Sunday, December 2, 2018

"Prepare the Way: Stand" - Sermon, December 2, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Prepare the Way: Stand”
Rev. Andrew Davis
December 2, 2018 – First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Luke 21: 25-36

         How many of you already have your homes decorated for Christmas?  How many of you were at Main Street Sparkle on Friday night?  As we look around us, the song title sung by Perry Como and a number of other artists at this time of year says, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” as the town is now decorated and looking extra festive.  We saw signs of it looking like the Christmas season earlier last month as the ornaments were being hung on the trees along Main Street.  Then on Monday, the lights were being strung on the tree at the courthouse and of course, Sparkle was amazing once again thanks to the work of the Quincy Chamber. I think it’s safe to say that we are now in the Christmas spirit around here, especially as we just had some snowfall too.  
            However, you might wonder why we aren’t all decked out with boughs of evergreen and why we aren’t singing Christmas carols in the church quite yet?  That’s because today, we begin the season of Advent, a four-week period of preparing the way for the birth of Christ and preparing our hearts and homes to let the Christ child into our hearts and home at Christmas once again.  But rest assured, it’ll look more like Christmas before long!!  I’ll admit that waiting isn’t my favorite part, except I’m realizing the older I get each year, I have come to appreciate Advent more and more every year and look forward to Advent. 
 One year, when I was somewhere between 10-12 years old, I was always eager to jump right into Christmas right after Thanksgiving, although one embedded value was that we wait until December 1 until we even put a single decoration up. One of the years, my mom decided to take a new approach to Christmas decorating and decorate the house a little bit at a time each week, which did not sit too well with me initially.  Over the years, I find more meaning by putting things out little by little instead of just jumping right into Christmas, as it makes preparing the way even more meaningful and gives me a greater appreciation of waiting.  Likewise, I’m not too eager to put things away the day after Christmas, as the Christmas season actually lasts until Epiphany, which is January 6th
I appreciate that as we wait and prepare the way for Christmas, Advent gives us an opportunity to adopt spiritual practices that will feed our soul, that will allow us to slow down a little bit, and give us a moment to step out of the busy nature that this time of year brings.  It’s hard not to have a mile-long to-do list, or be bombarded by all the advertisements along with all the shopping, the rich, sweet, and tasty foods, the decorating, school concerts, plays, and other things that make this season so busy and overwhelming at times.  One practice I’m finding valuable is being able to step away and spend some time with God through journaling and guided meditations. And tonight, I’ll begin lighting my home Advent wreath.  As you saw at the beginning of worship, we began by lighting the first candle on the Advent wreath, as the candles represent the light of hope, peace, love, and joy that Christmas brings to us as we prepare the way.  Even while we need to take the time to quiet our heart, we do want to stand idle either.   As we await Christ’s birth and at the same time, await Christ’s second coming, or Parousia, we set the stage to prepare the way of the Lord, stand up, and wake up as Jesus talks about the future in our Gospel lesson from Luke 2.  
As we engage with the text that we just read, our Gospel lesson includes some vivid imagery that Jesus uses when he talks about his second coming.  As followers of Christ, we stand in the in-between times of Jesus’s first arrival with his birth and in his return to earth, which has yet to happen, also known as the now, but not-yet.  Jesus explains that just before his return, some unsettling things and different phenomena will happen around the earth before we see “’the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory” (Lk. 21: 25, NRSV).  It’s a pretty impressive sight that Jesus describes here as the son of God, although for many, it could conjure up images and emotions of fear or awe.  Even while waiting, Jesus says to pay attention, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk. 21: 28, NRSV).  
There is a certain urgency that Jesus is instructing the disciples at the time Luke was written, as 
like the prophets, both Jesus and Luke expected the end to come before the end of their generation, but the continuation of history does nothing to invalidate the warning of the judgment of the wicked or the assurance of the redemption of the faithful.[i]

