Filed under: Sermons
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Now that the turkey is finished, Christmas preparations are in high gear. Some of you may have put up your Christmas trees. Does anyone put out presents before Christmas?
When we got married, that was one of the conversations Jeff and I had to have as we negotiated the process of merging our holiday expectations. Would we be a family that eagerly watched a growing pile of presents, both for us and for others, under our tree? Or would we have a great unveiling, when everything would suddenly appear?
I grew up with parents tiptoeing around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, placing presents in separate areas for myself, my brother, and each other. I’d watch my little pink clock, waiting for the hands to line up just right for my 8am release from my room. Then I would run down and be greeted with a child’s vision of great joy.
As I raise my own children, I can understand why we never had presents out any earlier. One morning two or so years ago, I came downstairs to find Laila sitting in the middle of shreds of wrapping paper, with all the toys I had prepared as potty training prizes around her.
It’s not easy to wait for the right time.
But there’s more to waiting, especially waiting in Advent, than simply counting down to Christmas. There’s more to it than delayed gratification. What if we thought about waiting, not so much as building patience, but as growing in hope?
Then we are turned from being patient for some good thing I will get in the future towards relationship with the one in whom I place my hope, my trust. Advent waiting, Christian waiting, is living in hope, trusting in God, believing God’s promise to heal and renew and bring life.
We are not alone in looking to God as the source of our hope. The texts of this season bring out the voices of people across a wide span of time who all looked up from difficult circumstances to the God they knew was still faithful, and would bring into being what God had promised. They represent people who experienced oppression by foreign governments, destruction of their country and of their most sacred places, war, slavery, famine, rejection by family and faith community, as well as the hopelessness of disease and death.
These are texts that resonate with us. They are witnesses that might inspire us in hope.
In our Gospel today, Jesus speaks of signs and portents, strange words of judgment. Some Christian voices have looked at these texts and tried to correlate them with modern events, arguing that the end times have come.
We might be better served by remembering that those for whom this text was written were in the situation this text describes. They have seen war ravage their city. Their faith family in the synagogue has turned them out. Their friends have died and still, Jesus has not returned.
In their situation, it would be easy to say, this is the end- the end to the relevance of faith. After all, what has it gotten them? Not comfort, not security, not honor, and certainly not a connection to power.
As relatively wealthy Christians in America, we do not know persecution. In other times and places, people have felt the overwhelming power of evil through the oppression of government, they have been in danger because of their faith. Even so, we can find ourselves bound in fear.
We fear a changing world, as our heads spin and can’t seem to catch up. We fear the violence we hear on the news and the violence that happens in our homes, schools, and malls. We fear economic instability, and our inability to control our future. We fear that phone call from the doctor, and the bad news we’ve been dreading.
When everything goes wrong, when fear sets in, we want to hunker down and close off. We function as if making our circle of protection smaller will make things better, or at least, manageable. We cling to what we’ve always known, even if it’s not helpful any longer. In fear, we curve inward and draw what we love and know close.
Jesus commands, “Lift up your heads!” In the midst of destruction and fear, “Stand and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” That’s not a position of fear- that’s a position of hope. We stand and look up in openness to see what good thing is coming.
Imagine those early Christians who received this Gospel, being told that the world as they knew it, in which the powers in control are the powers that oppress- was ending. They would welcome judgment, in which that which is evil would be declared evil, instead of being called good because it was aligned with the structures of power. Finally, all would be revealed- and they would be vindicated in their belief. They would be uplifted by the validation that their faith was put in the one who ultimately has power. Judgment here isn’t an accounting of your personal sins versus your acts of charity. Judgment is the revealing of the truth- that those groups of people who claim they have power, who in their shows of power have made others suffer, have limited power. Judgment is the revealing of the truth- that God -who uses power to raise up and give life, has ultimate power.
Look up, your redemption is drawing near. The redemption Jesus enacts buys you back from fear, death, and destruction. These evils do not own you. They are not the final word. No matter the chaos of your present day, God is faithful and sure. God is your stability and will raise you up out of today’s struggle.
You are invited to live in a stance of openness. What does it look like, when God turns you from your inward gaze, and draws your vision higher and wider? How might your hope spill over into a widening circle of cared for others?
Luke is written “so that you may have faith”- the point of this entire book is to help the beloved have hope. Advent hope grows as your relationship with God, the one with ultimate power, is nourished. In your eager waiting, be alert to signs that God is faithful. As you wrap gifts this season, celebrate the joy of generosity. As you look at the lights, remember that Jesus is the light that pushes back the darkness. Let the little signs of life and joy feed your trust in God, the faithful one who will bring all good things into fulness. We don’t know God’s right time, when the freedom and life God has promised will completely push out fear and death. Until then, we wait in faith, preparing to celebrate what God already done for us in Jesus.
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