Jeremiah 33:14-16 & Luke 21:25-36
Now Advent has begun, a season in its own right, not just a countdown to Christmas.
there would be no Christmas.
So hear the prophet’s instructions:
“Prepare the way of the Lord. In the wilderness make a highway for God.”
Many are drowning in spiritual clutter and materialistic excess. We need help.
We need a Season to cut through it all
like a laser knife,
and point us to the One who is coming.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Come through your word to us today.
Before I begin I would like to acknowledge the inspiration of Chris Andrews in this sermon.
It was the German American 20th century theologian – Paul Tillich who once said there are three types of hope – false hope, hopelessness and real hope.
Real hope and faith and Advent have something in common – they all have an element of waiting for a coming fulfilment, for a new future in and through God.
Hebrews 11 puts this very eloquently ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not [yet] seen.’
Indeed the season of Advent is above all, a season of hope.
Something is dawning on the horizon of our lives. Indeed the Latin origin of the word Advent means ‘someone or something’ is coming.
But if that coming is merely seen as something in time rather than in the space of our heart and spirit, then we may get despondent about Jesus’ long time coming to fulfil his promise.
As Luke’s reading indicates and reminds us, in the nearly two millennia since the gospel was written ,we have weathered numerous apocalyptic predictions of signs of the end times.
After twenty centuries, wars, poverty and injustice still appear to reign. The world is indeed racked by violence of every sort, yet it is not destroyed.
It is filled with destruction and ruin, yet not overcome.
We live amidst and even cause some of the injustice, poverty and prejudice we see around us, yet still there are signs of justice, fullness and hope.
Sometimes the signs can’t be seen in the big picture – but in a much smaller frame – in our church, in our church community and even in the attitude and demeanor and heart of our very selves.
Maybe in Luke’s gospel Jesus is talking about the hope of restoration that starts within as well as without [on the outside]. Maybe he alludes to this fulfillment of hope when he reminds the disciples that ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but his words certainly will not’ – things and circumstances will change but the words of Jesus ‘the Word’ will not. [See John1]
Jesus then calls us to an inner transformation and to stay alert – to persevere in our faith and hope. We are not to be mesmerized by the past, or troubled by the present circumstances but to be a people who have an eye peering to the future as we persist in our watching and waiting and day-to-day living and acting.
At the beginning of advent, while the lights might not be up yet, or the tree trimmed, the cards written, none of the cooking done, or presents bought, we might feel that the coming is far away on the distant horizon.
We can see something happening, but we can’t quite make out what it is. We see it through the fog, we squint to get a clear picture or imagine it all in our heads.
To discern what is approaching, we must listen with our ears and our heart to the words of the prophet Jeremiah. His words promise salvation and safety, justice and righteousness.
This is the proclamation of ‘our real source of hope’. Anticipation of what God is going to do to energise us inwardly for faithful and fruitful living.
Ironically, we anticipate the future, as Christians, by remembering the past. We remember the glory days of Israel under David’s leadership. We strain forward to see a ‘righteous branch’ spring forth.
But this is a particular kind of remembering. In this season, we do not remember that which has happened in the past in a historic sense. We remember in a way that brings change to us now.
It is the remembering of a lover or a child’s kiss, the memory of a time when words of forgiveness were offered, the memory of a song or a hymn that still makes our hearts race and our minds wander, or the memory of a handshake and the presentation of a gift with the words – ‘Well done’.
The power of this kind of memory can make us even now cry or laugh or feel a sense of contentment and fulfillment.
It is a memory that never grows old or stale. We tell stories of it again and again because each time we tell the story we experience the power of the life-giving memory in our lives.
So, each year, the season of Advent calls the community of faith and hope to prepare for the visit of God’s amazing saving grace.
Our work is to anticipate what God will do to bring fulfillment to all people and to persevere in the call to live in the now and not yet.
Unlike false hope, true hope is never cheap. It demands a great energy of faith. This is true because we need hope to overcome what sometimes seems like the hopelessness we can face in desperate circumstances.
Jeremiah knew much about this. His ministry was in prophetically speaking to a people who had lost hope – exiles and slaves in a strange land – who couldn’t find hope easily.
Into this condition of loss, the prophet dares [Yes, let me say that again] – he dares to speak his word of hopeful newness that will come to pass because of God’s salvation.
Like Jeremiah the church must draw on its energy of faith and real hope to offer to the world, a vision of the now and not yet, that God brings in the birth of Christ.
And our proclamation must be bold as we anticipate his coming.
So lift your heads, let your hearts be strengthened, God is doing a new thing in us and through us as he clears the fog, to help the world get ready for the most blessed event in all history.