Happy New Year! For Christians (even though most don’t know this) the first Sunday in Advent is the beginning of the new year, that is the New Liturgical (Christian) Year.
Advent is a Latin word, adventus, meaning “coming”. The season of Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas day and ends on Christmas eve. During this season we focus on the “comings of the Christ” and what difference they make in our lives and living today. There are the 2 comings that are widely spoken of, his birth and life among us and then the Second Coming which we look forward to. There are also those who see the Christ’s presence among us today through the Holy Spirit as a sort of “present coming”.
64 [a] If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!
Mountains would quake before you
2 like fire igniting brushwood or making water boil.
[b] If you would make your name known to your enemies,
the nations would tremble in your presence.
3 When you accomplished wonders beyond all our expectations;
when you came down, mountains quaked before you.
4 From ancient times,
no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any god but you
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him![c]
5 You look after those who gladly do right;
they will praise you for your ways.[d]
But you were angry when we sinned;
you hid yourself when we did wrong.[e]
6 We have all become like the unclean;
all our righteous deeds are like a menstrual rag.
All of us wither like a leaf;
our sins, like the wind, carry us away.
7 No one calls on your name;
no one bothers to hold on to you,
for you have hidden yourself from us,
and have handed us over[f] to our sin.
8 But now, Lord, you are our father.
We are the clay, and you are our potter.
All of us are the work of your hand.
9 Don’t rage so fiercely, Lord;
don’t hold our sins against us forever,
but gaze now on your people, all of us:
Thoughts to meditate on: This scripture is a lament, a cry of pain seeking understanding. Written after the people of Israel had suffered conquest under the Babylonians but before the temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt, we find God’s people lost in desperate exile. Yes, they had turned from God and done as they wanted; yet now they are turning back. Where are you God? Why would you allow such horror to enslave us? How could you let our homes be taken from us?
Have you ever felt God was “hiding” from you? “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down …” Is your heart resonating with the cries of the Israelites? What are your cries today? Does it feel strange to you that all Christians begin this Advent season with cries, laments, and pleas to God? While secular life focuses on the baubles and romance and the Grinch; we, God’s people, focus on real life and we place that life with all it entails right there in the manger wrapping the baby. Does this feel somehow wrong to you? Remember, that baby has come to be your Saviour AND succeeds! The baby welcomes your gift because it is a gift of faith, hope. It is a gift that says, I am yours O God, hear my prayers, forgive my sins. It is a gift that confesses, Yes, I had turned away from you because it seemed easier at the time, but now I know it was false comfort and it hurt me even worse. In fact, I’m beginning to realize how it hurt you, please forgive me and help me turn back toward you God.
Shepherd of Israel, listen!
You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
Wake up your power!
Come to save us!
3 Restore us, God!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
4 Lord God of heavenly forces,
how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?
5 You’ve fed them bread made of tears;
you’ve given them tears to drink three times over!
6 You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;
our enemies make fun of us.
7 Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
17 Let your hand be with the one on your right side—
with the one whom you secured as your own—
18 then we will not turn away from you!
Revive us so that we can call on your name.
19 Restore us, Lord God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!
Thoughts to meditate on: What a world of difference between this Psalm and the 23 Psalm! Here we don’t find the Shepherd of Israel walking with God’s people in the valley of the shadows of death or protecting them with rod and staff. Here God doesn’t prepare a table for them, rather has fed them with bread of tears. In the presence of enemies they are objects of ridicule. Their cups overflow with tears, not blessings. When have you felt this way?
When have you felt such anguish, such abandonment even by God? This kind of loss renders us at a loss for words, paralyzes us, blinds us. This Psalm gives you the words, read it outloud. Allow the Psalm to move you from despair to expression, the beginning of hope. Light a candle and watch it overpower the darkness.
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.4 I thank my God always for you, because of God’s grace that was given to you in Christ Jesus. 5 That is, you were made rich through him in everything: in all your communication and every kind of knowledge, 6 in the same way that the testimony about Christ was confirmed with you.7 The result is that you aren’t missing any spiritual gift while you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also confirm your testimony about Christ until the end so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, and you were called by him to partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thoughts to meditate on: Can you imagine getting a letter like this? Paul wrote this letter to one of the congregations he served in Corinth. Read the letter again, imagining that a pastor sent this specifically to you. Listen to the letter as you read it again. Do you hear the intimacy? not just from the pastor but also from God! The greeting: Grace to you and peace, this doesn’t come from the pastor, this comes from who? from God our Creator and our Savior. After all the God hiding and exile from God, now we have God greeting us with Grace and Peace with the undercurrent of Divine Parent and Redeemer. What does it mean to you that this pastor thanks God for you because of Divine Grace given to you in the Christ? The pastor celebrates that you are Divinely enriched, your communication and all you think on and know. There’s no question, because you are a believer your testimony is strengthened, you have become a partner in God’s witness in and for the world. What does this mean to you today? What does it mean to your life and living, your relationships, your work, your rest, your thoughts, your actions?
24 “In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. 25 The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Human One[a] coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. 27 Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.
