bent. They were too obsessed in their own views of how God should act and as a result not only missed Jesus, but often actively plotted against Jesus.
The lessons in Advent will often focus on the next coming of Jesus. And I have an idea that the next coming of Jesus will probably also be unexpected. Those who are convinced that they understand from the Scriptures and the teaching of the church just how the next Advent will occur I believe are destined for disappointment.
Now that probably explains why I’m not a fan at all of the “Left Behind” series and the entire cottage industry of end times books, tapes, and teachings. They miss the fundamental point that humans don’t seem to do a very good job of guessing how God will choose to act in the world.
There is something very positive in this focus during Advent on the past and the present. Advent becomes a time of looking head and a time of looking behind and that can be a powerful symbol of our own faith journey, and even more it can be a powerful symbol of a congregations faith journey. Particularly in this place and time. As you examine the past and look towards your future in the call of a new pastor.
Last time I was here the lesson focused on our responsibilities to God in the time between the appearances of Jesus on earth. Last time I focused on individual responsibilities within the concept of supporting the church financially. Today I would encourage you to think about your life as a congregation. As I know from my own experience it is very easy for a congregation to assume that the pastor will be doing everything. Visiting the sick, evangelizing, cleaning, maintaining, inspiring, cajoling, you name it, it is the pastor’s job.
It is true that many of these things are indeed the pastor’s job. But please do not forget that in this time between the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus each and every one of us has our own responsibilities. Those responsibilities include everything I listed for the pastor to do. You see the “great commission” was not limited to pastors and other church professionals. It was for each and every one of us. The lesson of Matthew 25 was not limited to pastors and other church professionals. It was a call for each and every one of us to feed the sick, visit those in prison and minister to the needs of those less fortunate than us. The summary of the law by Jesus to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves was not limited to pastors and other church professionals. It was for each and every one of us.
“… as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."