Monday, December 3, 2018

The Two High Festivals of Advent

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA   
December 2, 2018
Pastor Robert McCarty

The Two Festivals of Advent

Preaching Texts: Jeremiah 33: 14-16   Luke 21: 25-36

Our theme for this Advent is that we prepare for two festivals. As we prepare for Christmas, we also prepare for Easter. So I have four Easter Eggs set aside, one each for the four weeks of Advent. Today, however, this first Sunday in Advent one of the two festivals that we celebrate anticipates the second coming of Christ. 

I hope you have noticed—because I have tried to point it out to you—how the Advent season begins the way that the November church year ends. With images of the end of times—some people understand end times to mean that eternity begins when time becomes meaningless. Eternity begins when there is no more day or night, there is no more months or seasons, no more birth or death. The end of time begins when the prophecy of Christ’s return is fulfilled. Last week I talked about how the cross marks the intersection between the heavenly kingdom and the earthly realm. The end of time begins when heaven descends upon earth—that is a Revelation image not that we ascend to heaven but heaven comes to us. The Kingdom of God finally reigns on earth, and that the way of God and Christ finally arrives on earth.

This moment has not yet occurred, but such a moment will surely come. 

And scripture gives us two ways to anticipate such a moment, perhaps three. The first that you hear today, we anticipate the coming return of Christ by things that knock us off our feet. 

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, (celestial signs that cannot be explained—cataclysmic) and on earth distress among the nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint (There it is knocked off their feet, just like the soldiers outside of Jesus tomb when the angel rolled away the stone.) from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Other passages talk about earthquakes and wars and threats of war. What knocks you off your feet? Physical violence, of course, perhaps accidental, run into a door frame in the darkness of the night while trying to find your way to the bathroom. Lightning, when I was lifeguard, we cleared the pool for thunder. Because it was not raining the lifeguards, myself included were milling about the pool area, a bolt of lightning hit nearby, it must have been outside the fence, but close, and I found myself on the ground it was that close. What else knocks you off your feet: Bad news or a bad diagnosis that causes us to swoon, to faint, to buckle our knees and make you sit down.

A stark reality that most of you have faced already. People who love have to deal with loss and grief. And to this reality of time fading or coming to an end and our being knocked off our feet, Jesus gives this instruction. “Lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near.”

Often, so often, too often we hear stories of the end time in terms of judgment. Sun, stars and moons signify cosmic events taking place and we anticipate a voice getting too close the microphone and saying DOOM and GLOOM and JUDGMENT. This passage in Luke invites you to respond with confidence and to recognize in the coming times redemption, your redemption and more importantly the redemption of fulfillment of the kingdom of God here on earth.

Signs of that fulfillment is the second sign that scripture hints would have us look for to recognize what Jesus Christ has done, is doing, and will do. 

During the Advent season we always get John the Baptism in the wilderness. We actually have a reading without Jesus except that John that Baptism points to the one coming who is great than I am. The reading about John the Baptist that we do not get, that perhaps we should takes place when John sits in prison, arrested by Herod and ponders what he hears about his cousin Jesus. So John sends messengers to Jesus who ask for him, “Are you the one or are we to await for another?”

And Jesus responds

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers[c] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Just like stars and moons, earthquakes and cosmic events, these overlooked blessings that come upon everyday people like you and me are also signs of the heavenly kingdom arriving here on earth. Think of watching a person walk after being laid up in a wheel chair—a sign of things to come. Think of when you heard of someone being resuscitated, perhaps by CPR or by the artificial defibrillator units that you see about in public these days, or by rescue workers or doctors in an emergency room. Also [this is] a sign of things to come, death defeated, the heavenly kingdom in our midst. The poor have good news brought to them. Merry Christmas. We want the poor to know that Christ came 2,000 years ago and that Christ will come again. These events have also become cosmic signs and the easiest one for us to anticipate and participate in is the care of the poor.

Perhaps, just perhaps someday someone will receive a third sign of the coming end times, that an old man or a widow—like Simeon or Anna in the second Chapter of Luke— will be told that they will not die without beholding the coming of the Lord. I thought of that this week as I went and visited a few of our homebound members. I thought of Anna waiting diligently in the temple—"Serving God with fastings and prayers day and night” is how Luke describes it. I thought of the faithful service of some on our now homebound members and recognized that we can also view their faith as a sign of the coming of the Lord. We call that the wisdom of our elders, and that wisdom has sustained them for decades and sustains you as well.

Remember these signs, for Jesus tells us there will be signs. 

“Signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”

“What you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

“And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”


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