ADVENT Nov. 27 2016 Isaiah 2.1-5, Romans 13.11-24, Matt. 24.36-44 The theme for every Advent season is all about claiming our freedom as Christians -- we are liberated by God’s grace. Chris Tomlin in a newer version of the old hymn Amazing Grace sings, “My chains are gone. I’ve been set free.” And the cry of the black slaves when Emancipation came was “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, free at last!” The question for Advent is God’s utter astonishment that we do not accept this wonderful gift that frees us from sin and judgment. We do not choose to claim our freedom. We sit in darkness. One of the cries of Advent is that “the people who sat in darkness, have seen a great light.” But have we? And do we claim that light?
St. Paul writing to the new Christians in Rome tells them to “wake from sleep,” that the “Night is far gone and the day is at hand.” The prayer for Christians in Advent, like the children of Israel awaiting their Messiah is “stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.” Our needs for the season of Advent are not Christmas trees and parties, presents, and programs, rather we need to be praying for a humble heart, a heart filled with fear at the awesome might and power of God. What we need in this time of confession is strong hearts to join with other Christians and bring peace to the world.
The purpose of Advent is opening our eyes to the light that is coming into the world and what that will mean for us all. Isaiah 2.1-5 is a vision of what the world will be when God’s house is there for everyone and many people -- not just the children of Israel, but people from everywhere will flock to this place to find their peace. The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Again ‘walking in the light’.
Unfortunately for a lot of years Advent has been co-opted by a longer Christmas season. Christmas actually begins with Christmas Day and there are only one or two Sundays in Christmas depending on the year. But there are 4 Sundays in Advent and Advent is not Christmas. In the Middle Ages much of Advent was like Lent. People were told to fast and pray, and prepare themselves for the coming of the Christ Child. There is an apocalyptic color to Advent as well. Not only do we prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world as one of us, but we remember that just as God was, God also is, and God will be. That great mystery of the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ.
I really don’t know that we can hold back the tide of Christmas until its proper time. My mother told about growing up in a ranching community in Western South Dakota. The time between Christmas and New Year’s was the time for parties, and programs, and gift giving and the time before Christmas was just that, before. Christmas Eve was always the big celebration in our lives when, on a cold winter’s afternoon, Mom would pick Dad up from school and with my brother and me loaded in we head for the ranch and we would always come down through Baker, stopping sometimes at the truck stop that used to be on the east end of town. It was a wonderful time with Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, the real old-time charm. My brother and I loved the week we had to feed cattle, hunt jack-rabbits for bounty, go ice-skating and just enjoy the winter season on the ranch because we were town kids. You all have memories from days gone by and you are building memories with your children and grandchildren even today.
So with all the preparations for Christmas perhaps where we best celebrate Advent is in some quiet corner of our hearts, a place you have set aside just for God and you, and a time when you marvel at God’s handiwork, and the love God has for each of us who are just plain, ordinary sinners. “My God, my Savior has ransomed me, unending love, amazing grace.”
To be liberated means to be ‘set free’. One of Jesus’ first public appearances in the synagogue of his hometown in Nazareth. I imagine it was quite a crowd -- home-town boy was getting a lot of attention. When Jesus stands to read the lesson for the day it is from Isaiah and in it he reads that the Messiah comes to open the mouths of the dumb, open the ears of the deaf, the lame shall leap for joy -- all of which were miracles Jesus did perform, but the most important thing he did was to liberate those who were captive to the law and thus to sin. Those who saw no way out. Those who believed there was no forgiveness for them. When Jesus told the crowds a the synagogue who he was and what his mission was on earth, they tried to kill him. Now it is hard for us to believe that people do not want to hear they are free, do not want to celebrate their freedom. Run and jump and shout it from the rooftops!
If you believe you are not worth loving, if you believe you have to work your way into heaven by always doing good deeds, if you are the pharisee, not the sinner in a previous lesson, then you are not free. The message of Advent has always been there is One who is coming who has the power to forgive sins, the power to set us free to live in God’s ending love. I think sometimes we dwell too much on our sin and guilt. “We are by nature sinful and unclean and we have sinner against you by thought, word, and deed.” Those are important words and they cause us to plumb the very depths of our sinful nature, but we can’t stay there. The word ‘gospel’ in Greek means ‘good news’ and we are liberated, freed, to make the good news happen for all the world. Remember Isaiah: Many people shall come to the mountain. . . Our freedom in Christ is not to be held closely to our chests, rather it is to be shared with the whole world that we are loved beyond measure. That there is nothing we can or have to do to make God love us. It is truly unending love and amazing grace.