SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2016 | ADVENT
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Psalm Psalm 122
Old Testament Isaiah 2:1–5
New Testament Romans 13:11–14
Gospel Matthew 24:36–44
Today is the first day in Advent. Advent is the beginning of our journey through the life of the Christ and the church via the liturgical calendar, and it is a peculiar season. In Advent we both enter into and remember the longing of our mothers and fathers in the faith as they waited for the Messiah and look ahead to the redemption of the world with the Second Coming of Christ. We stand between worlds. We live in the already, but not yet.
Of course this morning we lit the candle of hope. This is a season of remembering hope and living in hope, but why? Why is there so much talk of hope in the biblical text and why we do we dedicate part of the liturgical year to remind us that we have hope?
I think of Scriptures like:
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12, ESV)
“…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf….” (Hebrews 6:19–20, ESV)
John Piper says Christian hope is important because without it, we can’t live the life we are meant to live in Jesus. He says:
If our future is not secured and satisfied by God then we are going to be excessively anxious. This results either in paralyzing fear or in self-managed, greedy control. We end up thinking about ourselves, our future, our problems and our potential, and that keeps us from loving.
In other words, hope is the birthplace of Christian self-sacrificing love.
If, then, hope is the driving force behind our life of service to the people around us, we should make sure we know what we are hoping for!
In our Old Testament passage today, the prophecy from Isaiah 2:1-5, we get a glimpse of what we are hoping for.
“and 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.” …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.” (Isaiah 2:3–4, ESV)
It is the whole world coming to God, and learning to walk in his ways, living in his love, and there being real, lasting peace between human beings and God, and human beings and one another.
Our hope is not is getting a pair of angel wings, a harp and cloud to float on. Our hope is not for disembodied existence in a pure spirit realm. Our hope isn’t even for the destruction of those that we might see as enemy people or nations.
No, our hope is for a new kind society, truly characterized by love of God and love of neighbor. All nations coming to God and living in peace. This is what we should yearn for because it is what God yearns for. This is what we hope for, but how can it happen? Who can accomplish it? Will it be you and me?
Well, yes and no.
Our hopes for the future were secured by Jesus on cross. Since he lived a perfect life, he could offer a perfect ransom for us on cross. By taking our sin upon himself in a way we could never do ourselves he defeated death and the works of the devil. We know because he was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father that his victory was definitive and decisive. So our hope for the future can only be because of Jesus and what he has done, and we know that only he can bring ultimate completion to the work of setting the world right.
We live in the already, but not yet.
Yes, Jesus hasn’t not yet returned. But in the power of the Spirit his Resurrection life is displayed and manifested in his Body, the Church. In you and me. So although the whole world isn’t living the in Resurrection reality yet, we can.
I think this what Isaiah was getting at when—after describing this amazing, seemingly impossible vision of what the world could be life—he exhorted the people of God,
“…come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:5, ESV)
This is what St. Paul is getting at when he encourages the Roman church not to become complacent while they wait for Jesus to come back. He believes we can live the Risen life of Jesus now!
“…put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 13:14, ESV)
The clothes make the man, right? This idea of putting on Christ is the way you put on your outfit every day is picture of actively, daily, purposefully, and intentionally returning to your hope in him. As you do that his life in you begins to spill over into the world around you.
What does this all mean?
First, Christian hope isn’t just kind of wanting one possibility more than several others. It’s not like saying, “well, it might rain or snow today, but I sure hope it snows!” No, Christian hope is a real confidence, based on the finished work of Christ, that God is going to deliver on what he has promised to do: the redemption of the world.
Second, we get to play a part in this coming redemption because it’s already started! We live out the Resurrection Reality in the here and now in the community of faith. That rock solid Christian hope is realized in the present as we pour out our lives in service to others. This is why Jesus is telling us to stay awake and aware (Matt. 24:42)! What we do in the present is going to matter in the future!
In the C. S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch, and Wardrobe, four young children find themselves in the wintery world of Narnia. The land has been cursed with perpetual winter by an evil witch, the White Queen. The worst part is that even though it’s Winter all the time, Christmas never comes.
However, something new and good is happening in this world that ignites hope. The snow is thawing. There are sightings of Santa Claus. It seems Christmas could be coming.
There are rumors that Aslan is on the move. “Who is Aslan?” asks Susan one of the children. Mr. Beaver answers, “Don’t you know? He’s the King! He’s the Lord of the whole wood…He’ll put all to rights.”
The children are worried about their friend, Mr. Tumnus, who has been turned to stone by the wicked White Queen. They start to strategize and come with plans, but they are interrupted by Mr. Beaver who says, “no good your trying, of all people.”
What are these children going to do against a force of nature?
This is our reality too. Our best efforts, our most well-intentioned and carefully laid plans, are nothing compared to the sin that weighs down the world. Yes, we have a part to play, but whatever we try to do apart from what Jesus is already doing in and through us is useless.
Mr. Beaver doesn’t just chastise the children. It’s a good thing that they want to help their friend so he helps them get their priorities straight. “The quickest way you can help [Mr. Tumnus] is by going to meet Aslan” says Mr. Beaver. “once he’s with us, then we can begin doing things.”
The best thing we can do to begin to help the people around us is to meet with Jesus, and this is exactly what we are doing this morning. We are meeting Jesus in Word and Sacrament, receiving him into our hearts and minds and lives, as individuals and in community. Remember this week, remind yourself, that Jesus is with you, so no matter what the world looks like, no matter how long it seems we have to wait see Jesus coming in the clouds, you can begin do things today, because of and in light of what he has already done and what he is doing and what he will do. Because of Jesus, you can walk in the light. In the power of the Holy Spirit, you can put on Christ.
As you place your hope in him, let that hope dispel any kind of discouragement, dissolution, idleness, complacency, anxiety or coldness of heart. The message of Advent is that winter is over. The ice and snow of the world and in your heart is beginning to thaw.
There is a hope that cannot be shaken.
Christmas is coming.