Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An Advent People - Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

Text: Luke 21:25-36

Today’s Gospel reading may seem an odd one for the first Sunday in Advent. Aren’t we supposed to have more positive and comforting messages as we approach the Christmas season? So what is all this talk about the end of the world and distress among the nations and people fainting with fear? It all seems a little alarmist doesn’t it?

These words of Jesus are thought by many people to refer not to the very end of the word but to the great destruction that was to come upon Jerusalem in 70 AD when the Roman army surrounded the city and then destroyed it slaughtering tens of thousands of its inhabitants and desecrating all that was holy, including the Temple, the centre of the Jewish people’s religious life, which was never to be built again.

Verse 32 supports this idea with its declaration by Jesus. “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”

Yet there are other verses that seem to speak of a more universal destruction “For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth (v.35).

Perhaps there are element of both a soon to occur event and a telescoping toward the very end of the world. Whether this passage refers primarily to the very end of the age or only to a time of great cataclysm that will usher in a great historic transition, its message remains the same.

1. Whatever else may change, God’s Word endures forever. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (v. 33)

2. Our hearts are not to be weighed down with worries. "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly like a trap (vv. 34-35)

3. We need to be alert so that when all the shaking is over and everything is settled again we will be found standing before the Son of Man. “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (v. 36)

Whatever else may change, God’s Word endures forever.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (v. 33)

Things in this world are in a constant state of flux. Nothing stays the same for very long. What a week it has been in politics with Malcolm Turnbull (left) not knowing from one day to the next whether he will continue as Leader of the Opposition. The once formidable Liberal Party, once so united and strong under Howard, is now in complete disarray.

Our local church is facing great changes in the coming year and we are all uncertain about the outcomes. At such a time we need to hear Jesus’ reminder that though heaven and earth may pass away, God’s Word never will.

Jesus told his disciples that when they saw signs of great changes about to happen, they should “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (v. 28) He didn’t say “run and hide,” but “stand up and raise up your heads.” He told them to place the present unsettling circumstances into the bigger picture of God’s redemptive purposes.


“On May 19th, 1780 the sky of Hartford [Connecticut] darkened ominously, and some of the [members of the house of] representatives, glancing out the windows, feared the end was at hand. Quelling a clamor for immediate adjournment, Colonel Davenport, the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives…rose and said, "The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore, I wish that candles be brought."

This should also be our response in times of great change and uncertainty about the future. Our message is not "run away and hide!" but "bring candles!"

Our hearts are not to be weighed down with worries.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly like a trap.” (vv. 34-35)

It is interesting to note the connection here between a lack of confidence regarding the future and “dissipation and drunkenness.” It seems that a common human response to an apparently meaningless future is to “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

My mum asked me to take her to the Chatswood RSL Club for her birthday dinner. After I got bored with the karaoke performances, I wandered into the gaming room and just stood and watched as people sat on their stools, eyes dull and listless, and pressed their little buttons, over and over and over again. Each person hoping that the next moment would see the big payoff. They lived so completely "in the moment" that they were trapped in it. They had no setting out point, no horizon, no destination, no sense of direction, but were trapped in an eternal now with no entry point and no exit point.

“Neill Hamilton, who taught at Drew University for many years, once observed how people in our time lose hope for the future. It happens whenever we let our culture call the shots on how the world is going to end. At this stage of technological advancement, the only way the culture can make sense of the future is through the picture of everything blowing up in a nuclear holocaust [or the ice caps will melt through global warming, the seas will rise and the coastal areas will be swamped.] The world cannot know what we know, that everything has changed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that the same Christ is coming to judge the world and give birth to a new creation. And so, people lose hope. As Hamilton puts it: This substitution of an image of nuclear holocaust for the coming of Christ is a parable of what happens to Christians when they cease to believe in their own eschatological heritage. The culture supplies its own images for the end when we default by ceasing to believe in biblical images of God's triumph at the end. The good news of the gospel is this: when all is said and done, God is going to win.”

I noticed a magazine in the newsagent on Friday called Tattoo Revival. It reminded me of how popular tattoos have become in the last few years. It used to be that only sailors and bikers got tattoos but now fresh young people, boys and girls like to cover their bodies with ink art. I mused on why there had been a revival of interest in tattoos. After all, most of those tattoos that look cool on a nineteen year old are going to look rather uncool on a fifty or sixty year old. And I wondered whether they were not symptomatic of a culture that gives no thought for tomorrow. If it looks good now, why worry about tomorrow? Deborah Harry sang back in the 70s – “Die young, stay pretty.” People live with no sight of the end in view.

Christians, however, are to be Advent people, living in anticipation of the end, knowing that there is indeed a direction to history. Believing that there is a destination to their lives they are not content to live dangerously for the moment.


We need to be alert and ready

“Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (v. 36).

When all the shaking is over and everything is settled again we need to be found standing before the Son of Man.

The same God who stooped over and gathered up a handful of dirt, shaped it into a "man" and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life, will meet us also at the culmination of all things. We stood before God that day and we will stand before God again. There is purpose in our lives - a beginning, an end, and a purposeful direction. Our existence has momentum, forward thrust. It is bracketed by "let us make man in our our own image" and "enter into the joy of the Lord." This is what it means to be an Advent people.


2 comments:

Ross said...

A couple of comments I'd like to make. I find gaming rooms depressing and lacking in atmosphere. I can find better ways to waste money, such as visiting JB Hi Fi for example. :)

What do you make of the endless end times speculation? Is it our place to get hung up about dates? It's good for selling books though, isn't it, even if the credibility of the church is damaged every time some church leader cries wolf over this issue.

元旦 said...

it's cool ..................................................

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