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Advent 1C Sermon
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13;
Luke 21:25-36
December
2, 2018

 

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1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Luke 21:25-36

‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

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

Over the centuries Christians have taken ideas aspects of the pagan culture and made them their own by applying them to our faith in Jesus Christ. Case in point – the dates upon which we celebrate both Christmas and Easter were decided not because of their historical accuracy with Jesus’ birth and resurrection, but because there were groups from pagan religions who had various celebrations at those times which were pulling Christian people away from the faith. Christian leaders claimed these times as important in the life of Jesus and thus re-defined their importance for Christians forever. Paul actually does a similar thing with a pagan concept in our reading from 1 Thessalonians when he says, “And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” Now the Greek word for that simple concept of coming is Parousia. Parousia brings with it loads of connotations to today’s theologians and religious people, because it does not refer to someone or something arriving someplace in general. Parousia points us to the coming of Jesus Christ at a time and in a way in which no one knows. Some call it the second coming of Christ and some call it the next coming of Christ. However you want to refer to it, the Parousia is certainly an important theme for this first Sunday of Advent. We begin this season of preparation for Christmas by remember what Jesus, Paul and so many others reminded us of – that Jesus has promised to come again and reconcile all of creation to God.

But Paul did not originate the usage of Parousia to refer to the coming of Jesus. This is a word that he borrowed from another context, much like we commandeered the times to celebrate Christmas and Easter. Much of the language we use today in our religious setting originated in a political context, especially the titles we have for Jesus. For example, the Roman Emperor was referred to as Father, Lord and Savior regularly in written and spoken communications. And when this Savior was to travel and arrive in a specific location, the term used was Parousia. So you see, when Paul prayed that God would strengthen their hearts to make them blameless at the coming of the savior, he was walking a fine line between appropriating terms of the vernacular of the day, and committing sedition against the Roman Empire! He was proclaiming the news of the coming of the savior in ways that the Romans used to proclaim to coming of their emperor to a specific city or region.

It must not have been received well by everyone, as Acts 17 tells us that Paul and his companions had to leave the Thessalonica to go to Berea because they were turning the world upside down, acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, and saying that there is another king named Jesus. Borrowing language from the secular/political realm was met with mixed reviews in that ancient time, but for Paul, this was a vital part of what it means to be a Christian person. And really one reason for him writing this letter, according to our passage this morning, is the joy that he has over reports that the church in Thessalonica is growing. Despite the threats around them, people believed that this one who was crucified and raised again – AND IS COMING AGAIN – is the true Lord and Savior of all.

As we shift focus to our own setting today we still live with the challenge of looking for and expecting Jesus to be coming into our lives while the political, economic and social powers around us say that we have to make things great for ourselves. With such social problems and issues going on like caravans of refugees at our borders, plants and factories closing, government debt, poverty, friction between nations and so on – none of which any human being seems to have an answer to without their own political agenda getting in the way, we pray and pray for the Parousia of our Savior: that he would come soon. And not only that, we expect that just as Jesus promised it would happen, indeed it will.
Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading that, “this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place” sometimes confuse us when we see that he has not returned in a cloud with power and great glory yet today. Which generation did Jesus have in mind? But according the Luke’s use of the term, “generation” he is not so much talking about people of a particular time period as he is talking about a particular kind of people. Actually, the phrase has been used to refer to those who turned to violence and corruption in Noah’s day in Genesis 7:1, and of the ungodly against who the Lord guards the faithful in Psalms 12:7. In Luke’s gospel “this generation” includes those who have rejected God’s purposes for themselves, an evil generation that seeks signs and is set for condemnation, people who reject God’s messengers, and those who reject the Son of Man. In other words, Jesus followers can expect hostility, harassment and conflict until the very end. Those whose lives are defined as great and worthy by this world – and very often are rewarded because of that – will never be known for their hospitality to Jesus’ new world, or to those who lives are shaped by it.

That is why this season of Advent is so important to us. It was important to those in Thessalonica and that was only about 15 years after Jesus’ death. But now, a couple of thousand years later, it is even more vital for us to be encouraged as we look forward to Jesus’ coming because more and more we cannot see a human reconciliation or resolution to the human conflict that is going on in our own lives, with our families, neighborhoods and world. Watching and waiting for Jesus’ presence is our call, and it is an active call which includes sharing that same hospitality that Christ shows us with others. We are called to trust the promised coming of our savior, and to never stop loving in his name until he arrives to love everyone perfectly as he has promised.
I recently read a story about a high ranking and beloved moderator in the Presbyterian Church who was visiting a somewhat controversial church in Eastern Europe in the days just after the Berlin Wall had come down. The parish was in a remote mountainous area where weather conditions were icy and harsh. Diplomatic relations between that country and the US were stilled strained, so there were a lot of obstacles for this person to overcome to get to the little church: the plane was late, customs took forever, and the drive took longer because of conditions. They weren’t even sure if anyone would still be at this church when they arrived! Someone in town gave them directions on how to get there, and they started off again. As they got near to the area where the church was located they noticed a long line of lights. As they drew nearer they beheld, one after another, the members of the church each of them bundled up against the cold and holding a candle. One light pointed them to the next light, hundreds of lights … and they followed them right up to the front door of the church. When this guest of honor shook hands with the host pastor she asked him through an interpreter, “How long were you planning to wait out here in the dark and cold?” He simply replied, “Until you came.”

The generation that opposes the love of Jesus will not pass away until he comes again. That is why all of us need to hold out our lights in trust and hope that the Parousia of our Lord will happen in God’s good time. May it be so, in the name of Christ; Amen.