< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 1 December 2019

First Reading                                     Isaiah 2:1-5

1The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Psalm                                                             Psalm 122

1I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” 2Now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. 3Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity with itself; 4To which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, the assembly of Israel, to praise the name of the Lord. 5For there are the thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David. 6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. 7Peace be within your walls and quietness within your towers. 8For my brethren and companions’ sake, I pray for your prosperity. 9Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”

Second Reading                             Romans 13:8-14

8Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.] 11Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gospel                                             Matthew 24:36-44

36{Jesus said,} “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”


Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent; it’s a time of preparation, a time of looking toward the return of the Messiah, a time of great expectation and great anticipation.  But exactly what is it that we anticipate?  What exactly are we getting ready for?  What do we expect to happen?  Do we anticipate the end of the world, as some religious cults always do at this time of the year?  Are we preparing our hearts and spirits to receive again the coming of the Christ child into the world?  Or, are we preparing for yet another month-long shopping spree that some have called “economic first-degree murder” – willfully and with malice aforethought murdering our bank accounts?  Or, maybe we’re getting ready for the seven to ten pounds the average American will gain during the season.  My prayer is, as always, Lord, please let me be an underachiever this year!  Or are we preparing for the suicidal traffic jams at along Franklin Blvd. and in the Charlotte area, or the general atmosphere of surliness and desperation?  The Christmas season is a time of tension, and year after year we hear of folks coming to blows over the latest toy or electronic gadget.

In this Advent season, are we getting ready for the depression, the anxiety, and even the rage that accompanies the secular holiday season?  Please be warned, if we allow ourselves to get caught up in the consumer Christmas – and I firmly believe that we, here in America, celebrate two separate events on December 25 – we can easily find that instead of preparing to sing “O Holy Night” we might find ourselves living out one holy nightmare.

For the many who faithfully observe the consumer Christmas, Advent begins with the chaos of the Black Friday sales and then progresses on as the inevitable prelude to disappointment.  For the majority of these folks, Christmas somehow hardly ever measures up to their fantasies.  Even for those who manage to have some of their Christmas wishes fulfilled, the season is over so quickly, that the need to make New Year’s resolutions to lose those added pounds, or to be more patient with all those “highly skilled drivers” who somehow managed to get a driver’s license, bears down on them even before the decorations come down.  But the Advent that we in the church celebrate – the one that has nothing at all to do with the number of shopping days left until Christmas – is altogether different.

The hanging of the greens, the setting up and decorating of the Chrismon tree, the placement of the poinsettias, the lighting of the first Advent candle – all these invite us to dream dreams of a better world, to allow expectant visions that have nothing to do with sugar-plum fairies to dance in our heads.  Advent invites us to fill the cup of today with a full measure of tomorrow.  And both the readings from our first lesson and the gospel passage express the Christian hope for a different, brighter future.

When the prophet Isaiah thought about the advent of God, he envisioned a world unified in worship of God and committed to peace.  Isaiah dreamed of a time when the nations and people of the world would join together in recognizing the sovereignty of God and declare, “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that God may teach us his ways, and that we may walk in his paths” (Isa. 2:3).  In the world of Isaiah’s vision, war was a thing of the past, and the nations of the earth lived together in peace.  When you read this passage, what sort of images come to your mind when you think about Advent?  

Possibly you remember a classic work of art showing the journey to Bethlehem, the nativity, or the adoration of the Christ Child.  Or maybe, your traditional symbols of the season include the huge, brightly-lit tree on the White House lawn, or the one in Rockefeller Center in New York City.  The reality is, the way we see Advent and Christmas will determine our approach to the celebration.  Is the essential work of Advent hanging decorations or, is it more about opening our lives to the return of Christ and learning to live in peace?  Will Christmas come only if we do all the right things to get ready for it?  Or, is Christmas a gift from God that arrives whether we’re ready for it or not?

Even a casual reading of the Bible reveals that the Advent of God is much more about surprise than predictability, more about revelation than decoration.  Now please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  I think it’s wonderful that we place poinsettias in the sanctuary in memory of loved ones that are no longer here with us, and place the greens and candles in the windows and put up the Chrismon tree.  But the message of Advent is not “Put up the decorations!  Here I come!” but “Watch and wait!  We are called to be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when we least expect Him.”  Christmas will come whether we get ready for it or not.  we need to hear that over and over again: Christmas will come whether we get ready for it or not.

Christ will come whether we’re ready or not.  How many times have I heard folks say things like, “It can’t be Advent already – I haven’t even made out my shopping list yet!”  “Christmas can’t come yet!  I haven’t even brought the decorations up from the basement!”  Why do we assume that Christmas can only come if we make all the proper preparations?  The truth of the matter is, God’s entrance into our lives in the person of Jesus Christ occurs at God’s initiative and not ours.  Christ arrives in our midst not as a reward for our careful preparation for His coming, but as a result of the love and compassion of God.  Jesus comes to us whether we’re ready or not. 

