Advent 1: November 28, 2021
The First Sunday in Advent
Year C: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Earlier this week, I was doing some sermon preparation, and I came across a sermon entitled “We Need a Little Hopefulness.” Before even reading the sermon, I thought, “oh, I know exactly how to begin my sermon”. And then I read the sermon. I had to laugh. This person had already beaten me my opening.
Remember the musical “Mame” on Broadway with Angela Lansbury or the even earlier movie “Auntie Mame” with Rosalind Russell? It’s the story of eccentric and quirky Mame Dennis and how her life is disrupted when her 10-year old nephew, Patrick, whose parents have died, comes to live with her.
Rather than bow to convention, Mame introduced Patrick to her free-wheeling lifestyle, instilling in him her favorite philosophy, “Life is a banquet, and most [people] are starving to death.” Well, that’s almost what it says. I cleaned it up just a little.
At one point in the play, Mame and Patrick are feeling sad. Patrick is mourning his father’s death; Mame has lost all her money in the stock market crash. She decides to make them happy, leading to the song We Need a Little Christmas. During the song, Patrick protests, “But, Auntie Mame, it’s one week past Thanksgiving Day now,” as if to say it is too early to decorate or celebrate Christmas.
That was 1966 when one week past Thanksgiving was too early for Christmas.
Fast forward to 2021, some fifty-five years later. In August, one encounters Christmas decorations and trees in the local home improvement store. And by November 1, SiriusXM has replaced one of their local stations with Christmas music.
And now there are folks insisting that the twelve days of Christmas begin on December 14 –so they can end on Christmas Day. The first day of Christmas is December 25, and at the end of the twelve days, we have the feast of the Epiphany on January 6.
And all of this is not about the birth of a Savior; it’s about spending, spending, spending. And spending a lot.
And in the midst of all this, the church offers the season of Advent, which is definitely not about shopping for presents. As we heard in today’s gospel story, “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.”
This is a prophecy of the end of times, the apocalypse, the end times, the promised return of Jesus to judge both the living and the dead. It sounds a bit Scrooge-like, doesn’t it?
But amid these feelings of foreboding, we have what is perhaps an odd, peculiar hope.
We certainly need a little hopefulness. We need a hope that can rest in an unshakeable belief that we will be cared for in this life, that we will persevere in adversity, and that we will move on to life eternal.
We need a little hopefulness, but, let’s face it, aren’t we perfectly content to demand revenge when we get hurt and to pick fights whenever we are confronted.
That doesn’t make us terrible people. On the contrary, we are humans filled with flaws. We are oblivious. We seek to meet our own material needs, but we often don’t see the image of God, who is quite different from the powers of the world that surround us.
Remember this about Jesus. The Jesus we follow was born to a family in a foreign nation who struggled to find welcome.
The Jesus we follow lived and ministered in poverty, almost always dependent upon the mercy and the generosity of others.
The Jesus we follow offered no exceptions to his table of hospitality.
And this Jesus held more power than anyone on the planet—before or since—yet never once did Jesus use the force of that power to oppress, or create war, or even stop his own execution.
Our Jesus offered hope – even in seemingly dire situations. And he commanded us not to fear but live in hope.
And we need a little hopefulness.
We need hope because often, in our relentless pursuit of wealth and power, we risk losing sight of that which is sure and steady. And if fear becomes the dominant force in our lives, we end up even more terrified and more desperate. In other words, we become less and less like Jesus.
So, we seriously need a little hopefulness.
And we need to remember that the very heart of Christianity is inclusion and welcome and invitation. It is trust and contentment, and hope that cannot be overtaken. It is serving and yielding and sacrificing. And we can and will live in hope, not fear. Because you see, Jesus will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.
You know that old song that Santa knows what you’ve done, good and bad. Well, so does Christ the King. Christ the King will understand everything we’ve done or left undone. Everyone we’ve hurt: every evil intent, every neglectful moment, every time we gave in to fear. And he will say, “I forgive you. Welcome into paradise.”
Now, that’s more than a bit of hopefulness: that’s comfort, reassurance, glad tidings of great joy. “I forgive you. Welcome into paradise.”
So let us not be afraid. Let us prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Let us strive to emulate Jesus.
The Jesus who offers not fear but forgiveness.
The Jesus, who offers not hate but sacrificial love.
Jesus, who offers not condemnation but offers eternal life.
And remember that Advent is a season where we look for God to arrive among us when we prepare for that baby to be born in the cattle shed and transform us and the rest of the universe. So even though Thanksgiving Day is over, and Black Friday has passed, the church doesn’t immediately, or shouldn’t immediately, join the rest of the world clamoring for Christmas.
This season—His season— is a season of celebration. We celebrate the coming of the Kingdom, and we look for his arrival. And when the Son of Man appears to judge the living and the dead, what do we see? Do we see a mighty king with a sword in hand, leading a vast army with tanks and guns and fighter planes? No. We see a baby born in the humblest circumstances to parents that nobody cared about. He is the sign of the judgment of the living and the dead—that fragile human life, the least and most vulnerable among us, that is God’s choice to live among us as one of us.
We live together in hope, and we wait for the coming of that baby who brings with us the courage to remain alert, to not let our hearts be weighed down, to celebrate with joy the coming of the Lord.
What would this world be like if we lived, each of us, more and more into that sure and certain hope?
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.