SERMON Advent 1 C Luke 21:25-38/1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
“For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.”
Alright, what are we waiting for?!
I asked this question of our catechetics class last month, when we were learning about the Communion of Saints.
We’d just read this text from 1 Thessalonians, and asked, “What are we waiting for? What sound are we waiting to hear?” For a moment, all students were silent.
But then, with exuberant joy, one young lady practically jumped up from her seat and shouted:
Yes. She said sleigh bells. If that isn’t a metaphor for this time of year, I don’t know what is. While it may only be December 2nd, the first Sunday of Advent, it seems that the whole world has been celebrating Christmas for at least the last few weeks! Everywhere you go it’s Christmas music and wrapping paper and presents and Santa, already, all the time. Everywhere you go outside of these doors, it’s evident that our whole world seems to be waiting eagerly to hear those “SLEIGHBELLS!” Everyone seems eager for Santa’s arrival.
But, as much as we may love Christmas, sleigh bells is not the sound we Christians long to hear. Sleigh bells are not what we’re waiting for.
Our scripture readings on this first Sunday of Advent can be a little scary, these are always Jesus’ most apocalyptic teachings, but these teachings about the end of the world as we know it remind us of the true meaning of Advent.
Jesus acknowledges in this 21st chapter of Luke’s gospel that our world is a messed up place, and that it’s only going to get worse. Jesus says, “nation will rise against nation, there will be great earth quakes and famines and plagues.” Jesus warns us that God’s people will be persecuted, and that families will experience discord and that we will be dragged before political leaders because we’ve been living out our Christian faith to love our neighbors.” This first Sunday of Advent, Jesus paints a sobering picture for us of what we will go through while trying to follow his teachings in the midst of this messed up world. Jesus says that some people will faint from fear and foreboding. Some people will sink into despair. But as Christians, we do not grieve nor do we live our lives as people who have no faith. Rather, our faith compels us to live with a bold and daring hope! We know that the world as it is is not the world as it shall be! That’s what all apocalyptic scripture means. The world as it is is not the world as it shall be. These warnings are not meant to scare us, but to strengthen our faith. Jesus urges us to endure, to keep on living out our faith and trusting in God’s love and faithfulness, no matter what we may experience.
As people of faith, we know that our salvation is at hand, and not just ours, but the redemption of the whole entire world! Jesus compels us to live with hope and eager expectation of his return, saying, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!”
Though he doesn’t fill in all of the gaps for us, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what his return –what the end of the world as we know it- will be like! Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be weighed down by the worries of these days, but instead to pray for the strength to keep the faith. He says that the whole entire world will be able to see Christ as he returns in glory. And 1Thessalonians says we’ll not only see Christ, but we’ll also hear the sound of the archangel’s call and the sound of the Lord’s victory trumpet. We’ll see Christ Jesus call our blessed dead up from their graves, and all of us together –the whole Communion of Saints- will meet Christ together in the air.
Now some traditions understand this verse to be talking about the rapture, but that’s not what this scripture means. Jesus is not beaming us all up to heaven- but rather these scriptures describe Jesus Christ bring heaven down to us here on earth! It was common in the time of Christ for servants to run out to meet their Lord halfway when they saw him returning from a long journey, this is what this passage describes. The whole communion of saints, as Christ’s beloved, running to greet their Lord and process down to earth with him. Revelation and the prophet Isaiah talk about God creating a new heaven and a new earth right here for us all to live forevermore with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Though our world has been through hell and back, our loving God promises to redeem it, heal it, and create it anew to enjoy eternity with Christ and all of us. Even our world itself will experience resurrection. This ultimate cosmic event –Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead- THIS is what we’re truly waiting for. THIS is what we long for in Advent, and always.
We are not waiting for sleigh bells or packages or Santa Claus to make all of our dreams come true on one special day. We are not even waiting just to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. We are waiting for the fulfillment of Christ’s incarnation. Yes, Christ was born, and that was important. Christ died and is risen, also essential to our faith. But, during Advent we pay special attention to the most important aspect of our faith –the hope to which we cling, the day for which we all long when Christ WILL come again, just as he promised.
So, what are we truly waiting for? I know what I’m waiting for.
I’m waiting to finally be out of debt. I’m waiting for my student loans to be paid off. I’m waiting for our world to be a kinder, more peaceful place. I’m waiting for all people to be treated equally, with love and respect. I’m waiting for an end to gun violence… I’m waiting for the day when “mass shooting” will cease to be in our collective vocabulary! I’m waiting for the day when no one’s child will know hunger ever again. I’m waiting for the day when racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and everything else that divides one human being from another will be no more, for the day when we will all stand arm in arm and raise our heads together, as fellow human beings to look toward our world’s redemption drawing near! I’m waiting for that trumpet sound. More eagerly than for anything else in the world, I’m waiting for Jesus!
So, what are you waiting for? Amen.