December 1, 2013
"The Peril and the Promise of Advent"
“The Peril and the Promise of Advent”
December 1, 2013
Most people want sermons to speak to their everyday lives—and that makes sense.
People also want sermons to be biblically based. And that’s what creates a wonderful tension.
Because when we open the Bible, we often discover that it is concerned with events in the distant past and we’re left with the impression that it can say nothing to us today,
as when we read those words of Isaiah that we heard this morning, we find that the Bible is concerned with the future more than the present—and again, our own lives don’t seem to be addressed.
And yet, in a very real sense, when we catch a glimpse of that biblical future, our present times and our present lives are transformed.
It is easy to lose sight of our destination when small, urgent matters press in on all sides. We need a horizon. An alert driver focuses her eyes far down the road to see what is coming. A horizon helps us to look beyond the immediate. It gives us a goal beyond the urgent.
The danger of these days is that our horizon is too close. We start looking toward December 25 and lose sight of the days to follow. With a sense of quickness or slowness, time moves us toward Christmas, but the good news of great joy for all people that we hear at Christmas carries us far beyond that day.
If we listen carefully in these days, we will hear the encouragement to take the long view; to look ahead toward God’s purposes and to let those future purposes influence our present actions.
Behold, Isaiah says, the day is coming . . . Look up, wake up, because God is doing something new
That day will bring:
This day will bring a change.
Isaiah puts it this way: “The mountain of the Lord's house—that is Jerusalem—will be established as the highest of the mountains.” And, yes, while, those words would have been met with great excitement by the ancient people who originally heard them, they don’t seem to generate the same enthusiasm in us.
But Isaiah is trying to give us a picture—helping even us today to imagine what it would be like for all people to walk in the way of the God who created the heavens and the earth:
People will be taught—finally taught by God
Paul reminds those early Christians in Rome: salvation is near
And he calls for a new way of living among people
Really an old way
The good intentions of God for fullness of life are the same throughout scripture. God’s purposes remain the same for us today.
You see, the hope of Advent is far more than the hope for the birth of a child in Bethlehem. The hope of Advent is transformation—God’s purposes will be known to all people. They are not now. That is obvious. We wait for a new day.
We are given no timetable for this: about that day and hour no one knows
Which, of course, is the truth of our individual lives—no telling when our lives will take unexpected turns; there is not telling when hoped for changes will occur; there is no telling when our days will end. We live with that awareness. Annie Dillard once asked what is the challenge for any author: “What would you write that a dying person would not find boring or trivial?”
The challenge of preaching is similar: What would I preach to a dying person that would not seem boring or trivial? This is a constant challenge since the condition of each one of us is terminal.
And this is the truth of our congregational life—there is no telling when Christ will slip in amongst us,
judging us with a searing judgment that will allow us to be just;
providing us with a peace beyond all understanding that will help us to do the risky work of peacemaking;
loving us with a deep love that enables us to live lives of compassion;
forgiving us in such a way that kindness rules in our own hearts
This is the truth of our world as well—that justice and peace come when we least expect them.
No one knows the day or the hour.
Yet the future will bring change.
And the future will bring a consequence.
The consequence of this change will be peace.
In 1959, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union gave a statue to the United Nations. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably seen photos of it. A heroic figure stands hammering away at a sword, doing all that he can to turn it into a farming implement. At the base of the statue are those familiar words from Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Certainly this has not happened yet. Certainly it is not happening now.
And yet, Isaiah tells us, “In the days to come…”
The poet and minister Henry Van Dyke:
Time is too slow for those who wait.
Time is too swift for those who fear.
Time is too long for those who grieve.
Time is too short for those who rejoice.
But for those who love, Time is eternity.
Love changes our perception of time, of now, and then.
In the midst of the Cold War, the statue that was a gift from the Soviet Union was regarded by some as nothing more than a propagandistic trick. Today it gives us a vision of the work of making peace that allows that work to continue even when violence increases. It is a vision of a new day that gives strength when we might be ready to give up.
When we love, as the poet suggests, we enter eternity so that we can do those things that are eternal, that shall endure. When we love, the resources become available.
Swords are transformed into plowshares
Spears are transformed into pruning hooks
by our strong actions that work with the stronger grace of God.
God’s future brings a consequence—the peace that God desires.
And God’s future brings a charge: Let us walk in the light of the Lord
Let our lives be influenced by the future.
We often think in another direction: the past has influenced the present; the present influences the future.
The biblical way of looking at time—especially in the light of the coming of Christ is to look for the impact of the future on the present
Paul writes to the Romans—and to us—put aside works of darkness
Paul gives us something to judge our actions by: let us live honorably as in the day; not in quarreling and jealousy;
and instead put on Jesus Christ.
What does that mean? to put on Jesus Christ?
Calvin said that this metaphor occurs frequently in regard to what adorns or disfigures a person. A filthy and torn garment disgraces, while a clean and attractive one secures much esteem. To put on Christ means here to be defended on every side by the power of Christ's spirit. That alone is our security.
It is precisely God's future that casts its light into the present and that provides the illumination of the reality in which we are called to live. The conviction of the coming of Christ is the conviction that God will in fact one day redeem God's creation, that God will one day fulfill the promise of restoration and recreation given in the resurrection of Christ. Indeed, it is precisely the fact that the future has already met the present, a meeting shown by the presence of the Spirit within the community of the faithful that gives the Christian faith the distinctiveness it has.
We are to live not for ourselves but for God and to follow God’s way in our our lives—that’s what Paul means when he says put on the Lord Jesus Christ
That is the charge that develops out of the change and the consequence of the coming of Christ.
Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!