Sermons That Work

Raise Your Heads!, Advent 1 (C) – 2000

December 03, 2000

This is the first Sunday of Advent. What is the meaning of Advent? Advent means the coming or the Second Coming of our Lord. Advent also is the time when the church’s calendar cycle changes from one year to another. At this time, we are moving from year “B” to year “C” and so our lessons for this Sunday are the first from year C. Unfortunately, the lessons we have from this “Year C” cycle are not what one would call, at a glance, “good news.” However, when we take a closer look and think about them, we will realize that the lessons do have their good news–but all in disguise!

Both the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel from Luke portray some scenes of terror and, in some ways, violence, especially the pictures painted for us in the skies before the final arrival of the Lord. It feels, from a quick glance, that the power of the coming Lord is so violent and destructive that everyone has to flee into valleys for safety. We are told that the mountains will split open and the people will be confused by what they will witness. On the other hand, if we look carefully we will realize that in that strange setting and confusion we also have assurances that the Lord’s purpose of coming to earth is to save us.

If the Lord’s purpose is to save us, then why are we to flee? If our redemption is near, then fleeing should really not be an option for us. It would seem, rather, that we are called to learn how to prepare ourselves to stand still and look upward to behold our redemption, whenever it might come.

Another piece of “good news” in these rather strange lessons is the gift of how to read the signs of the time. If we can read the signs, we will not be taken unawares. If we read the signs we will be able to fully prepare for the great events to come. And, certainly, if we read the signs there will be little chance that we could lose track altogether of our Lord’s impending arrival.

For instance, in order to keep us mindful of change in our world, the fig tree and other trees are given as examples or symbols of the approaching summer. In the same way, we are able to use the signs of the changing times to predict the nearness of the approaching Savior. We need to be vigilant about reading these signs and noting “strange appearances” because they may well indicate the drawing near of our redemption. Furthermore, we must leave fear behind us. We know that one has to go through the darkness of Good Friday in order to reach the glory of Easter.

So if you want to welcome the coming Christ into your hearts and homes, don’t be distracted by distant rumblings in the mountains. Try to stand firm and endure the encounters that go with the coming of the redeeming Lord.

Remember Elijah’s encounter with God at the cave in Mount Horeb after he killed all the prophet of Baal? In that story, when Jezebel threatened to take Elijah’s life as he had done to the Baal prophets, he ran away and hid in the cave at Mt. Horeb in fear of his life. Somehow, Elijah did not encounter God in the violent storm, but encountered God, instead, in a still, small voice.

However, there are times when violent events are preparations for encounters to come. There are times when we, like Elijah, are tempted to hide in the caves of our unfaithfulness or in non-commitment to our beliefs. We may be so disturbed by sad encounters we have had in our lives that we step away in alarm–even from the still, small voice.

Whatever our situation in life may be, in order to overcome our fear of the unknown we need to take time and come out of our hiding place to face the Lord of Our Lives. We need to take stock of how our lives have been blessed by God over the years, and especially during this year that is coming to an end. And we need to ask ourselves what the best way would be to say “thank you” to God for all those many blessings.

Many years ago this story was told, and it seems appropriate to tell it once more on this first Sunday in Advent.

There were three women in Ghana, in West Africa, who wanted children and had tried every means they knew to get pregnant and had not been successful. As a last resort, they decided to go to a local medicine man or healer to see if he could help them. When they arrived and told the medicine man what brought them to his shrine, he told them that he could help them get pregnant but there was a “Catch 22” attached to his medicine. All of the women asked with one voice what the “Catch 22” was, and the medicine man answered that they would go mad when they gave birth so they needed think about it very carefully if they still wanted the medicine.

The three women went out and thought about what they had heard for a while and they came back to the medicine man. Two of the women decided that, yes, they wanted the medicine. But the third woman said that there was no need for her to give birth if she was not going to be able to enjoy her baby. So the man gave the medicine to the two women who wanted it, and all three women returned to their homes.

Sure enough, in due time the two women who took the medicine became pregnant and gave birth to beautiful babies. They waited for months to see if they would lose their minds, but nothing happened to them. So they went back to the medicine man and asked, “when are we going to go crazy?” The medicine man asked them if they were not already crazy, and they said “no.” Then their children started to wiggle in their arms and both women began shaking their bodies to keep the babies quiet, and the medicine man started to laugh, asking, “who is playing music that you are both dancing?” They looked at him in a very funny way and said, “we are trying to keep the babies quiet.” Then the medicine man said, “that is your craziness; when you have children, that is what happens to you, you dance or shake your body in public without shame or idea that you are acting crazily.”

When the third woman heard the story she went back to the medicine man and said she wanted to have a baby if that was the only craziness he was talking about–but it was too late! Her fear of what others might say about her if she went mad prevented her from having her deepest-most desire.
How many of us trade our relationship with God for something else because of what our friends or the world might think about us?

Some of us may still be recovering from the shock of a major threat upon our lives received because of our efforts to be faithful and strong in the Lord. And perhaps that fear has caused us to forgo our deep, deep longing for full commitment to the Lord. We may still be afraid to step out from our prison caves to hear the distant rumble of hills breaking open! If you are still in that state, let the Epistle to the Thessalonians help you to remember that the Lord himself knows your fear and will strengthen your heart in holiness and make you blameless before God. Take hope in that!

Look at the world and what is happening in it and let your faith help you to understand that there is a God who cares about everyone, all of us .He will not let us die in our sins without redemption. Are we living in fear that we are not worthy or good enough? Are we hurting, lonely, and unwanted? Come to the one who loves us and is willing to die to save us. Allow the coming Christ into our hearts and let him help us turn our lives around, so we can experience first hand what Christmas is all about! Let’s “lift up our heads” and see, for our redemption is drawing near.

May the Coming Christ bless us all!

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Christopher Sikkema


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