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the Messiah has arrived?–an Advent sermon

December 2nd, 2006 by isaac · 1 Comment

I just got back from Bluffton, Ohio. The Mennonite university in that town invited me to preach in their chapel on Thursday. I preached on the Luke 21 lectionary text from this Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent.
Title: Advent: the Messiah has arrived?
Date: Dec. 30, 2006
Text: Luke 21:25-36
Place: Bluffton University Chapel

The end is upon us. That’s one thing I’ve learned from visiting here the past few days. It’s been the common refrain echoing throughout all the classes I’ve sat in on. Professors and students are all talking about it. Only two weeks of classes left! Only two weeks until the end. And everyone is making their preparations. You know that test is coming, and that paper is due, so you are thinking about all the things you need to do to struggle to the end, to finish the semester with those passing grades.

Christmas vacation is coming. I can feel the anticipation: a break from school, no more papers, no more tests, no more reading. You can go home, sit around and watch the latest and greatest movies, sleep in—that’s what I did during my breaks from school.
You all are good Christians; I mean, you’re here at chapel even though it’s not required—that’s what I hear. (You should give yourself a pat on the back). So, since you are all pious Christian students I assume it’s not a revolutionary point to tell you that the season of Advent is also about an arrival; it also has to do with an anticipation, about waiting for something to arrive and celebrating the coming of a great gift. Not a break from school, but something else—hopefully more important.

You know the story: 2000 years ago, in the backwaters of Palestine, on the wrong side of the tracks, a woman became pregnant out of wedlock, with a child who was save the world. Jesus (which means God saves), the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us.

As you might be able to tell from the holiday decorations appearing in stores and outside houses, this coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the church’s celebration of the arrival of Jesus, the coming of the Son of God.

But on the first Sunday of Advent, this coming Sunday, something strange happens… something a bit disorienting, even troubling. In our churches we read bits from those terrifying passages in the Gospels where Jesus talks about the end of the world. We just heard it read a few minutes ago—wars, earthquakes, a roaring and tossing sea, terror. That sounds like our world to me.

This is Jesus the apocalyptic prophet, talking about the end of the world, the travail of creation as it prepares to birth something new. This is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Well, I should say, they’re only nightmares, bad dreams, for us who get to sleep in comfortable, peaceful places. But that darkness and destruction is a reality, a living nightmare, for many others. But I don’t need to tell ya’ll that since this place seems to make an effort to remind you of what’s going on around the world, of the plight of the suffering and all that.

But here’s something I struggle with; there’s a tension that this season of Advent we are beginning this Sunday forces us into. This is our time when we celebrate the arrival, the coming, the advent, of Jesus, the savior of the world, the redeemer, the long-awaited Messiah…and yet our ability, our power, to destroy God’s good gifts has only increased over the last 2000 years. If I’m honest, it seems like the world in which we live is more hopeless then ever before. I can’t help but draw this conclusion as I sit and read the newspaper in the morning while I sip my coffee… While I sip my coffee. Sometimes, when I’m not too busy with my life—with all the important things I need to do—I’m disgusted with my ability to read newspaper headlines like, “Most violent day in Iraq,” or, “17 year old arrested for murder,” and then take another sip of my organic, free trade coffee, without pausing to shed a tear, to lose control… just for a moment.

I don’t mean to rain on your parade, this year’s Christmas parade, but I have to ask a question: At what point does our celebration of Christ’s presence, of Advent, become delusional? Sure, Jesus came, he was here, God with us, Immanuel. But where did he go? I’m talking about the physical presence—a body like ours—of our Lord Jesus, the prince of peace, the one who promised to establish the kingdom of God.

Maybe you’ve somehow miraculously or magically managed to shrink him down into something small enough for you to hide him in your hearts. But why would he ever want to disappear, to go into hiding, to make his flesh invisible, imperceptible, unavailable to our eyes and ears and our touch, our hands? Our world needs this King Jesus now more than ever! We need a redeemer, our Savior, to set the world on the right course, where peace and righteousness reign throughout the world.

But he’s gone missing. Jesus, that Jewish man from Bethlehem, flesh and bones, has gone missing—or, at least that’s how it feels when we see a world that we’ve thrown head-long into destruction.

Sure, we’ve become very good at comforting ourselves, at reassuring ourselves that everything is going to be alright. We so easily turn our Christian faith, our spirituality, into a form of escapism. I know some people use drugs for a high, a way to escape the difficulties of life; and I’m afraid we can use our faith the same way—it can serve us as an escape, a retreat from a world that seems to be collapsing all around us. We stick our heads in the ground, like the ostrich, so we don’t have to pay attention to people dying.

