a sermon for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Year C
Prophecy in the Bible always contains a message of hope, while false prophets feed off our fears. But where do we find hope in the news today?
Once upon a time, a family was eating Sunday dinner and discussing that morning’s sermon about the prophecy of Second Coming of Christ. The teenager said that he still had a lot of questions about the Lord’s return. His father tried his best to answer him, but after a while he simply closed the conversation by saying, “We do not have all the answers we might like, but we do have all we need to know. The best preparation is simply to live each day as if it were your last.”
“I tried that once,” the teenager replied, “and you grounded me for a month!”
Of course, today is the First Sunday of Advent. It’s not only the first day of a new liturgical season, it also the first day of a new liturgical year. You can see that the Advent wreath is set up and one candle is lit, the altar is vested in blue. But more importantly, all of our readings have to do with prophesies about the Second Coming of Christ, and that may sound strange. After all, isn’t Advent the season in which we prepare for Christmas?
Well, sorta…and not really. It’s true that Advent is a season of waiting and preparing for the coming of the Christ child, that is, the time when God broke into human history 2000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ. And it is also a season of preparing ourselves for the time when Christ comes again. We live in between these two great events in which God broke into human history – the Incarnation, in which God took on human form, and the Second Coming, in which Christ will return. As Christians, we live in the surety that Jesus lived and also in the hope that he will come again. Today’s readings are prophecies, first about Christ’s arrival on earth and about his return again.
Now the thing about prophecy in the bible is that it always has a message of hope. Without hope, all that is left is false-prophecy; false prophets feed off our fears. Jeremiah lived about 600 years before Jesus, when Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians. After the city fell, the citizens who were strong and healthy, and those who were the rich and influential, were all marched off to live and work in Babylon about 600 miles away. They were exiled from their homes and way of life. Meanwhile, the poor, the weak, and the sick were left behind in this destroyed city, their home. The prophet Jeremiah stayed behind and spoke to them these words of God’s promise:
The days are surely coming when I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. And the people of God, Jerusalem, will be saved and dwell securely.
Do you hear the hope and the promise in these words? Don’t be afraid, Jeremiah says after the city of Jerusalem is overrun by foreign invaders, a savior is coming. God will save God’s people.
Fast forward to the time of Jesus, when Jerusalem is once again overrun by an occupying army, this time the Romans. He speaks of even darker times to come, when people will faint with fear and foreboding, when the news reports will be filled with wars and rumors of wars, when people will be afraid to even walk the streets of their cities, when people of goodwill will be silent in the face of strong men and weak leaders. In the face of all this, Jesus says, Don’t be afraid.
When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
It’s perfectly understandable that many people hear these and similar prophecies of the Bible and believe they are predicting this very time we live in. Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear of another crisis or act of terror, both around the world and here at home – economic disasters, floods, bombings and shootings. Meanwhile, our leaders and those who aspire to be our leaders seem to be completely incapable of the kind of basic civility to one another to make any kind of corrective action possible.
But the point of these prophesies isn’t that the end of the world is here. The point is that it has always been this way. Wars and violence, floods and disasters are all part of the broken world we live in. And our modern false prophets are only too quick to tell us that they have the solution to all of our problems.
This is why these teachings of Jesus are so important, not because they predict our current sorry state of affairs, but because they teach us how to live in this present situation, in these in-between times – between his coming and his coming again.
Don’t be afraid, he says, the people of God will be saved.
Don’t be afraid, stand up, raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
This is the hope of Advent that Jesus and the true prophets bring us. Because no matter when natural disasters strike, or nations go to war, or people are fainting with fear and foreboding over what is happening in the world – Jesus has the same answer for this and every generation. He has the same answer for us now as he had back then.
Don’t be afraid –
stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.
If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that there will aways be one more mad man, one more bombing, one more conquering army, or one more shooter. That is part of the brokenness of this world. At the same time, there will aways be false prophets – prophets who feed our fears – claim to have simple solutions to incredibly complex problems, solutions that really have nothing to do with hope.
But the hope of Advent is that because of God’s great love for us and all of creation, we need never be afraid. We can have the confidence of knowing that as the people of God, the Lord is our righteousness – right here and now. And because of God’s righteousness, we need not fear to speak truth where there is falsehood, hope where there is despair, justice where there is oppression, and life where there is death all around us.
The hope of Advent means that we need not be afraid. Instead, we can be alert and watching, loving and serving. Because the Lord is our righteousness and our hope, and we are bearers of God’s kingdom to the world. And in this, the Kingdom of God is present in and among and through us.
And when the time finally does come, when Christ returns as we know he will, we will rise to see his coming again in glory.
Thanks be to God.