28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. 30 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.
32 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 33 Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. 34 It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”
Thoughts to meditate on: The end times, there are so many who hear this phrase and immediately begin “warning” others about the signs. Their intentions are good but their focus is usually off. Think about it, what is Jesus really saying here? Does he really want us shaking paralyzed in our boots because the world’s going to end? Does he really want us to argue about what’s going to happen, how many, and when? Or is Jesus pointing us to a more fruitful endeavor? The truth of apocalyptic visions is this: There is evil in this world which strongly opposes God’s kindom. God’s people will be targets of this evil. And, as with any negative force, if good sticks it’s head in the sand pretending the negative isn’t there, life appears to move along “smoothly”. But true good cannot do that. True good must address the forces of evil; addressing the injustices, standing for those who can’t, helping someone in distress, breaking the glass ceilings, calling forth goodness and agape in the face of evil. And the promise is that God will intervene and turn the world, Creation, around. During this process, because evil will be recognized for what it is, life will feel harder, in fact will be harder. It will feel like everything’s falling apart, however it will actually be in the process of being made right with God.
Think back on times where you recognize this happening in your life. Every generation throughout time has had this experience and yet, the end is still to come. Jesus is encouraging us that the end of these trials will come, that God will conquer evil, there is hope and we can count on that hope as if it’s already here. When we choose to accept God’s love for us and claim our kinhood with God and one another, we are able to move through this chaos with clear sights and confidence. Yes, pain still hurts, attacks still hurt but evil does not have a hold on us because we choose and God chose. This is a covenant that can only be broken by us. Trust in the promise of the coming of the Christ and know the strength that comes through the true relationship. This is the truth.
To stand watch – over a sick child or a rising loaf, at the gate of a factory, upon the ramparts of a walled city or on the craggy top of a mountain – call for alert senses and sensitivities. Standing watch demands an awareness of surroundings, for even when it seems as though there is nothing out there to watch for, you must be ready for anything. Standing watch builds anticipation. In this season we week to watch with eagerness for the promised but always surprising arrival of Christ. God comes to be with us, ready or not. May our worship today and in days ahead be times of looking forward with perceptive and receptive watchfulness.
We journey toward Bethlehem, O God, where you will reveal the glory of heaven and the hope of all Creation. May the light of your glory brighten our path to the future, and may the brilliance of your hope beckon us to new beginnings.
O God, in times past we looked for you in heavenly eclipses. We listened for you in howling winds. We learned of you in quaking mountains. Now we know that you will be found among us. And you will be seen not in the glitter of the mall but in a shelter for the homeless. You will be heard not in the pitch of a commercial but in the whimper of a child. You will come, not clothed in the comforts of the privileged but swaddled in the needs of the neglected. Open our eyes that we might witness the appearance of the angels. Open our ears that we might hear the testimony of the shepherds. Open our hearts that we might ponder the secrets of Mary. And open our mouths that we might shout the good news of the coming of the Lord!
On this first Sunday of Advent, memories of Christmases past flood our souls. We recall the first time we heard the stories – the journey of Mary and Joseph, the praise of the shepherds, the music of the angels and the lure of the star. These stories had an earthly ring, but they sounded a heavenly anthem. The words were spoken in human tongues, but they proclaimed a divine visitation. And like the shepherds, we praised you for revealing yourself in a manger. Surprise us again, O Lord, as you surprised us in those days. Let this Christmas come to us, as that first Christmas came to the shepherds, and we will echo their song of thanksgiving in the name of Jesus. We do not make this request as servants worthy of praise but as defendants deserving rebuke. We never weary of unanswered, our eyes accuse not ourselves but you. And when our plans go awry, our hearts indict not our ambitious pride but your cold indifference. Yet we stand before you with confidence, O God, assured that you begin the search for us before we begin the search for you. By this knowledge we are moved to humility. It pains us to ponder the take-for-granted attitude with which we accept your compassion and embrace your promise. We have become as casual about the gift of Christ as we have about the gifts of Santa Claus. Deliver us from the temptation to let this Christmas be just another Christmas. As we depart for Bethlehem, let us contemplate the one whom we shall meet there – not a doting grandparent bearing gifts for the spoiled but a helpless baby seeking succor from the sensitive. Let us not become so confident in our work of preparation that we close the door against the possibility of surprise, for you never enter our world without surprising us. Israel’s leaders foresaw your appearance in clashing swords, but your invasion of earth is heralded only by the gurgle of an infant. So we pray that, as we await your coming this year, we shall do so with hearts yielded and minds chastened. Prepare us for a holy surprise. If you arrive at some other hour than eleven o’clock or some other day than Sunday, let us hearken to the song of your annunciation. And if you appear not in our sanctuary but in a shelter for the homeless, let us hasten to the site of your visitation. When you came into Nazareth of Galilee, it was not merely to comfort but also to command, not solely to bless but also to judge, not alone to serve but also to rule. Even so, Lord Jesus, enter our world again. Surprise us as only God can – that, through you we may come to God as, in you, God comes to us.