It’s much easier to close my eyes and pray, and rest there in that moment, than to worry about the things that God cares about—the suffering, the oppressed, the poor, the outcast. If we are content to think about our relationship with God as something that happens when we close our eyes, then, sure, we don’t have to worry about those haunting visions of evil that we can handle only in sound-bites, or in 2 minutes spots on the daily news, or in a newspaper column we recycle after we’ve had our fill.

But in our passage from Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that they must always be watching, wide-eyed, poised, ready for action. The type of prayer Jesus talks about has to do with paying close attention to the world around us. He says in verse 34, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.”

Dissipation. It means wasting what you’ve got, or using the stuff you have for silly things. God has given all of you so much. For one thing, you’re here getting an education. And there are plenty of good ways you can waste it. You can use it for yourself, instead of using it for the good of others.

Drunkenness. Jesus also warns his followers against getting drunk. But ya’ll don’t have to worry about that because I hear that this is a dry campus, no drinking around here. But if alcohol isn’t a problem, don’t forget about all the other things that we get drunk on. Like power, prestige, success. The danger is that we can be so consumed with all our selfish desires that we can’t see the things going on around us. We become so inward focused that the world around us becomes hazy, unfocused—we become drunk, consumed with ourself.

But Jesus wants us to pay attention, to be watchful. And we can’t do that when we’re on the fast-track to success, when we’ve purchased our one-way, no-stop ticket to our dreams.

Anxieties of life. There are so many things to worry about. Many of these worries are quite important. But the trouble with anxiety is that it can become so consuming that it takes over our ability to pay attention to the present, to the world that’s happening all around us. The anxieties of life turn our eyes to the dreamy future, and close us off from what God is doing right now.

So, those are the three things Jesus warns his disciples against: dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life.

If the point is that those things cloud our vision, that they are ways of distracting us from the present, then what is it that we are supposed to be looking for? If Jesus is so concerned about our vision, about our ability to watch and wait, the question I have is what are we waiting for? What are we waiting to see?

At this point, the tried and true Sunday school answer is right: It’s Jesus. We are waiting for the second advent, the time when Jesus will come again. That’s the point of our season of Advent. And that’s why we read this crazy passage about the end of the world on the first Sunday of Advent. We celebrate the first Advent, and anticipate the second—when our Savior, will come again…

But is that all we can say? Jesus has gone missing for awhile, but he’ll be back. How is that any comfort? How does that help us out when we trying to figure out what to do with our lives? And you, that’s what college is all about, right?—trying to figure out what to do with your life.

Immanuel, God with us. As we wait for Jesus to return, I always come back that title for Jesus: Immanuel, God with us, God among us. And it makes me wonder: What if Jesus is still here, waiting for us to find him, waiting for us to pay attention to the world around us, this world that’s so troubling look at?

After the resurrection, Jesus comes to his followers and they don’t recognize him. He comes to two of his followers as a stranger on a road to Emmaus. He appears as a gardener to Mary outside the tomb. And he comes to his disciples gathered in a room, and he appears with wounds. You know the story. Thomas doesn’t believe, so Jesus shows him that his body, his hands and his side, still bears the marks of his death—open wounds.

Jesus appears with wounds. Immanuel, God with us, may still be among us. But if he is, he may not look like we expect—that’s what we learn from the stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. When we think of a resurrected Jesus, the last thing we would ever consider is that somehow his body still bears the marks of death, the marks of suffering, open wounds. But that’s how the gospel story goes; that’s how he comes to us, with the wounds of suffering.

Is it possible that Jesus is still here, somehow, awaiting our discovery? But how do we find him? What does he look like? Well, we know one thing for certain—those who saw him last noticed that his body still bears the wounds of suffering; his body still bears humanity’s wounds…

In a sermon last year to the most powerful people in the United States, including the president, Bono, the lead singer of U2, said this:

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.

If you don’t know where you’re going, if you’re not sure about God’s call, about God’s leading, I think there’s at least one place to turn: to those suffering people, those people who look like Jesus does, wounded people. And we go to them, and wait and watch and pray—like Jesus told us to do—because maybe, just maybe, we might find our wounded savior.

Let me close with a story. It goes something like this. In an interview with Mother Theresa, a reporter asked her how she found the strength and hope to work day after day in the middle of so much suffering. Mother Theresa replied, One day a long time ago I went to nurse a woman with leprosy. Her body was covered with sores. So, I began the slow work of tending to the sores, up and down her arms. And when I reached her hand, I saw a sore in the middle of her hand that looked like it went though. And I thought to myself, My Lord has holes in his hands. Then I prayed, “Lord, is this you?”

Tags: sermons

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Adrian // Mar 6, 2010 at 11:43 am

    first informers…....jesus doesn’t have to arrive, hes always here! just like God, damm