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Advent 1A Sermon
Romans 13: 11-14,
Matthew 24: 36-44

November 27, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Back in the1970’s, the pop/rock group, “Chicago” first asked us, “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If so I can’t imagine why, we’ve all got time enough to cry.” Between people coming up to him to ask him what time he had on his watch and walking down the street being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock, the singer obviously is a bit exasperated by the infatuation that people seem to have with time.
Do you really know what time it is? No, I don’t mean what time it is on your watch. I mean what time it is, as in what season; what is it that the conditions around us is creating? We celebrated Thanksgiving last week, and we have a little under a month until Christmas. Many people take this entire time to celebrate Christmas, and if you are like me, you will attend more than one Christmas party in the next couple of weeks. Christmas music has been on the radio for the better part of a month already, and decorations are up all over town. It must be Christmastime.

Only, it isn’t yet! In our church, it is the time which we call, “Advent.” And it is the first Sunday of advent, so the only sign that something is coming is the wreath with one candle lit. The tree isn’t up, nor are any of the other decorations. You might have been disappointed to be greeted by, “Wake, awake, For Night is Flying,” instead of, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as an opening hymn. And what about that Gospel lesson, “About that day and hour no one knows … keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Yes we do – it’s December 25th! That’s when it happens every year!
But there is something deeper going on here, and that is the reason why we don’t rush into the time of Christmas before spending a little time in Advent. It’s not like Lent – it’s only four weeks instead of six. And I’m not forcing the newer translation of the Lord’s Prayer upon you like during Lent. But it is an important time when we are called to focus upon the next coming of Jesus just as much as on the first coming of Jesus.

Paul describes it pretty well to the Romans in our second lesson this morning. He reminds them that they know what time it is – they are living in the advent of their lives, between the first and second coming of Christ. It is no longer nighttime. It is daytime. It is time to wake up from sleep, lay aside works of darkness, and live honorably, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. According to Paul the answer of the question, “What time is it?” is, “The dawn of Jesus’ presence among us.” Now, Paul had some ideas about Jesus’ next coming – he firmly believed that it would happen during his earthly lifetime. As that time was coming to a close, you can imagine that he and the others around him were starting to wonder – what time is it really? Should we return to our old ways and lives? Maybe I can hurry things along by selling my belongings and quitting my job – would that prove to God that I am “all in” on this faith thing? What are we to do in this in-between time?
Paul says that we are to remember the wonderful gift of salvation and relationship that we have with God. It is nearer to us now than when we became believers, so do not lose heart! He says that we are to actively watch and wait until the time of fulfillment comes. And when is that? Well, Paul doesn’t know. And according to Jesus, he doesn’t know either. Nor do any angels – only the Father knows. So, what does Jesus say we should do during this time of actively watching and waiting? Well, he shares a few examples – he describes how in the days of Noah, a time of ending was coming and people just kept up their everyday lives until they got swept away. He talks about two people being in a field when the Son of Man comes, and how one will be taken and the other left. He talks about two women grinding meal and the same thing happens. And finally, he warns us to be like a homeowner who needs to keep watch for the thief in the night. I don’t know about you, but this is one of those times when I just wish Jesus would have been a little clearer on what we are to do than simply to tell some parable-like stories about people!
So, what does it all mean? Why do we observe Advent as a more than just an opportunity to celebrate Christmas for an entire month leading up to December 25th instead of the twelve days following? Quite simply, it is because we treat the coming of Jesus as a three-fold event: History, mystery and majesty. Jesus did come in history, and we Christians are good at remembering that event with pageants and carols and parties and food! Jesus also comes in mystery – yes, somehow in God’s divine wisdom we know that where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there among us. And wherever people put on Jesus Christ, as Paul puts it, and live honorably together, Jesus is present. Jesus also will come in majesty. One day – when, God only knows – Jesus will return in all of his fullness to bring peace and joy to a world that longs for these things so dearly. Advent is about Jesus’ coming in history, mystery and majesty, and on this first Sunday of Advent, we have scripture that actually focuses more on the majestic return than the other two.

Why do we do that? Why do we focus on that “next” coming of Jesus in majesty on the first Sunday of Advent? Quite simply, it is because the work that Jesus began during his first coming and appearance is not completed. When we refer to the church as the body of Christ, we confess that the mission of Jesus, “to share God’s love so that all of the world might be saved through him,” continues through us, as frail and imperfect as we may be! And the words of Paul and Jesus this morning are there to remind us that actively waiting for that next coming means to continue in our witness to the first coming of Jesus so that it may continue.

Does anybody really know what time it is? Yes – it is the first Sunday of Advent. It is the time of the mysterious presence of Jesus Christ, when we prepare to celebrate his historic appearance as we long for his majestic appearance in some unknown future. It is time to continue to eat and drink, marry and have families, work in fields and offices, guard our houses and love our neighbors until the very time when we see Jesus return. And as we do these things, we know that it is also time to be the body of Christ so that others may long for his majestic return as well. Come Lord Jesus – Amen.