            All the more reason that we as a people of faith cannot stand idle and why we need to stay awake and pay attention, listening to God while being guided by the Holy Spirit.  Like the reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah that we heard this morning, there was an expectation of God sending a messiah to the Israelite people when Jeremiah was written.   Likewise, in Luke’s gospel and even in Paul’s letters, the end of the world as they knew it and God’s new creation was expected any day, yet here we are 2018 years after Jesus’s birth and we’re still waiting.  Jesus is saying to us today that we need to stand ready for our redemption with God, and actively wait instead of sitting and twiddling our thumbs, as we don’t know when we will “stand before the Son of Man” or when Jesus will return (Lk. 36, NRSV).  
            Even though we are in the season of Advent and preparing for Christmas, our world is much like the world that Jesus was ministering to, messy and tense.  Today, we’re seeing political tensions on a daily basis around the world, natural disasters, earthquakes, volcanic eruption, and other phenomena happening around us and around the world.  And yes, there are some who believe it may be a sign from God.  Nevertheless, we still do not know the exact time when Jesus’ return will happen, although if he was to return, would we be ready?  It’s why we need to “be alert at all times“ as we actively stand and wait (Lk. 21: 36, NRSV).  Jesus says all of this because “the danger is that if the disciples allow their hearts to be weighed down by worldly distractions, the coming of the day will catch them the way a trap catches an animal unawares” and the same goes for us today as 21stcentury disciples of Jesus.[ii]  
            The intent of this morning’s scripture lessons is not to scare us into believing in God/the Holy Spirit or following Jesus, but it does give us an urgency that we need to be living in hope of God’s redemption and restoration of the world when Christ does come again.  It’s important to stand at attention as we prepare our hearts and homes for Christmas during the season of Advent, but at the same time, there is hope even amidst such vivid imagery and apocalyptic language that feels more like something of a doomsday movie as we await Jesus’s second coming.  Perhaps, our gospel lesson and reading from the prophet Jeremiah are both pointing us towards God’s new creation and a restoration of order.  Rev. Dr. Irving Cotto shares in our series commentary that what we are seeing in both of our readings this morning 
is a vision with concrete implications for the present circumstances in which the people of God find themselves…the church claims the message of this first Sunday of [Advent] as an opportunity to “announce a future that enters around the restoration of this world to its proper character in God’s creation.”[iii]

            That’s where we can find hope during Advent, a future filled with hope in God’s restoration and redemption of the world and creation. That’s why it’s important that we try our best to live accordingly too, loving God and neighbor, forgiving those who have wronged us, loving the creation that we have right now, cultivating new spiritual practices, and building upon the practices we already do. At the same time, we can share a message of hope, especially by standing with those who struggle at this time of year, as we do need to be mindful that this isn’t ‘the most wonderful time of year’ for everyone.  On the other hand, “for those who live to step on others, the message of Jesus is a message of judgment and a call to repentance,” yet when repentance of our sins and wrongdoing happens, redemption and forgiveness from God and those we have wronged are both possible.  Even amidst the messiness of our world, even in light of disasters and earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or fires, the good news is that God still shows up and that we can be redeemed, and restoration can happen.  
            As I’ve said the last couple weeks, God has shown up and stood with those coming to bring aid to those affected by the Camp Fire.  God showed up through our Rotary Club and Crisis Center by preparing Thanksgiving dinners for those in need.  God shows up and stands with those who are giving of their time this season in ringing The Salvation Army bells, and God shows up and stands with us, even when we are going to-and-fro during this very busy season.  As we can see, we’re not standing idle, as we’re actively waiting, watching, and preparing for Jesus’ birth and as we bring the kingdom of God here to earth not just during the Advent season, but throughout the entire year. As we discussed during our Advent study this last week, Rev. Mike Slaughter writes that “Advent is the expectation that Jesus will come in the present to birth in us God’s new work. It is a season of active preparation as we welcome Jesus down to earth.”[iv]Let us be active as we make all the preparations as we get ready to welcome the Christ child into our hearts and homes at Christmas.  As we go into this new week and step into the season of Advent by taking some time to reflect and put your faith into action, what are some signs and happenings you are seeing around you that you are paying close attention to?  How are you praying, staying alert, and standing at attention, particularly in ways you can help bring God’s kingdom here to earth? And finally, how are you preparing your heart and home to welcome the Christ child into your midst at Christmas? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say, AMEN!!          

[i]R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 409.  
[iii]Ministries, Discipleship.  2018.  “First Sunday of Advent 2018.  Year C – Preaching Notes –”Umcdiscipleship. Org.  Accessed November 29, 2018.  
[iv]Mike Slaughter & Rachel Billups, Down to Earth: The Hopes and Fears of All the Years are Met in Thee Tonight (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 11.  

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