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Advent - The Coming Near of God

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May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight – Our strength and our redeemer – Amen

Brothers and Sisters in Christ – Happy New Year!

            This is the first Sunday in Advent – as our wreath lighting symbolizes

                        Advent is the beginning of the year

                                    Advent – the beginning of the preparations for the coming of Christ can often be                                       lost in the commercial preparations for Christmas

Our opening “Call to Worship” was taken directly from Psalm 80 and it sets the stage

            The season of advent welcomes the faithful, even beckons the faithful to such a task: 

                        To cast a new… to cast again… a theological vision amidst a world swallowed up in the                           sounds and images of completing claims.

The images in Psalm 80 fall out into one of three categories: images of God - images of the people of God - and images of the world.

            The images associated with the world around the psalmist suggest that the             world is a hostile             place, a place that could surely undo the people of God.

                        And yet in advent, we confess that it is the world that remains undone; it is the world that                                    remains a place that is in need of the Advent of God.

                                    We, Christians, declare that there is no identity for the people of God apart from                                       an identity rooted in relationship to God.[1]

                                                It is this identity in God that we celebrate at the beginning of the new year

                                                            It is this identity that we celebrate at the beginning of the ‘New                                                                  Life of Grace’ for Callum, Chloe & Emma

And so on the first Sunday of Advent, we pray as our Psalm this morning claims, as we implore God to Restore us, to Come again so that we might be Saved.

Into our cultural setting, we are met with the single most dramatic news the world has ever heard

            It is the message that God came in the midst of us

                        And today we begin anew the preparations for that

The gospel reading from Mark for the 1st Sunday in Advent highlights this with a shocking message – with an apocalyptic message… that is at the same time, comforting, confusing and challenging

It is not a gentle message of a babe in the manger, peaceful and tranquil, but in fact a shocking message of a shocking occurrence

            God coming in the midst of us

                                    For us, 2000 years later, with all the trappings of the world around us, we need 4                                       weeks of Advent to properly understand just how dramatic the news is that God                                       came to us.

Jesus warns us about the danger of rolling over in the bed of our spiritual lives and falling asleep.

            We sometimes would rather pull the covers over our heads, but Jesus tells us to wake up and be    ready, because He is coming and we want to be awake for that!

It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God.

            We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that            we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us.

                        We can be indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and                                     forgetting the serious aspect,

                                    That the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays                                           claim to us.

                                                The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all                                                                  frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness.

            God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us, and in the world.                            And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.

                                    God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be

                                                In our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us.

One day, at the last judgment, he will separate the sheep and the goats and will say to those on his right:

            "Come, you blessed? I was hungry and you fed me?" (Matt. 25:34).

                        To the astonished question of when and where, he answered:

                                    "What you did to the least of these, you have done to me?" (Matt. 25:40).

With that we are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality.

            He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing.

                        He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor                      as long as there are people.

            He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you and makes his demands

                        That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent             message.

                                    Christ stands at the door.

                                                He lives in the form of the person in our midst.

                                                            Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?

Christ is still knocking. It is not yet Christmas.

            But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ.

                        Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate, goes the longing for the final                                    Advent, where our Lord says: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).

Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent

            That is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a       new earth, where all people are brothers and sisters.[2]

As we continue to consider Christmas as an apocalypse – as the great introduction of the incarnate God

            You might be interested to know that Biblical scholars have titled this section of Mark as the        ‘little apocalypse’

                        This little apocalypse presents a rich theological irony.

                                    At the heart of apocalyptic literature is encouragement and hope.

To some extent, this is Jesus at his pastoral best.

            That which looks like devastation and defeat will be God's victory.

                        Out of the suffering and death of their Messiah will be new life.

                                    God's new way of being in the world will turn a cross into resurrection and a baby                                     in a manger into salvation for the world.[3]

This type of end of world – apocalyptic thought is not far from us in today’s culture

            Witness the tremendous attention and preparation given after Harold Camping predicted -- and    heavily promoted! -- that Jesus would return on May 21st, and then when that failed, on Oct. 21st            of this past year.

                        And next year we'll worry about Dec. 21, 2012, the predicted end of the world according                                     to the ancient Mayan calendar.

                                    Speculation about the end of the world still seems rampant.

                                                To all of it we are to be ever mindful of what Jesus instructs us –

                                                            “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in                                                                   heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32)

And yet in a way they're right.

            No, not right about the timing, or even the effort to make predictions

                        But they are right that one of the promises of Scripture is that Christ will return,

                                    That God will bring the creation God fashioned to a good end.[4]

Thoughts of end of the world, naturally draws us to the question

            So what would you do if the world were going to end tomorrow?

                        Would you reconcile with a long lost friend or family member?

                                    Would you finish a project you started years ago?

