04 December 2006

First Sunday of Advent Sermon

Is this as Good as It Gets?
First Sunday of Advent
December 3, 2006
Jer. 33:14-6; Ps. 25:1-10; I Thess. 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Signs, oh there will be signs, in the sun, lighting flashing in the sky, a red moon, quakes ripping the earth apart, volcanoes spewing forth hot magma and red orange lava, tidal waves crashing and altering the coast. The sheer experience of which will cause people to faint and pass out, signs, oh yeah there will be signs, we’ll know it. Then the Son of Man will descend, coming in a cloud, with power and great glory. Here is the kicker, the ringing bell to alert us, listen up church – Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, why? Because your redemption is drawing near.

We’ll definitely know when Jesus, aka the Son of Man, will be returning – creation will exult with joy and change here appearance to welcome salvation. When will this second coming take place? We have no idea. Each generation seems to think that it is the one. For generations folk went to mountaintops, leaving all behind, with a specific date in mind only to be let down. Folk have bought millions of books with exact dates and formulas only to have the day pass and an interesting revision in print for the next year. Each generation sees the events of its time as the final clue leading to the end of the world. But a look at history shows this time is just as ugly and beautiful as any. We don’t have any idea when Jesus will come back.

Advent reminds us that Jesus is coming back, but maybe not in the way that we think. So what do we do in the meantime?

I have took it upon myself when I go to my hometown to extol the virtues of three New England delights: grape nut pudding, the legacy of liberal Republicans, and my job as pastor of L. R. B. Church. People look at me with great wonder and amusement saying get outta here those three things don’t really exist, but they do. My experience told me that grape nuts were only good for chicken feed, that Republicans were only good for stepping on the working man, and that ministry in a Baptist Church would always be a fight and never fun, rewarding and deeply moving. You just open yourself up enough to God’s comic and ironic ways. Sometimes right around the bend and over the hill there are some beautiful sights to behold. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side (it helps when you live on what was once an old cow pasture).

This morning I would invite you to open your minds about our time as we wait, that you seek with great anticipation some beauty waiting for us to behold.

When we hear sermons, read books on or experience scripture lessons on the return of Christ most, if not all, don’t paint a pretty picture. They produce fearful images, frightening screams and terrible life ending scenarios of the rapture. We are led to believe this world, time and age are disastrous and full of nothing by evil – nothing short of a return of Jesus himself can set things right.

This is how most interpret the lesson from the Third Gospel. But as we prepare for the Second Coming, we have to ask what about the First Coming of Christ? What about Emmanuel in this world right here, right now? What about God with and for us? What about the incarnation – the free choice of God to fully enter and participate in this world as a human? What about that holy inhabitation?

The world is chaotic, nuts, unhealthy and at times impossible to accept. Yet, Christ is still present, God is still with us and for us, the Holy Spirit is here to be our helper, advocate, and guide in this world.

We are all waiting in hopeful expectation of Christ’s full return, we loningly sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel but in the meantime we are not alone, we are not without hope or reason to celebrate. We live in a world and live a life already deemed worthy and holy by Christ’s first coming, the incarnation.

Here we are on the morning of December 3, 2006 roughly 1,976 years since Christ’s death, still waiting for Christ’s Second Coming. Waiting for 1,976 years can take its toll on humanity, it can cause us to let our guard down, it can also cause our hearts to be weighed down. 1,976 years of waiting can blur our vision and wash away some enduring memories. 1,976 years of waiting can cause us to forget our poetic claims that drastically challenge the dominant paradigm.

In Jesus’ time 2,000 years ago life was just as difficult as it is today. The pain and suffering of life were too much for many. Great numbers joined social clubs where the drank most of the night and pain away. We may not fill our bellies with extreme amounts of alcohol like they did every night, but we do have our own remedies to make us forget and escape the pain and suffering of our own lives. We have our own vices that weigh our hearts down. Our hearts can and do easily fall into the trap of apathy.

In times like these how do we proclaim good news? How do we puncture the apathy? If you take only one thing away during this season of Advent take this: incarnation, Emmanuel: God for us and with us. God is not against you but is for you. God doesn’t want your life to be a living hell but a life full of meaning and purpose and grace.

So we gather here weekly, and once a year starting four Sundays before Christmas we prepare, we sing, we hear and we experience some good news that the life we are living and in the midst of isn’t as good as it gets that is more to life. That there is an element of God’s living presence in the world right here, right now that can drastically change me and those in my life if I start opening my eyes to it.

In 1895 Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story about a cobbler named Martin. Summary followed of Where Love Is, God Is.

Brothers and Sisters don’t wait for the signs of the earth, the moon and the waves. Don’t let your hearts be weighed down. Live a life of the incarnation, God with and for us, right here, right now. We can meet God everyday, we can welcome God everyday. Prepare for that and don’t worry about anything else.

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