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Rev. Judy Chan
28 Nov 2021 – Advent 1
Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36
Good evening! Happy Advent! There are many traditions associated with the season. Christmas decorations are one, the advent candles are another. And then there’s the Advent calendar. Are you familiar with those? The ones I bought in the past were fairly simple, a thick piece of cardboard with a winter or Christmassy scene on it, and 2 dozen small windows, numbered 1 to 24. You open one window each day from Dec 1st until Xmas Eve. And behind each little window? A Scripture verse or picture related to the coming of Jesus. Sometimes there might even be a piece of chocolate inside.
I thought these were cute to give to my children when they were small. You know, something fun to help them think about the real meaning of Christmas. One year, things were going pretty well for the first few days of Advent. And then at the end of week 1, I came home and found that Christmas had come early. All 24 windows were open, all the chocolates were out. “Girls,” I said. “What happened??” They sheepishly confessed, “Sorry mom! We just couldn’t wait!” That was the last Advent calendar in our house.
Looking back, I think maybe it’s not just children who have trouble getting Advent right. Maybe we adults do too. You know, I grew up as a Baptist so we didn’t even have Advent. Then I went to seminary where I became a Presbyterian and learned about the liturgical seasons and colors. And purple – that was the color for Advent and Lent.
Have you ever wondered though why purple is the color for Advent? Lent – we understand that. Lent’s a penitential season, a time of intense self-examination as we journey with Christ to the Cross. But Advent? What are we guilty of before Christmas? Jesus hasn’t even been born yet! So in some churches, there’s been a move towards the color blue for Advent instead of purple. They say Advent should be a season of Hope – hope in the 1st coming of Jesus as a baby in a manger and hope for the world in the 2nd coming of Christ at the end of time.
Now, we probably get the first part about hope in the birth of a child – it’s like that popular quote for new moms and dads: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” But did you know that for much of its history, Advent has been more about the Second Coming of Jesus … Christ returning in glory as Ruler and Judge over the cosmos? In other words, God’s opinion that the world should not go on.
How do we reconcile these two seemingly opposite moods and messages of Advent – repentance and hope, purple and blue, judgment and salvation? Maybe we have to look at the Gospel lesson for today to get some answers. So, let’s go there.
The Gospel reading is obviously disturbing. There’s no way around that. Alarming signs in the sky, catastrophe in the seas, confusion among the nations. Some may say, well, we already can see that when we look around the globe right now. So actually the end of the world doesn’t seem that far-fetched, does it? But the Gospel message for Advent is more than an ancient prediction proven true in the disasters we have wrought upon the Earth.
In the message of Advent, God is the subject, not us. So let’s spend some time to reflect on God’s message in Luke 21:25-36.
What do we do when hear these kinds of ‘apocalyptic’ passages in the Bible? I have to admit that for most of my life, I’ve tried to ignore them. I guess my reasoning is: “What can I do about it anyway?” But since I’m the preacher and this is my text, I can’t ignore it now. And high time because once I was confronted with something in the Bible that I didn’t really want to think about, I found out it said a lot more than I expected.
So, what do we find out when we dare to take the 2nd Coming of Jesus seriously? I hear two big messages from God: (1) Don’t be surprised and (2) Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be surprised. Why should Christians be surprised that Jesus is coming back? It’s in the Bible. Jesus speaks of the Son of Man returning in glory. And after his ascension, didn’t the angels tell the disciples that Jesus would come back the same way they saw him go up into heaven? And what do we often hear during Holy Communion liturgy? “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” That’s straight from I Corinthians 11:26.
No, it’s not that we haven’t heard Jesus is coming back. That’s not the problem. I think the problem is we’ve quit believing it’s really going to happen. That the world would actually end with Jesus coming down from the sky to put an end to all our sufferings and injustices. After all, people have been waiting for 2000 years and he hasn’t come back yet.
I cannot tell you the exact day or way Jesus will return. No one knows except God. But I can tell you that the 2nd Coming of Christ is crucial to our hope for eternal life. It’s crucial because if Jesus does not return, there’s no one to rescue us from the pit of Hell. If Jesus does not return, then Evil has the last word.
But you and I know Evil does not have the last word. God does. And God spoke it on the Cross when our Savior declared, “It is finished.” IT IS FINISHED. Not just Jesus’ earthly life, but the power of sin and death over the world. Indeed if in the first coming, Jesus declared God’s intention to change our destiny, then his 2nd coming is final confirmation that God has done exactly that.
According to Scripture, the 2nd coming of Jesus will be an earth-shattering event. Just as a heavenly host declared his birth in Bethlehem, and darkness filled the sky at his death in Jerusalem, the return of Jesus will be signaled by cosmic disorder. We’re not sure what all the biblical language means, but for sure if anyone doubts that God is in control, there will be no more reason to doubt. God has returned once and for all to fulfill the promise of a new heaven and a new earth.
So don’t be surprised, Jesus tells us. Don’t be caught off guard or give up hope. Salvation is at hand, and I am coming in person to deliver it.
Which brings us to the other message of Advent today. Don’t be afraid. Well, you might be thinking, why should I be afraid if God is coming to save us? Because the hard truth of the matter is this: There is no salvation without judgment. Jesus is not only coming back to save us, but to judge the living and dead, as we say in the Apostles’ Creed.
I confess when I think about the Final Judgment of God, I am afraid. In fact, one reason I started going back to church when I was a teenager was an illustration in the newspaper showing the Last Judgment. It was the full-page Saturday ad for church services in my little town in Mississippi. There was a terrified looking man and woman and the question “How will you answer God at the Last Judgment when He asks, Why were you not in the House of the Lord on Sunday?”
Well, since then, I’ve spent a whole lot of time in the House of the Lord. And I may think I’m better than a lot of people, or at least I’m not the worst of the bunch, but is that enough? Even if I throw myself at the foot of the Cross and at the mercy of the blood of the Lamb, I’m still afraid of being judged and found coming up short. As we put it: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” This is our human dilemma.
So if we really take the 2nd coming of Christ seriously, how can we not be afraid? The Bible says by being alert, on duty, 24/7. Everything counts. Everything. It’s like the job of a security guard. You never know what will happen next – so you have to be ready all the time, right? Don’t be caught napping or on your phone looking at the horse races, or coming in late and leaving early. There’s a joke that goes: Jesus is coming, look busy!
Well, Jesus is coming, but we don’t need to look busy. We need to be busy praying and working for the Kingdom of God. You might feel what you do day in and day out doesn’t really matter. But it does. Every act of kindness and compassion, every truth instead of lies, every courageous act for justice and peace, every sacrifice you make for the common good – they all count. They all contribute to bringing God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. And they all are remembered by God on that final day when the verdict on our eternal destiny is decided.
So, don’t be surprised and don’t be afraid. Advent is the season to be Born Anew with Hope because He is coming back. And if you look forward to it, long for it, and get ready for it, the 2nd coming of Christ is good news indeed. Thanks be to God. Amen.