Sermons That Work

Anxious Times, Advent 1 (C) – 1997

November 30, 1997

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise up your head.” Today marks the first Sunday in Advent. Today we conclude the long season of Pentecost and prepare our heart anew for the coming of Jesus. Today we begin Advent by hearing from Jesus and from the prophet Zechariah. They describe what it means to have God draw near. The pictures they paint are at once dark and foreboding and spectacularly brilliant. The day of the Lord is both one of judgement and of healing. It might bring an end to life as we know it and end the suffering of the world. It is both a terrifying and exciting vision, isn’t it? But what does it have to do with our own personal preparations for the coming of Christ at Christmas?

This apocalyptic vision of the coming of Christ at first seems discordant with the meek, gentle, infant Jesus. It seems worlds away from the vision of sweet Mary and Joseph huddled in the stable. It seems light years away from our culture’s mad rush to decorate everywhere, and buy everything all before December 25th, so that in a few brief moments presents can be unwrapped and the meaning of the season thoroughly ignored. But, in fact, it has everything to do with our preparation for Christmas.

In the past few years we have experienced several wonders and signs in heaven and on earth that seem to signal the coming of the end of the world as we know it. The world watched in horror as the bodies of the Heaven’s Gate members were discovered, we couldn’t help but wonder what the world was coming to. The cult members had seen the Hale Bopp comet as a sign of the end times and they happily were looking forward to a better world. In ancient times comets were thought to be warnings of horrible destruction or signs of new things to come. But when we see the grim reality of people who leapt too soon at the idea of a new world, we are reminded of the deep sadness in the pit of our stomachs when the pained faces of their loved ones flashed before us. How senseless it all seemed.

The paper and magazines have been flooded with articles and television and radio are full of programs that warn of the imminent destruction of vast computer systems when the year 2000 comes. Because no one had the foresight to program a prefix for year-numbers, all the world’s computers might just fail at once. The press and the scientific community as well as the federal government are frantically searching for a solution. Since the early 1970’s much of business, science, medicine and libraries (just to mention a few) have become computerized. We need computers to shop, to pay the bills, to talk on the phone. Computers are now involved in all aspects of our lives. If no solution is found, life as we know it will come to a grinding halt. And then words of Jesus come to mind, “people will faint from fear and foreboding.”

If we were truthful for a moment with one another, we would confess how often we find ourselves worrying. Our children worry us, our health worries us, all the risk factors around us worry us. The state of the economy and the moral decline of local and national government worries us. Drugs and violence worry and scare us. Human beings as a whole are creatures with a great deal of anxiety in our hearts. But to that worry, to that anxiety, to that overwhelming fear, Jesus says, “look up!.” Let’s just admit it, we live in anxious times. The people who lived when Christ walked on this earth, also lived in anxious times.

The good news in our Gospel today is that, despite the fact that we live in anxious times, in spite the fact that the signs all point to the end of the world Christ Jesus tells us that we can stand and lift our heads high for our redemption is near. No less than Jesus is our redemption, who is God’s son, and he is coming near to us in these times. When things look most frightening, says Our Lord, is when our lives are closest to God, and God is doing a new thing in our lives.

The Gospel challenges us, during this Advent season, to live as people who expect God to be near, and that God is doing something new in our lives. In this Advent season of preparation, the time of Christ’s coming into the world, we are to live as if we expect just that. Christ’s coming. What does that mean to our daily lives? That means we are to see the worries in our lives as possibilities. We are to look anew on the people and situations that trouble us as signs of God’s near and living presence. That we can look at the dark skies and the dark places as moments of waiting and anticipating God’s nearness. This means that we don’t have to be bound by our fear, by we can reach into fear and reach God.

It means that the painful relationships can be made whole, not by our will or power, but by God’s. For it is God who chooses, through Christ, to draw near to us. This means that you and I can look anew at the painful situations and offer them to God. Because God has promised to be near, and these situations might indeed be a moment of redemption, a moment when we will be made whole.

As we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ Jesus in a new way this Advent, let us also receive those around us in a new way. Let us see and know that God wants to transform and make new even the most impossible situations in our lives. Let us look and see Christ Jesus in those around us who have caused us heartache and pain. As God draws near we are given the strength to see others in a new way. And truly then, the world as we now it will pass away, and all things will be made new. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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