In our Gospel reading from Matthew, the disciples are talking to Jesus about the Second Coming.  They want to know when that’s going to happen, so they can be ready for it.  Jesus recalls the familiar story of Noah.  He reminds the disciples that in the days of Noah, people were living their lives with little concern for God.  They were eating and drinking and marrying and celebrating.  And suddenly, in those days, the rains came.  Only Noah and his family were wise enough to listen to God’s warning and seek salvation.  When Jesus comes again, He tells his disciples, it’s going to be like that; people will be going about their business as if there is no tomorrow.

Life will be going on as usual, with people doing what they normally do, buying and selling, working and playing, just doing ordinary things.  And suddenly, without warning, the Lord will return.  When that happens, some will be ready, and some will not.  Some will remember Jesus’ admonition to be ready for the coming of the kingdom, but some will not remember, and other things will have become more important to them.  Those folks who have forgotten, or disbelieved, will be greatly disappointed on that day.  Do you see the warning the Jesus is giving?

The disciples asked about the timing of the Second Coming, but Jesus said that’s the wrong question.  Their question should be what are they supposed to do in the meanwhile while they awaiting His coming.  And so it is with us.  The important thing for us, in this season of Advent, is not when Jesus will come again, but what the quality of our waiting will be in the meanwhile.  Too many folks today concentrate all their energy on the when of Jesus’ return.

Go channel-surfing some Sunday morning before Sunday School and you will find at least one televangelist who will gladly tell you, in a convincing manner, that this is the time Jesus talked about in scripture, that the world is going to end any day now, and you’d better be ready.  And who knows – they might be right!  But I have to wonder if these folks, who claim to speak for God, have read the warning Jesus is giving His disciples here in Matthew’s gospel.  Most often what’s missing from their pronouncements of coming doom and gloom is a reminder that our concentration isn’t to be on the future, but on the present, on the mission we’ve been given today.

Jesus doesn’t call us to a passive, do-nothing kind of waiting.  Jesus says to the disciples, and to us, that the way we live together in the world as Kingdom people, as Advent people, is serious business and calls for an active faith.  And Isaiah echoes that call.   “O house of Jacob, come let us walk in the light of the Lord” (2:5).  Walking isn’t a passive activity.  Yes, Advent invites us to look to the future, but its most demanding challenge and most exciting promise comes in the announcement that the present is Kingdom time, too.  The incarnation – God coming to dwell in human flesh – declares that the cup of the present is filled to overflowing with the presence of God.

Whether we consider the present to be sunny and bright, fair to partly cloudy, or dismal and gloomy, God sends the Messiah to bring life to it.  Elsewhere, Matthew describes the gift of the season of Advent with a single word, my personal favorite of all the “Christmas words” – Emmanuel, God with us.  Emmanuel doesn’t mean God has been with us; nor God will be with us; but God with us, right now, today!  The message of Advent is that each moment has eternal significance, that the God of all things past and things future, is also the God of the here and now.  God invites us to live in the present in expectation and awareness of the fact that eternal realities can and do break in at any moment.

And so, this morning, Advent begins, and now is the time to look at the quality of our waiting.  Are we passively waiting, or are we “walking in the light of the Lord” while we actively await His coming?  Jesus has told us that the kingdom of God is “breaking in”; an interesting choice of words.  All of Jesus’ preaching and teaching has been aimed at helping us to understand what the kingdom of God is like.  Those who take seriously the kingdom of God, as Jesus teaches it, must clearly understand that our work isn’t over simply because we’ve preached “repent and be saved.”  Nor is the message that “Jesus is coming soon” the whole message.  There’s so much more to the Gospel than that.

Kingdom living isn’t a simple matter that can be summed up in a cliché or pious pronouncements.  Advent challenges us to hear and believe the promise of Emmanuel, God with us.  And this challenge doesn’t call us to be so heavenly-minded that we’re of no earthly good; to become so starry-eyed over the future that we overlook the present.  Advent reminds us that God often breaks into our lives unexpectedly.  Advent reminds us that we cannot know the time or the day of our next encounter with the holy.  Neither can we predict whether that meeting will be a joyful experience of forgiveness and peace, a call to repentance and responsibility, or some combination of the two as I suspect it will be.  

The message of Advent is to get ready, get set, and wait.  But the waiting that we do isn’t passive.  The work of the kingdom must continue even while we wait.  So, for now, the Chrismon tree has been set up, the Chrismons hung, the greens have been laid out, the candles have been placed in the windows, the first Advent candle has been lit and the poinsettias will soon come and be put in their proper places.  As the popular Christmas song suggests, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  But, are we really ready for Christmas?  

Are we really ready and waiting for Christ’s return?  I’m not so sure we are.  I think we’re too easily distracted by the consumer Christmas chaos.  But that’s why there are four Sundays in Advent.  Four Sundays to remind us of the why, the reason for the season, and to remind us of what we need to be doing.  Today, our call is the get ready, to get set and to actively wait.  And as we enthusiastically wait, we’re to be working in God’s kingdom, doing all He has commanded us to do as we anticipate Jesus’ return.


Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive