Sermon Advent I – Year B
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator, and God with us, Emmanuel.
We say it every week as part of our great thanksgiving liturgy.
Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.
Christ will come again. Advent is the season of the year when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. And it is the time when we prepare for him to come again in glory. Today’s lessons give us some beautiful poetry and vivid pictures about how scripture writers envisioned this event.
Mark writes about signs of the end times.
What does it look like when God gives us a sign? How do you if know the sign you see or hear is from God? Is it easy to miss? What should we be doing in the mean time?
I have often joked that I wish God would send me emails. I like emails. You have a record of what someone said that you can refer back to. You can read it at your convenience. You can reply instantly, or wait a day and take time to think it over first. Emails are less threatening and interrupting than phone calls. They don’t put you on the spot like more direct forms of communication do. You don’t have to face the person when you respond. Yes, I think it would be nice if God communicated through emails.
The prophet Isaiah had his own ideas about how God should communicate too. Isaiah wants drama. He could write a screen play for a blockbuster movie. He wants God to tear open the heavens and cause an earthquake that would shake the mountains. He wants God to send fires that would boil the waters of the seas. With modern movie making technology, that could be quite a show.
It would certainly be hard to deny that God was communicating if the heavens ripped open. Although I am sure there would be much debate over exactly what God was trying to tell us. We hear many interpretations of God’s message whenever there is a natural disaster like an earthquake, hurricane, or fire.
We Lutherans tend to concentrate on helping the victims and stay out of the debates over whose sin caused God to be angry. I think that is only partly because we look for scientific explanations and don’t believe that natural disasters are signs of God’s anger. It is also probably because we know we are all sinners, so we want to avoid the finger pointing.
Our psalmist has a quieter idea about how God should communicate, but still wants God to stir things up and come in power and might. The psalmist is asking that God’s face may shine upon us and save us. We translate that in our benediction as “may God look upon us with favor.” The psalmist is asking for God to bless us.
Scientists talk about light pollution in large cities at night. The city lights are so bright we can’t see the stars. We miss the beauty of the night when we live in places where the stars are hidden. If I light one candle in a dark room, you can’t miss it. If I turn on all the lights, you might not notice the candlelight.
We risk missing the blessing of God’s face shining on us sometimes too. There are so many distractions, especially this time of year, that we can’t always see the light of God. We are so taken in by all the shiny artificial things that we have trouble making out the real light of Christ.
We talk about how things get so busy and hectic in this season. We get caught up in all of it. Holiday parties and shopping and presents from Santa are fun. They make it easy for us to miss the shining face of God which is there all the time blessing us.
Mark, the gospel writer, has some pretty dramatic pictures for us about what will happen when Christ comes again. These are illustrated on the front of your bulletin. He borrows language from the prophet Daniel who said a heavenly being who became a human would come down in the clouds from heaven. The sun and moon will go dark and the stars will fall from the sky. Then Christ, the Human One, will come again in power and glory. The angels will gather the elect from earth and heaven.
Mark is very careful to warn against trying to figure out when this will all happen. Only God the Father knows. But Mark has some clear ideas about what we should do while we wait.
This isn’t the kind of waiting where you sit around with nothing to do. We need to keep awake and alert. Since we cannot know the day or hour, Mark is telling us we should always be prepared for Christ to come again.
Being prepared means keeping busy with the daily work that God has given us to do. In this busy advent season, it means examining our priorities. It means looking at our choices and asking which ones point us to the light of Christ and which ones distract us like shiny artificial lights.
What signs will God send to tell us when Christ will come again? The scripture writers speak in metaphor with beautiful poetry and vivid pictures.
They tell us we can’t know the day or the hour. They also tell us it is possible to miss what is happening. When Christ came to earth that first Christmas, the signs were angels and a star. The prophets foretold it. Only a handful of shepherds heard the angels and a few wise men noticed the star. People only understood the prophets after the fact.
So how do we recognize a sign as being from God?
We ask if it is consistent with what we already know about God. We already know that God is gracious. We know that God is merciful. We know that God is slow to anger and forgiving. And we know that God is abounding in steadfast love.
Christ will come again. While we wait in the meantime, remember – any sign that is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love is from God. All that is good and peaceful is from God. Every spiritual gift is from God. Be alert for these signs. Pay attention to them.
May we see God’s face shine upon us. May God strengthen us and bless us while we wait. Amen.