Sermons That Work

The Final Advent of God, Advent 1 (C) – 2003

November 30, 2003

Happy New Year! Indeed, this is an appropriate greeting on this the first Sunday in the liturgical calendar of the church. And we mark this beginning with the season of Advent-meaning “arrival.” It signals for us the dawn of a new day. Our readings today point to the final advent of our God-to that time when, in the words of the prophet Zechariah, “the Lord your God will come, and all the holy ones with him.” In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul prays that God “may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God…at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” And Luke, in his Gospel, writes of “the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” So, in addition to the greeting at the advent of a new liturgical year, let us also pause to ponder the meaning of, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” This is at the core of our belief in Christ as our Savior, and in this belief is our everlasting hope.

Our first reading today is from the book of the prophet Zechariah, who had a short career. His prophetic utterances were made over a period of only two years. His family, which included priests, had recently returned from a hard life in exile that had lasted about 70 years. The people of Israel were tired and discouraged, and had returned to their land only after Cyrus, the King of Persia, permitted those in exile to return home. Not far away, a new conqueror, one Alexander the Great, was advancing on the Persian Empire. Zechariah, who may or may not have been a priest, believed that Israel stood at the eve of the messianic age and he encouraged the completion of the temple in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. Zechariah delivered a message of hope to a group of dispirited people who felt they were about to face more difficult times. It is at bleak times like these that hope-filled prophesies of salvation are proclaimed by God’s messengers. And so it was with Zechariah.

In our second reading, the apostle Paul lifts a prayer for the Christians in Thessalonica. He hears of their concerns for some of their congregation who had died and who, they believed, would not be included in the glory of the Lord’s coming. In those days, Christians believed that the day of the Lord was about to happen and this belief in the imminence of the day of the Lord was a source of confidence and hope to a people who were ostracized and even killed for their beliefs. Paul prays that he and others will find their way to them and, more importantly, that God will increase their love to each other and to all people; for it is in this abounding love that their hearts will be made holy before God at God’s coming. This prayer, written in humility, clearly emphasizes the importance of brother- and sisterhood as a means through which our hearts are established in holiness, that is, above reproach, before our God. This is a prayer of hope in a time of hopelessness.

The apocalyptic language of today’s first two readings seems to take on a heightened sense of prophecy given the gloomy uncertainty stirred up by many recent events. Terrorism, war, corporate malfeasance, the economy, and, for many, events of a more personal nature lead to the feeling that life today is neither safe nor secure. Yet, no matter where one finds oneself, one thing is certain: our hope is in the coming of the Word Made Flesh, our Savior Jesus Christ. The language in today’s readings articulates a future when, in the words of Luke, “you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Again, here is reassuring language at a time of despondency.

For the members of Christ’s body, the season of Advent affords the opportunity to reflect on the journey of the past year, to set goals, and to begin, with hope, the next chapter in the journey as believers. This does not mean that this is the only time when one can have an experience that sets one on a new course. It is understood that a new journey can begin at any time and in any place-at that point where one’s walk and God’s purposes intersect. But today marks the advent of a new season and it lends itself to reflection on the role God plays in one’s life.

This is a good time, then, to take stock of one’s challenges and accomplishments as well as how one has responded during the past year. There is a car bumper sticker that reads, “Be patient, God is not finished with me yet.” If one is a faithful participant in God’s mission of reconciliation, what was one’s response to God’s call over the past twelve months? Specifically, how was one’s faith expressed-not only in worship but also in life-affirming deeds? Where did one fall short and what can one do about it? These are particularly challenging questions in light of the many events of these last days.

In his Gospel, Luke writes of a time when nations are perplexed at the signs in nature and its awe-producing power when men faint “with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The reading ends with the sprouting of the fig leaf as a sign of an upcoming summer-the season of growth and life that springs forth and is in stark contrast to the dead of winter. In those times when life leaves us feeling hopelessly lonely and our arrogant independence provides little or no comfort or answers, there can spring forth, like a fig leaf at the end of winter, new life.

Despair and hope go hand in hand. Luke’s merger of the full despair of reality and the unbridled hope of faith is the message of the Gospel. In the midst of this life and the many events that evoke despair, it is the seed of hope in a bright future, a future in which God is made manifest, that provides a sense of confident faith. Remember, faith is not a vaccine that prevents the disease of despair. Faith is the seed of new life from which hope can grow out of a winter of anguish and desolation. And this is the message of the final advent of God.

As the Psalmist wrote, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” This is God’s call to us this Advent season. “O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel who mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!” And this is our hope and our faith. In the name of Jesus Christ, who was and is and is yet to be. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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