Sunday, November 29, 2009
1st Sunday of Advent Sermon
November 29, 2009
1st Sunday of Advent: Hope
“The days are surely coming”…says our scripture this morning. The prophet Jeremiah speaks God’s words of hope to his people. He speaks of God fulfilling promises to Israel, of a righteous branch coming from the line of King David, and of justice and righteousness in the land. The prophet speaks of safety. “The days are surely coming…” he says. I love it that my study Bible uses the word “surely” I don’t know about you but “surely” is a word I use when I’m exasperated, when I’m at my wits end- surely relief is coming, surely, something is about to change.
And surely the people of Israel during the time of Jeremiah needed change. God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, living in exile- away from the comforts of home and the rule of God-appointed kings. Their worship centers had been destroyed and so they were waiting, and hoping, and praying that God would restore them. Their world was broken and hurting and devastated, so surely, surely, it was time for God to move into the world again and restore them. “The days are surely coming…”
Have you ever looked around your life and thought- surely? Surely the days are coming when I won’t hurt this much. Surely, the days are coming when I won’t be this broke all the time. Surely, the days are coming when there won’t be this much unrest in the world. Surely, it is time for God to show up in the world. If you have ever asked these questions then you know what it is like to long for the Messiah.
Indeed, waiting and longing is what Advent is all about, waiting for God to show up in the world again. Advent is not about waiting for a good sale, or waiting until it time to open presents (although we love that kind of waiting!), Advent is a different waiting, a holy waiting, a sense is that it is time for God to break into the world again and bring justice and hope for those who have all but run out.
Jesus describes another time of waiting and longing in our second scripture this morning. He talks about unrest, confusion, fear and foreboding. In the midst of this confusion, fear and turmoil, Jesus talks about a time when we can stand up and raise our hands because our redemption is drawing near! Surely, the days are coming, surely, our redemption is drawing near. Surely, God is just about to break into the world again and restore a sense of hope. Surely!
Into times when all we can do is cry out “surely”, times when we see so much unrest and injustice that we have to think our redemption must be drawing near; it is into such times as these that God enters the scene. If we are vigilant and prayerful this Advent season, if we pay attention during this time of waiting we will see the signs of God all around us. If we tune out the noise of all that is happening around us and tune in to God we might just notice a Messiah, a Savior being born into the world. I wonder what kind of messiah we are expecting? What kind of messiah is coming?
Waiting for something you already know has happened is tricky business. If I were better at waiting for Christ to be born- my nativity scene at home would not have the baby Jesus in it yet but the manger would be empty in anticipation of the birth. We have a lot of expectations of what God will do in the Christmas season. I wonder if we have so many expectations that we can no longer be surprised and awed by the miracle of God coming into the world? I hope not, for surely our redemption is drawing near- we don’t want to miss it because we think it’s a rerun! God can and will do miraculous things in such a time as this.
The Israelites had certain expectations of what God would do in the world when a messiah was sent. They had certain expectations of a savior. When Israel had a Jewish king, one anointed by God (that’s what messiah means by the way, anointed one), they were doing pretty well. Things changed when the Babylonians came along and overthrew Judea and there was no longer a Jewish king for God’s people. We can hear their aching in the words of Jeremiah- they were longing for restoration. They were longing for a political leader, a ruler to take the throne once again. Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman talks about how these expectations of a messiah changed over time. “By the time of the New Testament, different Jews had different understandings of what this future ruler would be like. Some expected a warrior-king like David, others a more supernatural cosmic judge of earth, and still others a priestly ruler…” There were many different expectations about the kind of messiah God would send into the world.
The funny thing about expectations though is that sometimes, they are wrong. I talked to a friend this week who is expecting a child after three years of waiting and hoping. She and her husband expected that for them, getting pregnant would be the hardest part. However, now they’ve been told there is an increased risk for Down’s syndrome with her pregnancy. That’s not what they expected. A daughter expects her dad to be at her soccer game, and is disappointed when he can’t be there because of work. A couple vows to love each other for better for worse, in sickness and in health, but they mostly expect better and health, they are disappointed when sickness becomes the norm- when worse becomes the reality.
And then there is the opposite of course, with expectations. You might expect a call from a doctor to bring bad news and instead the outlook is better than you could have imagined. You might expect that a family member will let you down again, only to be astounded by their commitment and love. You might be surprised by a new relationship in your life that you never thought possible. Surprised or disappointed, our expectations are not always met in the way we think they will be.
What kind of Messiah was it that God sent into the world to be with us? Well, he wasn’t a king- the only crown Jesus got to wear was one of thorns as they mocked him. Was he a supernatural power? A cosmic judge? A political leader? The Messiah that I see in the pages of scripture did not meet any of those expectations. The Messiah the world received was a servant, one who valued the life of each person he met. The Messiah we got was one who put himself last and encouraged us to do the same. The Messiah God sent ate with sinners, visited prisoners, touched people even when he wasn’t supposed to. This Messiah stood up for what he believed was right. This Messiah didn’t use the power he was given to cause anyone harm but instead used it to try to illuminate the way to God a little more brightly. The kind of Messiah we got used his power just enough to get into trouble with the world and be killed. How many kings willingly give up their power for others? How many kings would humble themselves as servant? The answer, of course, is only one.
As we enter into this Advent season today, we decorate our tree with Christian symbols, we light our Advent wreath, we read scriptures of expectation, we sing songs of hope and God’s coming but I wonder- what kind of Messiah are we expecting? What kind of savior do we think God is sending us? What kind of Christ will be born to us anew on Christmas day?
Are we expecting a messiah who claims power and takes over so we don’t have to think anymore, or one who guides us in the paths of righteousness by his teachings and his actions? Are we expecting a messiah who will give us black and white answers to all of life’s questions or one who invites us to struggle with him to figure out how to love people and love God better? Do we expect a messiah who takes over politically? A supernatural force? A cosmic judge? What kind of messiah are we expecting?
Maybe we could leave all our expectations behind this year and see what happens. Maybe we could open our hearts to find out exactly what kind of Messiah Jesus is when he comes again to us as a soft and vulnerable child. Maybe we could wipe away everything we think we know about the Christmas story and instead humbly wait for God’s amazing entrance into the world. For surely, surely, in such a time as this, we need God to break into the world and bring us the Messiah. Maybe not the messiah we expect, but the Messiah we need. For surely in these days our redemption is drawing near.