This is the message I presented for the 1st Sunday in Advent (November 28, 1999) at Walker Valley. The Scriptures were Isaiah 64: 1 – 9, 1 Corinthians 1: 3 – 9, and Mark 12: 24 – 37.
Back in 1984 I moved from Memphis, Tennessee, to the Quad Cities area of Illinois and Iowa. It wasn’t that dramatic move and I certainly didn’t think much about it at the time. But as I settled into my life as a college chemistry instructor I couldn’t help but notice that, as the end of 1984 came near, it got darker a lot sooner than it did when I lived in Memphis.
Of course, as winter approaches, the days do get shorter and as one goes further north, the days get shorter still. But, if you are used to the seasons changing in a particular manner, then new changes are rather unexpected.
The season of Advent comes, in part by design, as winter approaches. As the days get shorter and sunlight disappears, it is as if hope is fading away. But The purpose of Advent is serve as reminder that Christ will soon be hear and that we should begin the preparation for his arrival, the dawning of a new age, the shining of a new light.
Christ’s birthday at this time of the year, when the shortest day of the year occurs, is figuratively into a world of darkness. It is darkness created by sin and indifference, as noted in the Old Testament reading from Isaiah for today.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags’
we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. (Isaiah 64: 6 – 7)
Yet, by his birth, there is a hope that the darkness will not prevail.
Advent is more than just a period of preparation for Christmas; it is a season in itself. Advent proclaims the coming of the Lord and this is not necessarily the same as saying that Christmas is coming. The Gospel reading for today reaffirms that all Scriptures affirm: our God is the One who comes to the world. The question is “how shall the day of the Lord be?” Will it be in darkness or light, joy or dread, judgement or redemption? It should be this thought that stirs us and reminds us, as people of God, that Advent is not only a time of joy and anticipation but also one of redemption.
The Gospel reading from Mark for today speaks of the Lord’s coming in terms of cosmic and historical signs.
“But in those days, following that distress,
“’ the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. (Mark 13: 24 – 25)
But this passage of doom is quickly followed by a passage of announcement.
“At that time men will see the Son of Man in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. (Mark 13: 26 – 27)
Though this part of the Gospel speaks of the coming of the Lord, it continues by telling us that we can not now neither the time of His coming nor how He will come.
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with has assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!” (Mark 13: 32 – 37)
The message of the Gospel is true for us today. As we look around our world, how will we know if Christ has come again?
You will find the living God in the pages of the Bible. You will find him also just exactly where you are. When Jesus knew that he would not have much longer with his disciples he knew that they were sad at heart and he said to them: “It is for your own good that I am going because unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you. . . I still have many things to say to you, but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth.”(John 16: 7, 12, 13) Jesus does not break his promise. God has sent the Spirit of truth, he dwells in your heart. You have only to listen, to follow, and he will lead you to the complete truth. He leads through all the events, all the circumstances of your life. Nothing in your life is so insignificant, so small, that God cannot be found at its centre. We think of God in the dramatic things, the glorious sunsets, the majestic mountains, the tempestuous seas; but He is the little things too, in the smile of a passer-by or the gnarled hands of an old man, in a daisy, a tiny insect, falling leaves. God is in the music, in laughter and in sorrow too. And the grey times, when monotony stretches out ahead, these can be the times of steady, solid growth into God.
God may make himself known to you through the life of someone who, for you, is an ambassador for God, in whom you can see the beauty and truth and the love of God; anyone from St. Paul and the apostles through all the centuries to the present day, the great assembly of the saints and lovers of God. It may be that there is someone who loves you so deeply that you dare to believe that you are worth loving and so you can believe that God’s love for you could be possible after all. Sometimes it is through tragedy or serious illness that God speaks to our hearts and we know him for the first time. There is no limit to the ways in which God may make himself known. At every turn in our lives there can be a meeting place with God. How our hearts should sing with joy and thanksgiving! We have only to want him now at this moment – and at any moment in our lives – and he is there, wanting us, longing to welcome us, to forgive us all that has gone before that has separated us from him. “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14: 23) God makes his home in you. They are not empty words. It is true. “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.” This is prayer. Isn’t this the answer to all our yearning, our searching, our anguish, to all the longing, the incompleteness of our lives and our longing? Until we dwell in him and allow him to dwell in us we shall be strangers to peace. (From Prayer by Mother Frances Dominica)
As we begin this season of Advent and prepare for the coming of Christ, let us remember that this is a time of preparation for ourselves as well. Though we wish to celebrate the coming of Christ the King, we need to remember that he did not come into this world as a king. The place of his birth was not what one would have expected for a king nor was the life that He led what one would have expected. But Christ came to be a part of us so that we could be saved.
The days of darkness are not yet over. It will continue to darker each day. These are days when hope can be easily lost but we always know that there is hope. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter to them:
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in everyway – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1: 4 – 9)
So, my friends, as we begin this season of Advent, as we begin the preparation for the birth of Christ, let us also begin to prepare ourselves. Though the days may be getting darker, the light is actually beginning to shine. It is the light of Christ in the world through us. The challenge for each of us today is to carry that light out into the world so that others may see it as well.