First Sunday of Advent

Advent is a season of anticipation for a variety of possible reasons. We all anticipate Christmas, don’t we? It may be seeing family that we miss throughout the year. Perhaps we just love the beauty of fresh-fallen snow that accompanies this season. Or it could be Christmas movies, or Christmas music (if you need a guide on what to avoid, I did a podcast once!) When Hollie and I visited New York some years ago, it was seeing the shop fronts in all their resplendence. 

But kids, you know it’s all about the presents, right? I remember what that felt like. You know you’re getting them all year, but then, the Christmas tree is put up and you can actually see them, almost, just barely kept from them by wrapping paper. You wait through December, wondering what you got, what wonderful things you get to enjoy on Christmas Day! I used to wake up Christmas morning, and once everyone was up, we would have to search for our presents. My mom would hide them early that morning, and write clues for each one. On this scavenger hunt, we had to figure out where they were, bring them back, and then sit and wait for our siblings to bring theirs back. That was the worst, when you knew you were so close, but had to wait for your little brother to figure out his clue that was really easy to you. But then…you got to open them! Kids, (and Adults!) think about your favorite present, and what it was like when the waiting was over. This is what being a Christian is like, and why we celebrate Advent and Christmas: we are waiting for Jesus to come back, which is greater than anything else we will ever receive. All our worries should fade away when we remember that Jesus is coming back!

Advent is a season of anticipation. It is at the beginning of the Christian year, and is intended for us to experience, to feel, to participate in the anticipation of the Jews of the past, waiting for their Messiah to come, and our anticipation now, as we await the Lord’s return. The Gospel passage today is less about that better known aspect of Advent, the anticipation of Christ’s first coming, and jars us into reflection upon our own anticipatory wait, the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ at some time in the future, where he will complete his work and restore our world. In a word, Advent is a season about both faith in what Our Lord has done, and hope in what he will do.

Luke 21:25-33 is preceded by Jesus speaking of a near-future event to his hearers. About 40 years later, in AD 70, Jerusalem would fall, the armies of Rome would destroy the Temple and burn the city to the ground. This would be the final diaspora of the Jews, scattering them through the world. 

But then he shifts focus ever so slightly, while remaining within the theme. Vs. 24 says, “and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Jesus then shifts to talking about that fulfillment, when the time of the Gentiles comes to an end. In other words, Jesus moves from talking about the near-future end of Jerusalem to the far-future, where he will return and complete his work.

The signs will be enormous, with the very cosmos itself seeming to come apart. The world will fear, as the powers of heaven shake. All will seem to be chaos…but then the Son of Man will return. While people worldwide will fear and faint, the people of God will stand up with their heads raised, because they know that their redemption is at hand.

The message of this gospel is that we are able to look with joy for the coming of Christ even through the turmoil of the world.

We like apocalyptic stories, don’t we? End of the world stuff? But what marks all of our media in this genre is that it is without hope beyond human survival. It is ultimately nihilistic. But at the true end, what Jesus here calls “all things” which will take place, we will know that “the kingdom of God is near,” “our redemption is drawing near,” and that even as the world may “pass away,” his word will not. 

My friends, we are a people who have faith in Christ and in what he has done for us, on the cross, in his resurrection, and even now in his intercession for us. But we are also people of hope, looking to the time when he returns, for his word will stand, and his word is that we will be restored in body and soul, and the creation will be restored to be God’s place of dwelling, and we will all live in the divine Presence forever. 

The world often feels as if it is ready for Christ’s return now. Our age promises catastrophe after catastrophe that will befall us. And much of what goes on in our world is truly catastrophic. For all we know, by the time the next pandemic happens the population will be living underground because of climate change, or fighting the next great war which will slaughter millions. But we know all of this is for a time, and that even the worst things will be set right upon the return of Jesus. 

All are offered to share in this faith and hope, not just us; when Jesus says “this generation will not pass away until all things take place,” he means the age of the Church: Our Age. Our Generation. We are not boomers, X-ers, Millennials; we are Christians, and all time from Jesus’s first coming to his second is our time, our moment, to believe, to trust, to hope, and to wait with deep and even at times tortuous anticipation for Jesus to come again.

So I urge you today to do two things: 

First,  Lean into the anticipation of Advent. Channel through prayer and meditation your anticipation for movies, snow, and presents into anticipation for the Lord and his Return, for the Great Gift that is yours in Jesus Christ: A restored world where all tears will be wiped away.

Second, Have hope for the light in the darkness. If you are depressed, or struggling with the evil in the world, or crying out against injustice, or struggling against cynicism, I urge you to remember that yes, things are indeed pretty bad, but, Jesus has spoken his unfailing word and promised to return. Pray for that return. Trust in that return. Know that it will come, and be joyful because the weight of the world does not fall on you. One day the Kingdom will be at hand, and Jesus will finish what he has begun. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

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