Sermon from December 2, 2018

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36

Today is finally the first Sunday of Advent. It feels different than normal, because usually this would be the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It’s rare that all four Sundays of Advent fall during December. I like that it feels like we have some space between Thanksgiving and Advent. It helps me feel like there was time to breathe before starting something new.

Advent is my favorite church season. I think that’s because it’s the season that embodies our lives now. Advent is about waiting, and we definitely are familiar with it, even if we don’t like to be.

There are all kinds of things we wait for in anticipation…

if you’re like Talia, you wait with anticipation for your birthday.

Or you might wait for certain holidays to come along.

We wait for simple things like for dinner to be ready.

There are quite a few in this room that have waited for test results lately, particularly ones regarding your health or the health of a loved one.

Some of us have waited as we watched our loved ones pass on.

We might wait for school breaks to come or go.

We might wait to hear from those far away, either out on dangerous missions, or those estranged from us.

We might be waiting for the world to change…either the political status, or the economic status, or even waiting and watching our climate change.

Our lives are full of waiting.

Advent is about waiting, which is why it feels familiar in some uncomfortable ways. In Advent we mark our waiting for Christ to come. Yes, this season will lead us to our celebration of God made flesh, the birth of our Lord Jesus. But more poignantly, Advent helps us mark our waiting for Christ to come again as he promised. Our lives are “between the two great poles of God’s intervention in our world: the coming of Christ in the flesh and his triumph over death, and the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time and his triumph over all the powers of earth and heaven.” (Lose, Working Preacher) This inbetween time is full of tension and turmoil. Many of the things we wait for give us anxiety.

My colleague told a story this week at Text Study, where we talk about the upcoming scripture for Sunday, about his experience studying Greek once upon a time. He had made it far enough to be reading Greek texts, like Homer, Plato, or Aristotle. Greek is a difficult language, and like many things, it takes a lot of preparation. My colleague said that this particular professor would not tell the class what to prepare for each week, but that they had to be prepared either to do verbal translating or written translating, or take a test about the translation. This meant they needed to know what they were doing when they showed up to class each time. 

He also said this professor had decided to grade the class against themselves – he would give them grades on their assignments throughout the semester, but then at the end he would plot out where everyone was on the spectrum and give those at the top an A, even if they weren’t at 100%, and those in the middle Bs and Cs, and so on.

My colleague said he was so stressed out about not knowing what his grade was that he was complaining about it in class one day, distracting the class from their translation, when the professor stopped him and said, “Mr. Walker, you have an A in my class. Now can we get on with it?”

Sometimes we, like Mr. Walker, can get so caught up in our anxiety that we can’t see the forest for the trees. We fail to see the big picture. All we can see is what’s in front of us, and what’s in front of us might scare us, or worry us, or bring pain. 

Today’s gospel has the ability to daunting or hopeful. Someone in my Bible study on Monday said that 28 feels a bit comical – after telling about the fear and foreboding that is to come, Jesus tells them to stand and raise their heads! How can they do that when they are so filled with fear? But this is the point! As Jesus himself says in the rest of vs. 28, “Stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near!” We are to have hope in Christ in the midst of all these things!

As we heard at our midweek worship last Wednesday in the reflection from Sundays and Seasons: “When Jesus describes chaos as a sign of God’s reign, it is not because God’s reign brings destruction. Rather, it is a sign because God chooses to be born in the middle of the tumult and uncertainty that is this world. When all seems lost and like our waiting is hopeless, God’s kingdom comes. When our lives seem wildly uncertain and when waiting seems unbearable, our need for a savior will be fulfilled in Christ. As we prayerfully anticipate the birth of Jesus in a world that is unstable and broken, Jesus assures us that we can wait with true hopenot uncertainty and fear. Hope because God’s promises far outlast everything in heaven and on earth. Hope because Jesus’ love encompasses even the biggest storm we may wait through. Hope because God’s reign brings us a completeness that we can anticipate with joy. Hope because the kingdom of God will always be far more surprising than we can imagine.” 

We decided to do a hope campaign on our church Facebook page this Advent. There will be four of us posting pictures, one each day, of something hopeful, whether that’s a picture or a quote or something else that might inspire us to keep our hope in Christ. I invite you to like our Page and hopefully be inspired to carry a message of hope this Advent.

The promises of God give us the big picture – that God is with us forever and forgives and loves unconditionally… those are the important things. They are the long game. They are the hope. 

The short game is where we get bogged down, where we get anxious because we forget about the long game. We forget that God has already conquered death and we don’t need to be afraid of anything. The pain we experience now is temporary. God has good things in store for us! God is holding us everywhere we are, whether we are happy or sad, joyous or fearful. The true hope we have in Christ is where we need to hang our hats, it’s where we need to lay our heads – to rest in the promises and hope of God. The season of Advent is our truth – God comes to us!

May this hope of Christ fill our hearts and give us faith and courage in our waiting – our waiting for Jesus and our waiting for all the other things in life.