This is my first sermon for the New Church Year. I love the season of Advent and so I was excited to get this chance to preach about it.
The Gospel Text for this day was: Matthew 24:36-44 I also referenced the other readings which were Isaiah 2:1-5 and Romans 13:11-14
So… You probably all know this already but today is the beginning of the new church year, which means it is the First Sunday in Advent. The days of Pentecost, and confusing parables are behind us, and now begins the season of preparation, of waiting… of Advent… You all probably know that this is a season of preparation and waiting. We’ve all seen, or maybe used, advent calendars that count down the days until Christmas. When I was a very little kid my grandmother made a really cool fabric Advent Calendar that had big green Christmas tree on it, and each morning in December I would get up and run to the Calendar to put the little ornament on the tree for that day. It was so fun to be able to watch the remaining time until Christmas get smaller and smaller until, finally, on Christmas Eve morning I, or my brother when he came into the picture, got to put that big smiling face of Santa Claus at the very top of the tree. I should mention that it was always a big treat to get to be the first one to put an ornament on the tree but it was an even bigger privilege to be the one of the two of us that got to put the Santa Claus on the tree, and it was really fun to learn a little bit of Math before my brother did so that I could pretend to be very generous and offer him the first ornament and then I would just ‘happen’ to get to put the Santa Claus up exactly 24 days later… every year… I actually got away with that trick a couple of times before my Mom caught on to what I was doing… and then my brother got old enough to learn about even and odd numbers and my little game was over. But then eventually I got old enough to understand about sharing and giving and actually just plain gave the privilege of the Santa Claus to my brother so we’re probably about even now. Of course, really it wasn’t the putting up of the Santa Claus that we were looking forward to… it was what that represented, when that Santa went up on the tree it meant that Christmas had arrived: the presents would be opened, the cookie tin would be unlocked, and my Grandparents would arrive. It was my favorite day of the whole year and I almost couldn’t stand all the days leading up to it as we slowly and anxiously counted down those days of December.
And so here we are… we have officially begun the countdown to Christmas, the preparation and the waiting. So the question that I have for us today is: What are we waiting for? Well… the word Advent, you may know, comes from the Latin word Adventus and Adventus means arrival. So then the Season of Advent is the Season of Arrival and as we prepare for Christmas we prepare for Arrival, but what, exactly are we preparing for the Arrival of? Well…. My advent Calendar would probably have you believe that I was preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus, which is to say that I was preparing for the Christmas holiday with all the traditions and trappings that it would bring. Now some of you may be thinking that I’m going to tell you how terrible all those Christmas traditions are, how distracting from the true meaning of the holiday and all that…. Well… I’m not… so don’t worry. I still think that Christmas is a wonderful holiday. I love Christmas cookies, and the smells of a Christmas tree, and hot apple cider, and cherry pie, and Turkey, and I love spending peaceful and joyful time with my family. And yes I even love Christmas music. But I think that we all know that the Christmas holiday itself is not what we are preparing for in this Advent season. All those Christmas traditions are the celebrations of the Arrival of that which we have been for. So once again what are we waiting for?
Well then if we think about the Nativity Scene that forms the core of our Christmas celebration in the church, then we might think that Advent is the preparation for the arrival of the little baby Jesus. But our Gospel today paints a different picture, doesn’t it? The Advent Gospel today is not about the birth of a cute little baby and shepherd and stars and barnyard animals in quiet repose. Today’s Gospel is about the arrival of a thief in the night, it is about the coming of the Son of Man… an arrival that is related to the days of Noah and the great flood, the whole planet covering, month-long, world ending flood. These are two very different images, the little baby and the Son of Man, so which are we waiting for?
It is easy to go ahead and say that it is the baby we are waiting for, to keep things simple and focus on the peacefulness of that little manger, but when we do that what happens to the Power of the savior and the messiah?… what happens to the power that will break into our world of sin and sadness, of pain and sickness? If advent is time to prepare only for the baby then we had better cover up the cross… Because the cross is the image of a powerful God who, in the darkest of moments conquered sin and the grave, not of a beautiful tiny baby.
In this Advent season we are preparing for our savior and we share in that preparation with all the centuries of God’s people who waited for the same. Just like Isaiah does in our Old Testament text for the day. But if we are to share in that preparation with Isaiah it is important to remember what Isaiah is preparing for… is it the baby or is it the King, the chosen one, the Christ? Well… it is the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem, and when Isaiah says that this Word will beat the swords into plowshares he’s saying that he will break into the world of violence and war and bring peace. The coming Son of God, says Isaiah, will have the power to end all the violence and the war and the persecution. That is a strong and fearsome power…
And in Paul’s letter to Romans, the same letter from which we read today, he writes “If God is with us, who is against us?” That’s a rallying cry if I’ve ever heard one. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” This is the Jesus, the Christ, that has conquered, and continues to conquer all. This is the Messiah… the one who has power over all of creation, the successor to the lineage of the King of Israel, the King that defeated the Giant and ruled over the people of God. This is a figure of power and might.
Look again at our Gospel text… who is it that is coming at the unexpected hour? It is the Son of Man, and if we the people that are awaiting his coming are compared to the people in the time of Noah, then it is only natural to assume that the Gospel writer is trying to tell us to be prepared for something just as powerful and immense as the Great Flood. That is a strong and fearsome power.
So it seems that, truly, our Advent is a preparation for a figure of great power, and if we read the Gospel today and feel some fear and trepidation… well it seems only right that we should do so. But as much as we fear may we also have hope and may we remember who it is that holds this power….
There is a very brilliant and talented Christian writer that some of you may have heard of named C.S. Lewis. If you haven’t read any of his works than let me tell you that he is an artistic genius… and perhaps more importantly he is one of the more influential Christian writers of the 20th century. In addition to writing a whole heap of great non-fiction about living the Christian Life, C.S. Lewis also wrote a book series that you may have heard of called the Chronicles of Narnia. He wrote the series as way to explain, within the context of a allegorical fantasy, the Christian world. In the first book of series the land of Narnia is in despair, locked in an endless winter, awaiting the return of hope and power in the form of the character that represents Christ in the books whose name is Aslan. Now the reason I am telling you all of this is that Aslan is a lion. And there is perhaps no better metaphor for the power and might of this savior for whom we wait during this season of Advent than the ‘king of the beasts.’ And just as we await the coming of a messiah who is a powerful and mighty figure, so too do the residents of Narnia await the coming of a Lion. There are many times in our lives when we feel the need for this powerful figure, when we are in the midst of despair, when we are overcome with grief, when we are lost in sadness, when we are afraid… the image of the powerful king brings us comfort and relief…
But this image of power and might isn’t always so pleasant. On days like today when our thoughts our cast toward our own weaknesses and we are called to take note that this powerful king is due to arrive, it might be easier to imagine the peaceful child. The Lord of power and might headed toward us in an expected hour, like a thief in the night, without warning is frightening. In the same way we read of the human children visiting Narnia learning of Aslan from the residents of Narnia and learning that he is, indeed a lion. They are afraid, and with good reason, a Lion is a powerful figure:
“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
And there you have it… today we are beginning our preparation for the all-powerful… and the almighty… and the all Good-God.
So then when we look to the manger this Advent season… may we see the peacefully sleeping, beautiful little one and may we know that in that baby is all the power in all of creation, may our knees tremble from the thought of that power and may we be afraid because all that power is coming like a thief in the night… but may we also remember, that our God is Good. And may we trust in that goodness and the promise that is spoken to Noah: As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Of Course God isn’t safe, but he’s good… He’s the King, I tell you.