Sunday, December 2, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
You’re embarking on a trip. Maybe it’s a family vacation, or your visiting relatives, or you’re going someplace you’ve been waiting to go for a while. You’re excited and so are the children in the back seat. Maybe they’re your children, or your grandchildren, or maybe the children of friends, but after a while the familiar chant begins….”Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” At first it seems like an innocent enough question. Then it gets a little funny. But after a while, “Are we there yet?” is a source of increasing anxiety. And the longer the trip goes, the higher the tensions rise. We all want to get to where we’re going and we don’t want to wait.
When we’re young we can’t wait to grow up. As adults we can’t wait to land our first job. Then we find ourselves rushing around just to get there. Rushing around to get home. Rushing, rushing, rushing. It seems we are always in a hurry. The childhood mantra, “Are we there yet?” continues even into our adult lives whether we say it out loud or not. Waiting is not something that comes naturally to people.
That’s why this season of Advent – the beginning of the church year – is often overlooked. The word advent means coming or arrival, and for most people we focus on the destination and not the journey. We want to skip ahead to our destination of Christmas. We want to get there quickly, no lingering. “Are we there yet?” is still in our minds. “Why can’t we just skip ahead to Christmas?”
But this season of advent is meant to slow us down and remind us to savor the journey. And that’s hard to do when we are smack dab in a society that is going full speed ahead toward Christmas. The signs are all around us. Christmas trees and decorations have been up in stores now since before Halloween. We’re flooded with ads about spending more and more money and trying to get that “perfect” gift whatever it may be. We’re told our final destination is what lies under the tree. We’re racing toward filling those lists, those things that will bring us security and happiness. At least that is what we are being told. And the race toward that final destination adds to our tension.
And there’s already a lot of tension in our lives. News of violence, war, earthquakes, floods, fires, and other disturbing stories are plentiful. Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel today add to those disturbing images when he says, “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” His words are as relevant today as they were when they were first spoken centuries ago. Many see these signs in the news as prophecies of doom, and it causes us to ask if the end is near.
That’s how the early church felt when this gospel was written. The Jerusalem temple was destroyed and the disciples were surrounded by turmoil both physically and emotionally. They were facing wars and persecution by rulers. They had to flee their homelands like refugees today. The early Christians saw all these signs around them and they were afraid. How do you keep on believing when your place of worship is destroyed, when it seems like you’ve lost everything, and when you have to begin again? How do you do that? You question and wonder where in the God is in the midst of all these foreboding signs. When it seems like everything is crumbling around us where do we turn?
In the midst of all this turmoil and fear Jesus speaks again and tells us “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” When we feel like things are being pulled away, Jesus assures us that God continues to come closer. When fear tries to take hold and it seems that we don’t know who to trust, we are reminded that “the LORD is our righteousness.” When we doubt that anything will work out Jesus reminds us that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Jesus’ words are words not of prophetic doom, but of eternal hope. This is God’s commitment to us.
And our commitment – like those of the early Christians – lies in raising our heads to see the signs of God’s grace around us. Our commitment is to wait in hope, to be faithful in prayer and song, for that keeps us focused and connected to God. Prayer is our anchor in the storms of life. It slows us down from asking “are we there yet?” to savoring the present moment and enjoying the journey.
That is what the season of Advent is all about. It’s allowing the Holy Spirit to slow us down so that we can prepare for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. We prepare not only for his coming in the manger – for that event has already happened 2000 years ago – but for Christ’s second coming or Advent. We prepare for that coming by preparing our hearts through prayer that opens a place for him to abide in and with us.
As we journey through this season of Advent, let us commit ourselves to being alert at all times for the signs of God in our midst. Running at full speed will cause us to miss random encounters with God. We don’t know where and when they may happen, so we must “be alert at all times.” It may be in the eyes of a stranger, the hands of someone to whom we reach out to in forgiveness, the voice of a child’s song, or the echo of laughter. Signs of God’s grace are all around us if we open our hearts to see that God continues to come to us each and every day.
Are we there yet? No, but our joy is not in the destination, but the journey along the way. On this Commitment Sunday, let us pledge our whole lives to God and wait for Christ’s coming by filling our hours in prayer, hope, gratitude, compassion, and love. Amen.