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Advent: A Season of Hope

Advent is a joyous time of year. But it can also be SAD. I’m talking about S.A.D. as in “seasonal affective disorder.” It is sort of a depression some people experience because of weather and lack of sunshine. This time of year the sun dips lower in the sky and darkness comes earlier. We have to dig our winter clothing. We can’t spend as much time outside as we had only a month earlier. We are thinking about getting flu shots and having the furnace looked at.

But, as inconvenient as this time of year is for us, can we even begin to imagine what it must have been like for Christians in medieval Europe who lived in houses held together by straw and mud? Can you imagine what life must have been like for them around the first of December as they realized that the days would only grow shorter, the nights longer, and the weather colder? Food and fuel supplies would begin to dwindle. Hopelessness and depression would begin to grow And, as many of our ancestors from these regions filed into the great cathedrals in the center of town on the first Sunday in December, don’t you wonder what word of comfort the church could offer? What shred of hope … on the first Sunday in Advent?!

Or don’t you wonder what word of comfort and hope the church can offer today to those who have no homes at all and for whom the shortened and colder days become a very matter of survival itself? For those who sleep in the woods back of the church or under stairwells in the apartment complexes up and down Colts Neck, what word of warmth does the church have to offer?

And we! How are you and I transformed by God’s word during Advent? If you come again next Sunday and the next and the next, what will you hear that speaks a word of light in the midst of darkness? Well, I’m about to tell you!

Today you heard Isaiah tell of a time when “the nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks!” I don’t know about you, but that one word of hope for peace alone would take me right through the cold dark winter, all the way to Easter! Next Sunday you will hear of the time when the “wolf shall live with the lamb, the calf will (walk with) the lion, and a little child shall lead them” Now I’m not so cold! And the next Sunday you will hear that “the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom … and rejoice with joy and singing.” Hey, now I know that there will come a time, not just when the days get longer and the weather gets warmer and things get greener, now I know that my God will never let the earth be desolate, or my life be desolate, or your life be desolate.

There is a change about to take place and it is taking place at a time of the year when you would least expect it. The kingdom is coming. The presence of God is breaking in. Salvation is near. And … if you bear with us for these four weeks before Christmas you will learn how to watch and wait expectantly.

There was once this marvelous ad for a sound system. Bose speakers, if I remember correctly. It pictured this cool looking guy, wearing shades and a leather jacket sitting in his leather chair with the speaker system sitting directly in front of him and blasting music directly at him. Of course we can’t see the sound in a magazine ad, but the man’s hair is blowing straight back and his tie is flying straight back over his right shoulder. You get the idea that the sound is that good.

Well, if you stick with us throughout Advent I guarantee that the Word of God is going to blow our hair straight back. If men wore neckties to church anymore, they would be blowing straight back! Today we heard St. Paul virtually scream at us: ‘Hey,’ “NOW is the moment for you to wake from sleep. Salvation is nearer to us now,” he promises. St. Matthew repeats the theme. Did you hear it? “Keep awake,” he says in italics. “Keep awake! For you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

And, if you want more scripture which ends with exclamation points, come next Sunday and hear John the Baptist shout, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near!” Come back again and again and hear how the kingdom comes as a thief in the night or as a judge standing at the door. Don’t miss – you must not miss – St. James’ encouragement to “strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

I saw a church sign once which read, “God gave us two ears and one mouth. Is there a message here?” Maybe the message is that this is the season for us to practice our listening. To…just…be…quiet and practice expectant listening. And I’ll tell you this … if you can listen in a season where the message from the marketplace fills your ears with noisy pitches to “be happy with things!” and “feel good” – if you can practice expectant listening this season – then you can listen any time of the year. Just … be … quiet … and listen to the first sounds of an event in history in which God lovingly gathered together a humanity which had been tossed our of the Garden of Eden on its ear. The broken humanity – the wayward creation – home again at Christmas.

Oh, yes – enjoy those Christmas things that creep in to our season of Advent. Help us put up the tree and decorate the church next Sunday. Enjoy the service of lessons and carols on the 15th. Participate in Gifts of Hope. Help serve the big Christmas meal at Fellowship House. All these things we do in December leading up to Christmas.

The popular notion is that we are getting ready for the infant Jesus to come. And it is that. But so much more. Christmas isn’t just about cute babies and Jesus’ birthday. Better to say that we are awaiting the birth of the savior. Better even to say that we are awaiting the coming of the kingdom of God.

That kingdom we await with poetic language about swords and plowshares, lions and lambs? That kingdom isn’t just out there in the future after some sort of millennium or Armageddon or any other end-times way of thinking about things. That kingdom comes breaking into our lives at the most unexpected times. The kingdom comes at baptism – and again and again throughout our life together. It comes when the body and blood of Christ are shared at the altar rail, when the word of God is heard with expectant ears, when the comforting word of a close friend comes at the most needed time.

The kingdom of God breaks forth into our lives throughout this season of Advent. It gives us hope as the days grow shorter. It gives us warmth when the weather is as chilly as other people’s attitudes. It gives us strength all the way through whatever winters come in our lives. Come, this Advent, and learn to listen expectantly. Watch and wait for the breaking forth of the kingdom!

Text: Matthew 13:8-14

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