The First Sunday of Advent; Year C (12/2/2012)

Lessons:Jeremiah 33:14-16 Psalm 25:1-10 (1) 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 St. Luke 21:25-36

Prayer of the Day: Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Protect us by your strength and save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

St. Luke 21:25-36 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Living in End Times

An old cartoon lampooned the stereotypical street-corner evangelist warning passers-by about the impending end of the world. Yet this modern day prophet hedged his bets. He wasn’t bold enough to claim that the “end is near.” He was content to point out that the end is “nearer.”

We Lutherans have rarely found ourselves in white robes, standing on street corners, warning others about the end of time. Not many of us bought into Harold Camping’s nonsense. Even fewer of us took seriously the frenzy created by the Millerites in the 19th Century. We are more inclined to remember that Jesus warned us against such speculation.

Yet at the same time, we know that Jesus spoke clearly about the coming end of time. With richly apocalyptic language, this week’s Gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus spoke to his followers about the days to come: there will be signs in nature, unrest among people, and suddenly the Savior will appear, and the end will be at hand. This can be a frightening and unsettling message. But Jesus didn’t speak these words in order to trouble his followers. His intent, as this weekend’s Gospel lesson makes clear, was to invite them into a different way of living. “Be on guard,” he said. “Be alert at all times.”

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we live in this “now, but not yet” time. The end of all time may or may not come before we draw our last breath, but we are called to live as if it could come at any time. There is a sense of urgency among those who live in such a way. If I live as if today is the last opportunity I have to do what God has called me to do, I am much less likely to put if off until tomorrow.

This anticipatory way of living is part of the undercurrent of the season — the Season of Advent. We are reminded, every year, that Advent calls to mind the three “comings” of Christ (Advent means “arrival” or “coming”). Christ came to the world as the Babe of Bethlehem. Christ comes into our hearts today. Christ will come at the end of all time. We Lutherans tend to be pretty good celebrating at the first, are getting better at welcoming the second, but are still a bit hesitant about how to understand the third.

It may well be that the faith practices of Advent are perfect ways for us to learn how to “be on guard” or “be alert at all times.” As we spend increased time in Bible study, prayer, worship and service, we become more in tune with the movement of God in our world, and more at peace with the possibility that the end may come during our watch.

Years ago, I wrote a devotional resource to be used during Advent and Christmas — an attempt to  recapture the historic faith practices of Advent. I encourage you and members of your household to consider using this resource to put Advent and Christmas in a proper perspective n your homes this year. It can be downloaded here. Let me know if you find it to be useful!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What signs were present in the first century that the end might be near?
  2. Why did Jesus call attention to these signs?
  3. How were his words filled with hope, for people who lived in frightening times?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Is the end of time a cause for concern or hope for me?
  2. Am I content with the ways my family has honored Advent and celebrated Christmas in past years?
  3. How might the faith practices of Advent prepare me to be more hopeful about the end?