Jeremiah 33:14-16: The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."
Luke 21:25-36 : [Jesus said:] "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"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. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 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."
Every year, Advent brings back memories of my childhood. Advent was a magical time – Advent wreaths adorned homes, schools, malls, and entryways of just about every business. And each Sunday one more candle would be lit; one more sign that Christmas was nearer than before. There was something about these lights of Advent that was more beautiful than any other light at any other time. Another sign that Advent was here, was Advent calendars. As kids, beginning on December 1, each day we would open one more door on the calendar revealing the treat hidden behind it while waiting for Christmas.
Waiting….Advent is all about waiting. Stubborn and hopeful waiting.
The First Sunday in Advent starts out the new liturgical year or church year – so Happy New Year everybody. Usually, new things bring with them the excitement of fully enjoying whatever it is that is new – driving the new car, opening a new book to read, exploring a new neighborhood… But Advent is different. The new thing that God is doing in Advent is quieter and more mysterious and more ambiguous. Advent doesn’t come with big parties or some cosmic boom that makes all of creation stop dead in its tracks or the first cry of a newborn that signals the end of labor pains and the beginning of a new life. Instead, Advent is a time pregnant with waiting, with hoping, and with anticipation – like opening that Advent Calendar one door at a time to see bits and pieces of what is behind each door rather than a grand reveal of everything at once.
In Advent, the past, present, and future collide, and while we watch the candle of hope burn today, the church is caught in between the joyful expectation of celebrating the birth of Jesus over 2000 years ago as well as stubbornly and hopeful waiting for God’s promise and the second coming of Christ to be fulfilled.
The First Sunday in Advent is all about hope; hope that is captured by the words from the prophet Jeremiah who told us that “the days are surely coming” and that God will “cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David” that will “execute justice and righteousness.
For the first hearers of Jeremiah’s message, this would have come as a welcome promise and a ray of hope in their otherwise bleak situation. Living in the 6th century, during the years spanning from the golden age of ancient Judea to the destruction of Jerusalem and deportation of the people of Judea into Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah spoke to a people whose very lives were threatened; yet, there, in the middle of the turmoil, he raises his voice promising this “righteous branch [i]that executes justice and righteousness” and telling the people that redemption is near. Jeremiah is telling his listeners to hold on to stubborn hope – to have hope when hope feels hopeless. Jeremiah planted hope where there was fear, light where there was darkness, and glimmers of love where there was war.
And here, this First Sunday in Advent, the seeds of hope planted by Jeremiah become our seeds of hope too. We need that hope during a time where many of us feel tired and resigned and are oh so aware of the struggles in our own lives, in the lives of those around us, and the brokenness that exists in the world. There are always money troubles to be had – at home, at work, at church, in the national treasury chests – and there are so many people with needs
- Homeless families and individuals
- Migrants at our borders seeking asylum
- People bankrupt on medical bills or student loans
- Undocumented immigrants hiding in churches around the nation to escape being deported and separated from their families and undocumented youths – brought here by their parents - afraid of being sent to countries, they have never really called home
- Historically discriminated groups seeking justice and fairness and a piece of the American dream pie
- Rising ocean levels, a shrinking ice cap in the Arctic, vanishing rainforests
- More severe weather, longer droughts, destructive wildfires
- Gun violence, terrorist attacks, peoples and nations at war….and….and….and
All we need to do is wait. That is what Jesus tells us to do in today’s Gospel reading. Wait and watch and be ready to stand up.
Curiously, this gospel passage does not really give us any indication about how we are to wait, what our waiting will look like. We typically hear the ‘how’, the ‘what we must do now,’ and so forth, but we rarely hear that watching or expectation is – in and of itself – an act of faithfulness...that expecting something transforms, redeems, even saves us.”[iii]
Expecting something to happen is a stubborn thing – just like our hope is stubborn and our waiting is. Year after year. And while the Gospel text may not tell us much about how we are to wait, it does tell us to “stand up and raise your head” – to stubbornly pick up our heads when all we want to do is let them sink to our chests – and to see what is all around us and to look for signs of hope and of love and of Christ and of God. And when we lift our heads, we cannot do so without seeing the brokenness in the world but alongside it also the beauty of God’s creation. We cannot lift our heads without seeing those who need to be fed or clothed or loved or visited as well as seeing Christ in those who do the feeding and clothing and visiting and loving – those who cherish and care for the least and lost and lonely. We cannot lift our heads and look all around without being overwhelmed by and grateful for all that God has done, is doing, and all that God has given us and without wanting to tell others the promise and the hope that we have come to know in Christ Jesus and that we stubbornly hold on to. And it is a stubborn hope – one that looks for God in all the unlikely places – such as in a stable, in a baby in a manger, in a Middle Eastern man, on an empty cross, and in an empty tomb. A hope that declares that new life will spring forth because hope was born, has defeated death, lives among us and within us, and will come again.
During this Advent, let us share Christ’s love in word and deed with others while we wait -- a hopeful and joyful and stubborn waiting because we already know the end of the story. The end has already been told by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. God is with us. And God loves us and God’s loves redeem all of creation. God’s love as told by ancient prophets. Born anew year after year. And rising from the ashes year after year. God’s stubborn and persistent love that calls us beloved not only today and always. May we hold on to the hope and promise of this season and of the prophets while we wait with them in joyful, persistent, and stubborn expectation.
[i] Jeremiah 33:15
[ii] Luke 21:25-26
[iii] Mark Davis, pastor of Heartland Presbyterian Church and author of a book titled “Left Behind and Loving it”, blogging at http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/