First Sunday of Advent
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.Santa Claus is coming to town!
Thanksgiving is over, so it is now officially the season of Advent, preparing for Christmas...and you know what that means: We are making a list and checking it twice…
Actually we are making lots of lists….gifts you have to buy; ideas of gifts you want others to buy you; List of things to do: shop and wrap, do cards, put up the tree, decorate the house, bake cookies, visit and entertain family and friends, go to holiday concerts, etc. Lists keep us organized, so the season does not overwhelm us.
We make the lists in good faith, hoping to get it all done...one checked off item at a time... Check!
In our Gospel reading, Luke gives us a list, but not the kind we expect this first Sunday of Advent.
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.
This is an apocalyptic text that lists events that will transpire at the end of the world, including the second coming of Jesus, which seems imminent. This text comes across to us as strange and easy to ignore. Truth be told, whatever worries we may occasionally have about nuclear or environment destruction today, most of us express little concern about the end of the world and even less about Christ’s second coming.
We are in a different place from Luke’s original audience.
Luke is writing to a people who have been devastated by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
They are waiting for the end of distress among the nations and the restoration of their city and house of worship.
They are waiting for God to fulfill the promise to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth.
They are waiting for the Son of man to come in power and glory, and make all things new.
They are waiting for some light to shine in their midst of the darkness.
They are waiting and they are anxious, wondering if their waiting will ever end.
We are in a different place from Luke’s audience, or are we?
Truth be told, we know how it feels to wait for something that seems late in coming.
We may be waiting for an event on a national scale, like an end to poverty and hunger or racism or a fair immigration practice or for political cooperation for the good of the country.
We may be waiting for an international event like the end of wars--in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and other places.
We may be waiting for a global event like the protection of our environment and preservation of our planet.
Or we may be waiting for an event on a more personal level, like a letter from an estranged child, the rehabilitation of a friend, the long overdue apology, the results of a biopsy, the parent suffering to let go and be at peace. The list goes on. Whatever the case, we know the challenge of waiting, the stress of waiting, the anxiety of waiting. (D. Lose, Working Preacher)
In the gospel reading, Luke reminds his readers, then and now, that we live in an in-between place: between the coming of Christ in the flesh and his triumph over death in the resurrection and the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time and his triumph over all the powers of earth and heaven. We live in a place of tension--between God’s promise already revealed and yet not yet fully realized. We live in a time of waiting.
The question is how then shall we wait? Or better yet, how can we endure the waiting?
Luke gives us a list: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down; Don’t be overwhelmed by anxieties of day to day life. Don’t give in to despair. Don’t get drunk to numb yourself to the pain.
Easier said than done. How do we do that? Luke gives us another list of things to do: Stand up and raise your heads high. Be on guard, Stay alert, Pray for strength.
Why? Because your redemption is drawing near.
The key to living with heads high is believing that our redemption is drawing near, that is,
Christ will come again to make all things new. We know not when, we know not how, but we know that he will come. And not just at the end of time, but in our time, in our day-to-day lives.
One pastor said it like this: On this first Sunday of Advent, amid the ugliness and the beauty of our contemporary moment, God shows up. We can’t do anything to make this happen. God shows up because God wills it so. And in Luke’s gospel, God shows up suspended in the amniotic fluid of an unwed teenage mother, and then sleeping in a trough for livestock. A God like this is liable to show up anywhere.” (William Lamar, Christian Century)
Anywhere--even into our messed up, muddled up world today.
Anywhere--even into our feuding families and broken relationships.
Anywhere--even into our heavy hearts and anxious minds.
Anywhere. Anytime. If we believe that God not only can, but very well might show up when and where we least expect it, then we wait differently. We wait with hope.
Where do we find this hope? From Moses to Martin Luther King, Jr., history is full of examples of those who, because they believed the promise of a better future, found the challenges of the present not only endurable, but hopeful. Because we trust in God’s promise, we, too, amid the worries of this life, can "stand up and raise our heads" because we have heard Jesus' promise that our "redemption draws near."
How do we stand up and keep alert and heads raised high?
How do we notice where the God of redemption might be at work in our life? Make a list.
Making a list is more than an organizational tool; it can can be cultivated as a daily spiritual practice. Marilyn McEntyre, in her new book Make a List, says that the simple practice of making a list can help clarify our values, our concerns, and the direction our life is taking; making a list can change our lives and open our hearts.
This Advent season, each week in the bulletin, you will find a few prompts, to make a list. This week you will see...What weighs heavy on my heart...I am waiting for...Cracks where the light gets in...I have found hope...
Where have you found hope? It is alive and well in our world today. Here is a list I made:
Hope is what fills the space between the teenager’s text that invites the girl to go out and her response.
Hope is what the 18-year old puts in the ballot box, along with his first vote.
Hope is what the mother from Honduras carries on her back, along with her baby,
as she leaves behind gang violence and walks for miles and miles toward the US border.
Hope is what the families of those still missing in California after the devastating fires hold onto.
Hope is what an abused woman finds in the safe place of Hearth for her and her children.
Hope is what rushes in the moment you hear the doctor say “cancer.”
Hope is what comforts the man as he whispers prayer as he sits beside his beloved wife who is dying.
“Hope” writes Emily Dickinson, is the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul
-And sings the tune without the words - And never stops - at all -
Hope is what lights the Advent candle and scatters the darkness, reminding us that Jesus is the light of the world, a light no darkness can overcome.
So, you better watch out. No need to cry. No need to pout. I’m telling you why: Jesus Christ is coming to town!