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Sernib – “It Will Come” – December 2, 2012

Sermon for December 2, 2012                                     The First Baptist Church of Lewisburg

 

It Will Come

Jeremiah 33:  14-16;  Psalm 25:  1- 10;  Luke  21:  25-36

 

A new church year begins today.  Last week was Christ the King Sunday, a celebration of that promised time when Christ shall be all, in all, and all the conflicts and awkward compromises of existence are resolved.  This morning we begin again, with the first Sunday of Advent, four weeks of focusing on the promise of God’s sending a Savior, and the tasks set for a world of God’s children waiting for God to rescue us from malaise and meaninglessness, mischief and malice.

See, the church year is overlaid atop the physical year.  It sets out a progression of holidays and holy seasons to remind believers of the work of God through Christ, so that the history of salvation captured in scripture can be re-lived annually by the church.  Every year has its Christmas, the sending of a savior; and every year has its season of waiting and preparation for God’s sending a savior.  Today that season begins.

We begin, in a sense, where we left off.  Last month, which concluded with Christ the King Sunday, had a number of other Sundays dealing with final things in this world and the predominance of another realm.  The first Sunday in November was All Saints,’ conscious of that heaven into which the dead have gone and where we are destined to go, and the scriptures for the weeks since have been visions of Judgment Day.

There is always a better world conceived in the Bible’s logic of God’s management of life.  This world is limited, and no matter the triumphs or pleasures or moral and spiritual heights attainable in the flesh, the more refined our conscience becomes, the more spiritually discerning we are, the greater the gulf between what can be achieved here and now, and the way we perceive that God wants it.

The Bible’s big picture of God’s plan is that this mixed, mingled, messy world we inhabit–which has elements of the spiritual combined with the material, and both healthy and unhealthy spirit abroad, and benign and malignant forces in matter–is that eventually it will be replaced by a reality in which God’s goodness is in everything.  The eternal will replace the time-bound, and the holy the profane.  The Christian year ends with that vision.

The Christian year begins with the beginning of that vision, with a yearning for a better reality than exists, with a hope for deliverance from the way things are.  The posture of Advent is the stance of people who are not satisfied with life which contains injustice, contempt, and confusion.  A good God, a God who loves the world, must be able to do better, and the faithful who have been relying on such a God need some encouragement to hold on.

Advent is about hanging in there.  It’s not just about hanging greens.  It’s about staying the course, continuing to pray, consciously choosing still to trust God, despite every temptation to despair.  Why do we do that?  We do that because God has sent prophets to tell us that God has not forgotten us, and will be seeing to our needs.

We have a funny way of doing Christmas, and it goes along with the commerce of the holiday.  I’m not going to disparage spending and material things.  Lots of presents that won’t make too much sense get bought, and lots of incentive is there for the simple to get the impression that the holiday is about gifts, but the spirit of giving exceeds that, and an awful lot of charitable giving, financial and otherwise, comes out of the atmosphere anticipating Christmas.

What all the busy acquiring and decorating and seasonal entertainment does, however, is make December 25 the climax of a festive season.  The sober season, the searching season, the feeling the weight of sin and sorrow season, and the steady spiritual focus on the good which is supposed to be Advent are all overwhelmed.  Grief at the gulf, between what this life is and what God wants life to be, hardly gets to happen, unless it’s on a lonely Christmas, or upon a letdown Christmas, or some time in January when the magic of public goodwill and collective community feeling fades, and the burden of another year begins to be felt.

See, that’s all wrong.  I don’t know what the church can do about it, but it’s all wrong.  Now is the season to acknowledge what’s hard about life, and December 25, and December 26, and on right through Epiphany– the sixth of January–is supposed to be the season of relief, of astonished gratitude, of celebration.

We borrow some of the joy from Christmastide, just like we get excited when we look forward to any big event.  We spend some of the capital of the Christmas season ahead of time, in the ways we anticipate Christmas’s cheer and sociability and delight.  We aren’t, however, to impoverish the twelve days in order to live high on the hog before they get here, or squander all the joy of Christmas between now and the twenty-sixth.  Not only does it detract from what Christmas itself can be, but rushing the holiday of Christ’s being with us overwhelms the season of waiting for Christ’s arrival.  Advent becomes an extended, backwards lead-in to Christmas as conclusion.  The season of Advent’s own purpose is overlooked, and the lesson it has for us, the wisdom it hopes to give us with which to welcome Christ again, is missed.

Of course it’s artificial to reenact the story of God’s salvation annually.  It almost requires a willing suspension of belief to rehearse the old scriptures of longing and defiant confidence in the care and power of God, as though we didn’t already know that Christ has come.  All the time we remind ourselves of those long years reflected in the scriptures when God’s people lived and died without their ultimate deliverance, in the back of our minds and the bottom of our hearts we know that Christ indeed lived, and died, and rose again, and the the whole creation is redeemed.

Holidays, however, are set for a purpose.  The human heart, the Bible knows, is wayward, and our attention to what is true and good easily distracted.  The certainty of one season falters in the next, and the brave resolves of yesterday fade.  Just as the weekly return of an hour of worship returns us to being conscious of living in the presence of God, and literally reminds us of who we are, so the holidays spaced throughout the year bring us back to the beginnings of our identity.  The bigger holidays–Christmas and Easter– are so central to our own story that the church long ago established a period of preparation, to make sure that the fulfillment of the holiday was informed by a time of wanting  , and watching, and learning the patience of waiting upon God.

Who among us today is as confident of God’s care as God intends?  To what extent are our own lives being lived in a time which seems to call out for rescue, for the dawning of a different and better day?  The gospel lesson speaks of God’s triumphant conclusion arriving in its own generation– its hunger for God’s wrapping things up was so great and its sense of God’s nearness so strong that it warned people to be ready for it any time.

The world didn’t conclude then.  Luke’s gospel has Jesus announcing that this generation will see Judgment Day, but it’s a poetic sense–every generation is addressed as though the crisis is its own, and it is.  The world is always due for deliverance, and God is always breaking into history to uphold the faithful and confound evils.  It has not yet been universal, but the experience has been universal– one by one, soul by soul, the conclusion comes, and God’s will supersedes the plans and expectations of mortal men and women.

What are we warned against?  We’re warned against drunkenness, dissipation, and the worries of the world.  These, the gospel believes, will interfere with our being in the right frame of mind and proper spirit with which to greet the arrival of our savior.

Well, what are drunkenness and dissipation but naive remedies for the worries of our world?  They mask anxiety about meaning, they obscure loneliness, they substitute self-indulgence for the pain of self-awareness.  They are, in a sense, natural errors, common strategies for blunting the discomfort of existence.  There is, however, a better way.

The better way is not bravely to face down our worries, and honestly to engage them constantly.  Worries can’t be engaged.  Situations can be approached, and realities dealt with, but worries are the wheel-spinning of life–they are fears, apprehensions, compulsive questions which lead to no solution.  They’re enough to drive you to drink, to flee responsibility.  There’s a better way than worry.

The better way is to believe.  The better way to survive this testing time, this period of having to wait upon God, is to believe in God’s goodness, and to trust God’s promise, and to settle your soul on God as your solution.  That’s what Advent is for, four weeks of lighting candles against the dark, on our way to celebrating that time when the light of the world comes, and the rescue we require arrives.

 

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