Wow! Welcome to Advent! You were expecting early news of Christmas and walk smack into “…people fainting from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” With the Christmas program just a week away, you though you might hear strains of Little Drummer Boy, but instead you get “distress among nations and confusion by the roaring of the sea.” But it will get worse! In the coming weeks, we will be called snakes, and vipers; we will be called “chaff that will be thrown into a raging fire in the last days.” Wow! Welcome to Advent!
On the other hand, Advent will also get better. By next Sunday, both the Sanctuary and the Community Life Center will be decorated in greenery and lights and wreathes and bows. In a matter of weeks, we will sing carols of Christmas, and children will tell about the birth of a special baby, and we will hold candles high and sing “Silent Night.” Oh yeah, Advent will get a whole lot better.
Advent is a season of mixed messages; like a real-life “good news/bad news” joke, and if you only hear part of the message, you miss the point. If you only hear the good news; “peace on earth, the Savior is born!” you miss the wake up call that warns us of a day of judgment that will one day come. But if you only hear the bad news, you miss the comfort and security that will protect the People of God from that awful day.
Today, I want to take a few moments to teach you about Advent – what it is and what it isn’t. Some of you have never observed Advent before; some perhaps have never even heard of it. But here we are, celebrating it together. How we can use this season to prepare us for all that is to come? That’s what I want us to consider today.
Now, the first you’ll notice about Advent is the color blue. Two weeks ago, we were green for the Season of Pentecost. Last week, it was white for Christ the King Sunday. But today we’re blue. The Advent color used to be purple; same as the Season of Lent, but the mood of those two seasons is vastly different. If Lent is the season of penitence and contrition, then Advent is the season of quiet reflection. Blue is a peaceful color, a color that invites us to ponder what we see and hear and experience. On the next three Wednesdays, we will have Advent Vespers; 30 minutes of quiet worship. No soup or bread or Laverna Schultz’s apple strudel; just 30 minutes to slow down in the midst of the hectic rush. If you join us tonight at the Advent Fair, we will give you a devotional booklet to use at home; again, to reflect on this season of Advent.
Another thing you will need to know that that the word ADVENT literally means “coming.” It is from the root word “adventure.” Just around the corner, something is about to happen. Soon…but not yet…we will experience a new thing. What will happen? When will it come? That’s part of the adventure. That’s why we call it Advent. But this theme of coming has three different references: a past, a present, and a future. Something came once, something is coming now, and something will come later.
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Most of us celebrate the first of those references; we celebrate the One who came in a manger 2000 years ago. It is why we decorate our homes, and sing carols in church, and ring bells, and give gifts, and speak of joy; because God came to earth in the form of a child, and he became the Savior of the world. It is a story we celebrate every year, so there is little that is adventurous about it. But imagine what it was like for the people of Israel, who waited for centuries for the coming of the Messiah. They watched for the signs of his coming, they anticipated what life would be like when he arrived, and the ones who recognized him at his birth rejoiced greatly. Each Advent, we slowly approach Christmas, so that we can appreciate the anticipation of a Savior.
So Jesus came once – twenty centuries ago – but he also comes in the present. Not in a manger, or on a cross, but in countless other ways. Today, Jesus will come into the lives of Isaiah Lentz and Livia Spitzer through the sacrament of baptism. He will be born in them, birthed in their hearts, every bit as realistically as when he was born in a manger. Today, he will come to us in the sacrament of Holy Communion. When we eat the bread and drink the wine or grape juice, he says we ingest him. He therefore goes with us into the mountains and valleys of our daily lives. If you think you are alone in this world and the problems that face you, think again. Jesus goes with you when you leave this place today. And Jesus comes to us today in a Sunday School lesson, or in the rite of confirmation, or at a Billy Graham crusade, or in a quiet moment driving in the car, or in a tragedy or crisis. He didn’t just come once; he comes always.
But he will come again, on the last day, and that is what the gospel lesson is about today. Scripture is sprinkled with references of when the world, as we know it, comes to an end. Jesus will return when we least expect him. Out of the blue he will come, like a thief in the night he will come. Some people read those verses and they are filled with terror. But others read those verses and they are filled with expectation. The difference lies in the fact that some will be prepared for his coming, while others will not. Advent tells us to get ready.
Now the obvious question is, when will this happen? Nobody really knows. Jesus said that neither the angels in heaven nor the Son of Man know when this will occur. In recent years, scholars and theologians and authors have tried to read the signs and predict the timing of his coming. Books like “The Late Great Planet Earth” and the popular “Left Behind” series suggest that all the stars are aligned and it could happen tomorrow. Maybe it will; but the purpose of this gospel story today is that we should always be ready…always be prepared for the final coming of Christ. If we knew the exact date, most of us would wait until the last minute to be prepared. It is our human nature do so. But the gospel text tells us to be on guard so that the day will not come unexpectedly.
I have coached hockey during two phases in my life. The second phase was when my son was a traveling squirt and a pee wee in South Dakota. We practiced five nights a week, we played games on week-ends, and all of this activity took place in well-lit arenas with smooth ice and heated player benches and real scoreboards that displayed the score and the time remaining.
But the first phase of my coaching career was with the 7th grade team at Capitol View Junior High School in Roseville 35 years ago. We practiced two afternoons a week and had four games in a season. Those games were played on outdoor rinks with crummy ice that the players and coaches flooded and shoveled. Our player bench consisted of kids standing in a snow bank waiting for a turn to play. And there were no scoreboards. In the third period, kids played hard because they never knew how much time was remaining…they never knew how much time they had to score a goal or prevent a goal. They waited for the dad on the sidelines to check his stop watch and say “Time’s up, game over.” If you were on the right team, you won. If you were on the wrong team, you lost.
And that’s the message of Advent. That there is no time clock to tell us when the last day is coming. Being prepared is the ultimate goal. Knowing that when the time comes, our faith is in Jesus and Jesus only, and that alone saves us. Salvation is not to be found in our good works, not to be found in our financial security, not to be found in the hours we taught Sunday School or ushered or folded bulletins. When the time is up, when the game is over, the right team will be those who trust Jesus Christ as Savior. It is written, not to scare us, but to prepare us for his coming.
So, how is your faith, as we enter this Advent Season? Do you know the Savior? Do you know the Savior’s loves you? If not, perhaps Advent is a good time to contemplate that question. If so, your eternity is determined, and you are ready for his coming. Let the Season of Adventure begin. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2001, Steven Molin. Used by permission.