Sunday, November 30, 2003

First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

To the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

We had lived in California for nearly six years when we heard the news that we would be leaving. At that point we did not know when or where we would be going. It was part of the military downsizing. Though our base was not closing, our planes were going somewhere else. We tried desperately to set our own fate, trying to get orders to a place we wanted to go. Nothing worked. We were concerned about selling our house. We did not want to try to early and then be stuck without a home for a month or perhaps longer, yet if we waited too long would we be able to sell? We just wanted everything to be settled.

One day we realized it was doing none of us any good to worry and fret over where or when we would leave. We gave it to God because we could no longer carry the burden. Amazingly, when we let go, God took over. Our orders came quickly, our home sold immediately; we were able to deal with all the things that needed to be done in a short amount of time. I learned that it is useless to worry and fret while waiting for something to happen.

This Sunday marks the beginning of the Church year with the start of the Advent season. This is a time of waiting and wondering. Advent also coincides with the season of secular preparation for Christmas. Out there in the world, people are rushing around trying to take care of all the things that need to be done during this festive season. There are presents to be bought and wrapped, food to be prepared, homes to be decorated. Our calendar presently has three parties we have to attend. It will probably fill up with more opportunities. Unfortunately we do not always approach all these things with joy and celebration, but with grumbling and anxiety. The lines in the stores get longer every day and something inevitably goes wrong with the lights on the Christmas tree. We end up exhausted and unhappy.

Many people try to take the time to keep Christ in Christmas, following some sort of Advent ritual of scripture reading. Yet, this often becomes more of a burden than a gift. They find that they don't have the time to read or pray, so they put aside the one thing that will give them peace in their hectic days. Then they feel guilty about it but go on with the busy-ness of the season.

What happens, though, is they lose touch with the very One for whom they are preparing - the Christ. This is not only true of the ones who do not believe in Jesus. Many Christians forget what it is they are celebrating. But Advent is not only a time to prepare for the coming of the Christ child, but also a time to look forward to the day Christ will come again. It is a time of expectation, a time of trusting in God's promises.

Jeremiah tells about the promise, "In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; and this is the name whereby she shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness." What is righteousness? It is a right relationship with God. Christ came to fulfill this promise and to restore our relationship with God. What did we need to be saved from? Ourselves, our self-centered desire to be in control, to do things our way. It is this very desire that set us apart from our Creator. Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God. This willful disobedience against God's Word is sin; it is what separated them from God. Every generation of humans since the days of Adam and Eve have continued to live in this rebellion.

Yet, God knew how to take care of this problem and planned for our salvation long before we were born. In the beginning He was already voicing the promise that one day He would restore our relationship with Him. The patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets all pointed toward the day when that would be fulfilled. He spoke through His people and make a covenant with them. "I will send a Messiah."

This passage from Jeremiah is repeated from earlier in Jeremiah. In chapter 23, Jeremiah talks specifically of the One who will come. He will be the King; He will be called "Jehovah our righteousness." In this passage, however, Jeremiah refers to the people of God. Israel will be called "Jehovah our righteousness." His people will be identified with the One who will be their Savior, they will become part of His Kingdom, they will reign with Him. As the relationship between God and His people is restored, they will become one with Him in heart, soul and spirit.

Timothy took a wonderful report to Paul. The Thessalonians were living faithful lives, for which Paul was thankful to God. They had not lost touch with their Lord, though as with all our lives of faith he was concerned for their future well being. He prayed that the Lord would make their love increase and overflow for one another and strengthen them as they waited for Jesus to come.

They were waiting just like we wait during Advent. Paul wrote to encourage them, to thank God for their faith and to ask Him to continue His work in their lives. As we wait for Christmas, and for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, God transforms us daily bringing us deeper and deeper into the relationship with Him. When we spend the time looking toward that day, remembering the promises and praising God for His mercy, we grow closer to Him who has fulfilled all that He spoke throughout the ages.

In the Gospel lesson for this first Sunday in Advent, Jesus tells the disciples about the signs which will herald the day when Christ will come in His glory. He tells the disciples of signs in the sun, moon and stars. There will be anguish on the earth and fear in the hearts of the people. When they see all these happening, they will know that the kingdom of God is near.

It seems like now is the time, but then hasn't it been that way for generations? Have we not seen signs in the heavens and on the earth? Even in this day, as we wait once again for the coming of our Lord as a child in a manger, we see those signs throughout the world. We are closer now than we ever has been; yet we will not know the day until it arrives. We simply wait and wonder in hopeful expectation. No matter what we see, we can know that God is faithful to His promises. His Word is true today as it always has been. Jesus warns, "But take heed to yourselves, lest haply your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day come on you suddenly as a snare: for so shall it come upon all them that dwell on the face of all the earth."

The Psalmist understands the dangers of separation from God. He cries out to God in humble submission, seeking His mercy and His grace in the midst of his suffering. Only God can give us all we need. We cannot walk in God's ways without Him, so David appeals to God's covenant benevolence in prayer and expectation.

As we enter into this season of waiting and wonder, let us keep our hearts and minds on the One for whom we wait, looking to His faithfulness, mercy and grace for all we need. We do not have to ignore the joys of the season - parties and presents, food and fellowship. Let us not lose sight of the reason why we do all these things. Jesus is coming, the child in the manger and the King in the clouds. Take time for prayer and do not worry about all there has to be done. Keep close to God in the coming days and the grumbling and anxiety will disappear. Then you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when the Lord Jesus comes in glory. Thanks be to God.

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