Pastor Marni Nancekivell led us in worship. In her sermon, which you can read below, she said
“Actually, the liturgical New Year does begin with a tide of hope. But it is hope for which we have to dig. Advent is all about the promise of God that a time of salvation is at hand. A great gift is about to be given. And it will transform life and it will herald the coming of the Reign of God. If Advent is about anything it is about hope. However, unlike most of our social new year celebrations, Advent has its roots firmly planted in the soil of the struggle of life. Its hope has no blind optimism. It knows the deep darkness, it knows the endless waiting, it knows the pointless suffering, it knows the horror of terror and anguish and it cries out “Come, Lord Jesus!” Come to our world and put right everything that is wrong. And Advent hears an echo from the heart of God that says, “Yes. I hear your cry. The time is at hand. The baby is at the door. I will in time, come to save creation!”
Advent 1C – Grace Lutheran
November 28, 2021
Happy New Year Grace Lutheran!
You may remember that last week, on the Feast of the Reign of Christ, we marked the last Sunday in the church year. Today, we begin again and begin the first Sunday of the church year. Today is the first Sunday in Advent.
Last Sunday, we remembered that the same Jesus who was born at Christmas, who lived among us, who walked the path to the cross, who was crucified, raised and who ascended, who sent the Holy Spirit, who lives within the church is also the one who ultimately reigns in the Kingdom of God.
And so today we go back to the beginning of the cycle, and we find ourselves with the many faithful people down through the ages, waiting for the coming of God’s salvation. This year the writer of the Gospel of Luke will be our narrator.
From the rather daunting images that we hear in today’s Gospel, the beginning of the church year is
not quite like the New Year our society celebrates on December 31. That New Year is mostly celebrated as a time of up-beat optimistic celebration: parties, holidays, fun, expressing the hope that somehow things will be good for us and for those we love this year.
One sermon series that I follow asks in light of the words of the Gospel that I have just read: “What on earth would you think if you showed up in church this Sunday and you had never been before. It doesn’t exactly sound like a hope filled reading at first glance, does it”?
Actually, the liturgical New Year does begin with a tide of hope. But it is hope for which we have to dig. Advent is all about the promise of God that a time of salvation is at hand. A great gift is about to be given. And it will transform life and it will herald the coming of the Reign of God. If Advent is about anything it is about hope. However, unlike most of our social new year celebrations, Advent has its roots firmly planted in the soil of the struggle of life. Its hope has no blind optimism. It knows the deep darkness, it knows the endless waiting, it knows the pointless suffering, it knows the horror of terror and anguish and it cries out “Come, Lord Jesus!” Come to our world and put right everything that is wrong. And Advent hears an echo from the heart of God that says, “Yes. I hear your cry. The time is at hand. The baby is at the door. I will in time, come to save creation!”
As you engaged with our readings together this day, you might have recognised some of these great advent themes. Jeremiah speaks of the coming days when God will fulfil the gracious promise, and what is just and right will be done and so God’s people will be saved and live in safety.
But it is a few phrases in the Luke reading that really capture my attention. As part of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ great teaching about the end times, he says this:
“On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken…”
Anguish, perplexity, terror… roaring and tossing sea… heavenly bodies shaken. It reads to me like it’s coming off the pages of a Hollywood script for a macabre horror movie – the sort I make it my absolute business to avoid at all costs! How do you respond when you are seriously terrified?
And terror may not be too far from our hearts as we hear this weekend, just as airports have become busy of the development of the potentially more infection COVID variant Omicron.
What is Jesus’ suggestion about how we are to deal with fear?
“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
This, says Jesus, is not a time for playing safe. It’s a time for standing tall, for sticking your neck out. This is a time to seize the day. Because this time of horror and darkness is not one that comes to destroy you. Understand the signs and the seasons. For God does not come as an abuser, the oppressor, the invader. This is a time that will, also in time, bring your liberation.
We can bring together these advent themes into 3 affirmations.
First of all, Advent is a time of deep paradox.
Once upon a time in a church far, far away, some incredibly gifted, creative people turned advent into a season for the senses. It became a time of art and music and drama and story. One year, they entered church on the first Sunday in Advent to see a large canvas at the front of the church. It was painted with dark hues … mostly black and deep greys, a picture of shadows that could not be distinguished. On the second Sunday, some indistinct streaks of light promised a coming dawn. Through the third and fourth the ndistinct shapes began to resolve themselves. On Christmas morning it had become a beautiful landscape and they worshipped the God who brings radiant light into dark places.
Advent is about the glory of hope. It is about the dawning of light after a long, dark, restless night. It is about the promised coming of salvation. It is a season of pregnant waiting for the coming of new life. It is about the dawning of peace and justice and reconciliation for all creation. But Advent knows we are not there yet. Advent is not a flight into fantasy. The time of advent is still deeply conscious of the suffering of the world. Advent knows about the anguish of endless waiting. Advent knows about the times when the light of hope is almost extinguished. Advent does not ask us to rationalise those times in life when it all seems pointless and God seems almost silent.
At Advent, we find ourselves in solidarity with the Hebrew people, especially those who languished in exile, or those who have returned to a promised land only to find that the glorious age of prosperity is not easily recovered; instead they live under the oppressive rule of others nations. At Advent, we find ourselves in solidarity with all those generations of the church that have looked to Jesus’ imminent return to bring an end to suffering, but have perished still waiting.
Now we cry out the great universal Advent Prayer – “Come, Lord Jesus”. Please come and put right all that is wrong in my life and all that is wrong with the world.
Secondly, Advent is a season that speaks to the reality of our world.
From international politics to the intimate struggles of our own lives, we know deeply this paradox between joyful expectation and abject despair. We live in world of incredible medical miracles that relieve suffering for millions while we cannot muster the political will to provide relief to millions live in a world where they live with hunger and need. We live in a world acutely aware of climate change, so much so that world leaders gathered together in the past month…but where they struggled to agree on sufficient change.
It is mirrored in our own lives. We know seasons of growth, when all sorts of new possibilities open for us, when any great and noble dream seems within our grasp. We also know seasons in our lives when we feel appallingly stuck, limited, powerless and there is nothing we can do to live within the freedom we crave.
Advent picks up the cry of our world. God you are our only hope. But why does it all take so long. God have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus.
Thirdly, Advent calls us to be awake.
It is very tempting for us to want to run away from the anguish of this season. Our society does it very well. We have turned it into a season of tinsel and coloured lights and gluttony and consumerism. But Jesus warns us not to let an escape into excess or conversely into a paralytic worry to distract us from the main event.
For the affirmation of God comes down through the ages. Your redemption is at hand. Keep watching for the shafts of light across the eastern sky. Even amidst the anguish of world’s Gethsemane, watch and pray. For God is more present in the God-forsaken anguish of the world than we can comprehend. Place your hope in God. Seek God’s ways and follow them. This is a season for honest wrestling with God. A season for bringing to God the great intercessions for the peace and justice and salvation of the world.
This is a season to stand up and lift up your heads, for our liberation is at hand! Come Lord Jesus.