First Sunday of Advent–Sermon
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The beginning of the end of the beginning. Waiting at the end, before the beginning, all the while the end is here, but not yet fully ended, when the final beginning will indeed begin. Past, present, and future all collide with each other as we stand on this beginning of the Church’s new year. This twisting and turning of time outside of our normal linear approach to time sounds more like a good Dr. Who episode, than a Sunday morning worship service. We even find our pastor and sanctuary dressed in royal or is it TARDIS Blue? Perhaps that’s the real reason the color of this season changed from Royal Purple to Blue during the 60’s and 70’s. Or perhaps I’ve just been watching too much Dr. Who lately—thanks to Netflix—and my mind is occupied with fights of time, space, and multi-dimensional science fiction. And for those of you who understand these references you’ve outed yourself as a nerd. And for the one who used this illustration in a sermon, you’ve outed yourself as a bigger nerd.
Yet we begin our year in blue and with a word that accompanies this season. A word which distinguishes it from all the other seasons of the Church year, but also describes every one of them as well. If the Church kept to a strictly linear convention of time then it would perhaps make more sense to begin the year at Christmas or Easter. Those two key events—the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and His rising from the tomb being victor over the grave and making the Church even possible— are certainly natural beginning points of our faith. But we don’t. We start in this ever so brief, yet ever so rich and powerful season with its even more rich and powerful name, Advent.
This little season of blue reminds me of the line my 4’11” mother always said when I made a comment about her height, “Good things come in small packages.” Indeed, they do! Unfortunately brevity can also cause something to be overlooked, or under appreciated. That has happened often with this little season. Christians have been quick to run over this season on its mad dash—with the rest of the world—to get to Christmas. Rumors of decorations already out in the stores before Halloween primes our minds to rush to Christmas and that rush is carried along by the streams of Christmas songs that flood the airwaves. We have been primed since birth to get ready for the joy and celebration of cookies and candies, red suit and reindeer, and of course the presents that surround the commemoration of our Lord’s Nativity. The commemoration of that day so long ago in history and yet so foundational to our Christian faith. But before we get there, as a prologue to Christmas and the rest of the year, we focus and ground our celebrations in Advent. Listen closely to the hymns and prayers that mark the season. “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.” “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus." "Savior of the Nations, Come” "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending" Before we celebrate our Lord’s birthday, we begin waiting and praying, patiently expecting His second advent. Here we see the season is not primarily about looking back to the manger though we will certainly do that, but looking forward. We begin the year waiting for the end of all years. We wait and look forward to the end, which is the beginning of life eternal that has already begun now here at this end of all the ages. I told you this Church stuff would make a good Dr. Who episode. In Advent and really in all of our seasons that mark the year– the past, present, and future all collide in our life with the Lord of Time.
Looking to our Lord's words for us this morning in the Gospel of Matthew (which by the way is the Gospel that will primarily be the Gospel lessons for the rest of this year, so I would urge you to take a read through Matthew) we see how true this reality is. Even the lectionary does us well to begin our year with a word about the end. Concerning that day (i.e. the day of the Lord's return) and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. In the final moments before the great and solemn events of Holy Week, we hear our Lord Jesus in the present speaking to his disciples about the future. It is the beginning of a promise and pledge that this world will meet its end. And end who is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. He promises to His disciples that there will be a moment—a day and hour— when the Father of all eternity will speak again His word, His divine Son, to go and enter into our world fully and completely. And He will.
But notice our Lord does a curious thing, when speaking about the future. He does it in terms of the past. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. We all remember the story of Noah, which to the dismay of children's books, toys, and baby room decorations has little to really do with animals. Rather it is about the judgement and mercy of God. The days of Noah were filled with an evil humanity bent on its own inevitable destruction and the presence of those waters were the means by which God revealed His judgment. Yet those same waters also revealed the salvation of God as they bore Noah and his family safely on the ark. The days of Noah revealed God’s judgment and grace. He condemned the wicked and saved the righteous and to this day we still see that great and abiding sign of His salvation betwixt the clouds, the rainbow. As it was of old, so it will be in the future. In our Lord's return we too will see that same judgment and mercy of God in Christ. Every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth at the presence of Jesus Christ. Some in saving faith and yet others by angelic compulsion. As the water brought forth judgment and salvation so too will Jesus Christ when he comes in His glory: judgment to the wicked and salvation to the penitent.
The past bespeaks the future and the future will fully live out the past. All while we are caught in this moment, this sliver of time in the present. And to this time our Lord speaks again, Therefore, stay awake (!), for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming….Therefore, be ready (!), for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. In these words our Lord sums up the very essence of Advent! Of staying awake and preparing ourselves for that very future that is to come! That very future that is now come. And that is an added wrinkle in this time of Advent. Yes, we confess that He will come again to judge the living and the dead, but we also confess that He is come now. Wherever two or three are gathered there He is. As often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we share in the His presence among us. These precious Words of our Lord are not only a call to wait for His coming again, but to here and now see with eyes of faith His presence already among us. As it was in the days of Noah so it is now. We too are to keep time with Noah while He waits the flood, by keeping time with the presence of God among us. Our Lord calls us to keep the eyes of faith always open, so that we do not miss His face; His presence among us here and now. While the world looks inward, our Lord calls us to lift our eyes up to the Hills to wait and watch for Him.
This is the beauty and splendor of this little season. It listens to the voice of the Lord of Time and calls us to spend our days, our year, keeping watch for Him, who has fulfilled all things as He is fulfilling all things in us; purging and forgiving sin, bringing about life and salvation, and making us ready for the marriage feast of the Lamb. In Him past, present and future collide and living in Him they collide in us. Advent is not like the bumper sticker that I find so very humorous, "Jesus is coming, look busy.” It is seeing His presence here and now by faith, while we await, plead, beg, long for, and desire the Day and Hour when He will come again. While we wait, we keep watch for our Lord in every place that He has promised to meet us. In Word and Sacrament In the face of a fellow human being for whom He died. In the agony of sickness and the face of death. In the pain of heartbreak and loneliness. In the confession of our most devious and deadly sins. In the lowliest and poorest among us. For hereditary and now our Lord is, working out the reality of His kingdom as in the days of Noah, judgment and grace, Law and Gospel. Therefore, let us then enter into this wonderful, holy, and joyful season looking everywhere for our Lord's presence among us, yet always keeping an eye heavenward as we await His return, all while making our preparations to celebrate the past of His birth. Keeping our prayers with St. John and the whole Church.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!