                                                Would you tell your children, or maybe your parents, that you love them                                                    one last time?

                                                            Would you wrap your beloved in one long, tender embrace?

                                                                        What would you do?

Further to that consider that the end will come with the power, majesty and judgment of the Lord

            What then would you do?

There is a certain realness in this Gospel text to begin the Advent season.

            It cuts through any sentimentality and romanticism about Christmas and reminds us that   incarnation is risky business.

                   The darkening of the sun, the dimming of the moon's light, and the stars falling from                                 heaven means the end of the world as we have known it.

                           That death will be no more because God will die is something to anticipate during Advent

                                    It's to speak the truth, about ourselves and our unrealistic expectations;

                                                About God and how God exceeds them.

The incredible event, for which we wait, of course, is our God who has chosen to enter into all that decays, into all that will die, and to know it with us.

            We find God in everything it means to be human, even in death.

                        No longer will God remain in the heavens or behind a curtain high up on a hill.

                                    God comes us to bring life to that which would surely die, and to bring a new                                            heaven and a new earth to the moments when the sufferings and despair of our                                          earthly life is more than we can bear.

                                                Advent gives us the time and space once again to believe in and live out                                                     this reality. [5]

And here's where Mark's otherwise confusing and alarming passage has something even more to say.

            Because after all the predictions about the end, Jesus says that no one will know the day or the                 hour and so we have to keep close watch.

                        He goes a little further, actually, and compares our situation to that of servants who do                             not know when their master will return and yet are expected to be prepared for it.

                                    One way to read this mini-parable is as a call to constant vigilance.

                                                And I think there's a lot to that. We are indeed called always be on the                                                       look out for our Lord -- whether at the end of time or, as we noticed last                                                    week, in the face of our neighbors' need.

But I think there's something else going on here as well.

            In fact, the details of Jesus' warning are very interesting.

                        We do not know, he says, whether the master will come in the evening, or at midnight,                           or at cockcrow, or at dawn.

                                    Notice where these thoughts ‘on the end’ come -- just prior to the story of his                                            passion.

                                                And now note the way in which Mark divides the scenes of the Passion

                                                            1) There is the Last Supper, the evening

                                                            2) Jesus' prayer and betrayal: in the garden where all fell asleep                                                                    because it was the middle of the night

                                                            3) Thirdly, Jesus' trial and Peter's denial: “At that moment the cock                                                              crowed for the second time" (Mark 14:72a).

                                                            4) Finally the Trial before Pilate: at dawn

Do you see what Mark has illustrated paralleled in both Jesus’ apocalyptic parable and the Passion narrative

            Beyond reading this injunction to watchfulness and prepared is to hear Jesus declaring the very    way of His return

                        When the heavens shake and the sun is darkened

                                    It is precisely the moment when He is nailed to the cross … and in that moment                                         we see God's love poured out for us and all the world.

                                                Whatever, whenever, and however the end of the world may come, it is                                                     both prefigured and realized right here, in the form of a man who goes to                                                   the cross out of love for us and all the world.

                                                            For this reason theologians across the ages declared Jesus' cross as                                                               the pivot point of history, for at that moment one age ended and                                                                 another begun.

We would do well to ask what difference this makes and to ask where do we find God?

            The answer, of course, is not in the glorious temple but on the cross.

                        Not in the city proper but outside the city walls.

                                    Not in the center of power and authority but in the wilderness.

                                                A good Advent question for each of us is: Where will we look for God this                                                Advent season?[6]

We, Christians are people of the promise realized but we are also people of the promise to come

            We live in the now and the not yet

When we Christians proclaim the gospel, the good news of God – the good news of Jesus Christ

            We can take great comfort in the fact that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light

                        That Jesus has achieved for us what we could not do on our own

                                    BUT we also live in the hope of the promise to come

A Christian, properly understood – is perpetually an Advent person

Until our Lord comes again for the final Advent

            If we are to have integrity as followers of Christ as Lord – we have a job to do

                        We have a role to play

                                    It is not ours alone – but prayerfully walking with God

                        As we stated and restated in our Baptism service today

                                    “I will… with God help”

As advent people – pregnant with expectation – and partner with God

            Consider how you can respond – now – today 

            To be God’s visible presence in this age

            To show the world,     Your neighborhood,    Your workplace,

            To your family and friends     To be witnesses of God’s forgiveness,

                                                To be a witness of the promises

                                                            To be a witness of drama that is God in the midst of us

                                                                        To be a witness of the truth of Christian Hope

                                                                             To be a witness of what it means to be an Advent People

O God, whose coming is certain and whose day draws near, thank you for preparing us through our spiritual gifts for your coming. Thank you for strengthening us so that we may be blameless on your day. Thank you for being the faithful one. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.



[2] The Coming of Jesus into Our Midst, Dietrich Bonhoeffer





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