Sermon- Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
For over a month now stores and media have started to advertise that we are in the season of Christmas and that may be true for secular society, but not for Christians. I think a brief history lesson on seasons is in order here. Secular society celebrates two main holidays – Christmas and Easter, yet for Christians we have seasons in between those two – Advent and Lent. Advent and Lent are seasons that only Christians celebrate, but they are very important. Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. What, you might ask is that? The season of Advent is that time of preparation before the Christmas season, which by the way, begins on Christmas day and lasts for 12 days until Epiphany on Jan. 6th. Epiphany means manifestation and on that day we celebrate when the star led the magi to the infant Jesus. But back to Advent……
Advent means coming. The Aramaic word or really words maranatha can mean our Lord has come or Come, O Lord. It all depends how you translate it. Yet the message is that we are waiting, but what are we waiting for? Advent is not waiting for the Christ child to be born. That event already happened over 2000 years ago. Advent is the season in which we wait for the coming of Christ again. Advent is an in between time. It is that time when we wait for the celebration of the birth of Christ and the expectation of Christ who will come again and who comes to us each day. Advent is a time of hope – hope in the midst of darkness and chaos.
And there is plenty of darkness and chaos all around us. Wars continue to break out, climate change continues to worsen and cause devastation, hunger and homelessness increase, and grief and suffering are a constant part of life. How can one be hopeful in the midst of all of this? Jesus says in the gospel today, “Look” “Be on guard.” “Be alert at all times.” Those don’t sound like words of comfort, but more like warnings that could cause one to feel more than a little uneasy. In fact, Jesus says, “There will be signs – signs of distress.” And people will “faint from fear.” Yet, Jesus does not want us to be afraid. He tells us, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Normally, when faced with trouble, we don’t raise our heads. When trying to walk in the midst of a severe storm, we lower our heads to avoid the direct impact of the rain, snow, or wind. We want to protect ourselves and stay low. We don’t want to “stand up and raise our heads.” We don’t want to witness all the trials that are coming.
On the battlefield in Gettysburg, PA, there are a few very large trees that are called witness trees. They are called that because these large trees were there before the civil war battle and they were standing when the battle took place. These trees stood tall and witnessed the horrors of the war. One can only wonder if these trees could talk what they would have to tell us about what they saw. Jesus is asking us to stand tall amidst the horrors we may witness because our “redemption is drawing near.” Jesus uses tree imagery as well to show that as the tree begins to sprout leaves, we know that spring is coming – just as when suffering and chaos surrounds us we know that Christ will be coming again, yet at the same time is already here to sustain us and give us hope. Tangible today as we receive His body and blood. Hope reminds us that the storms of this life will not last forever, but God’s words will last forever. It is the word of God that sustains us and allows us to hold our heads up confident that God is by our side. That hope allows us to wait knowing that God is in charge not us.
We want the troubles in our lives to be over as soon as possible, but sometimes we have to wait and patience is not something that comes easily for most of us. That is one of the gifts of prayer. Prayer takes our focus off our problem and onto the One who is bigger than our problems. Prayer may not change the situation, but it will change us. Prayer will teach us to wait for God’s will to be done, in God’s time. Prayer will not allow our hearts to be weighed down. It will help us to see God more clearly in the midst of chaos.
And chaos is something that seems to be in abundance during this time of year. The secular world is stressing that we are in the midst of the Christmas season – the time the media tries to say is for shopping for more than we need, spending more than we can afford, rushing here and there to get more, do more, all in an effort to prepare for what? Some commercialized Christmas? That does not promote a spirit of waiting – only waiting for the season to be over.
That’s why this season of Advent is so important. This is the time to pause from all the busy-ness of life and see that the kingdom of God is near. We need to take time this Advent and prepare for Christ’s coming by spending more time in prayer with God and less time planning for the perfect holiday. This is not a mad race to the finish line on Dec. 25th. The Christmas season begins on Dec. 25th – it does not end there. Right now our focus needs to be on slowing down when society wants us to speed up. Right now is the time to prepare ourselves for Christ’s return by raising our heads in praise and witnessing to others the awesome things God has done for us and through us. Advent is the time to prayerfully reflect on the promises of God – to draw near to God.
This Advent season read daily devotions, take at least 15 minutes each day to still your mind and quietly spend time with God. Feel God’s presence as you take time to pray. Prayer will ease your anxieties. It will give you peace. It will enable you to “stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” Amen.