Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent - Mark 13:24-37
Jesus is all about death and life. Crucifixion and resurrection. I will never grow tired of saying it. Whether it be in this discussion of the end of days; the begging of the Lord to rend the heavens, tear them asunder and come down before our sins overwhelm us; or the calling forth of the grace and peace of Christ to come to us, enlivening our thoughts and knowledge in him. All of it has death and resurrection in it. A little baptism. Each of us being little Elijah, each day. Dying to self and rising again in Jesus, regularly. Each day. Giving up the things we hold, seeing in God a Jesus who comes to us shaking the foundation of our hearts.
Even in Advent, a season that we see as an interruption to our anticipation for that Christmas morning with presents and brunch and family, there is death and resurrection. Advent being a season in which we are awaiting the advent of our Lord. The coming of Christ for us at Christmas. We wait for him because we look to the world and see so much hate, so much division, so much death and dying, we need this God to come down and shake the foundations of the earth. Not because of them. Those people. But us. Begging there to be our God who can awaken the hearts of humanity to the goodness of a God who uses our sin to crucify himself that we might find freedom from our sin and death when he rises on the third day.
Have you ever thought about that? That a little baby is to be born to Mary in a stable, not because he thought it would be cool to sing Silent Night by candle light, but because of how much we have turned ourselves away? As Isaiah paints it – wasting away in our sins, becoming unclean like filthy rags, not calling on God, never laying hold of him. Paul says as much in Romans chapter 3, echoing Isaiah, quoting from Psalm 14, God looks down from heaven to see if there are any who understand or seek God. All have turned aside, no one does good, not one. Goodness not being our personal righteousness, but this image of turning to a righteous God who pardons our transgressions. Looking to God for all things, dependent on him for life, and breath, and every moment of the day.
Yet even in this great turning, what we call the fall, Isaiah says there in 64:3 – when you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, and the mountains quaked. When we were not looking. Not expecting, not even thinking much of it, God alighted himself upon the human race in a manger when we felt we had no need of him. Looking the other way, focused upon trouble and difficulty, burdens we bear and crimes we commit. Never thinking that it is for this very trouble, these sins and turning from him that he came to us. As though saying, “Alright, you won’t come to me? I’ll come to you. And by the way, I’m be bringing you forgiveness for your obstinance.” Forgiving the obstinate child not being the first course of action for the parent.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
After the tribulation, after the bad days ahead, the moments when its so bad that the sun is going to give up on us, the true Son from heaven will march across the sky to gather his people to himself. Looking at you and seeing that even in the worst of life, the worst we do to ourselves, the worst we do to our neighbors, the worst we do to God (that maybe the most important here) it doesn’t stop him from tearing open the skies and coming down. Advent being the time of two "waitings" - waiting for that manger to be filled as we remember the baby born to die, and waiting for the times to be fulfilled and the Christ in his second coming for you.
Just as we never think that our sins, our waywardness, our lack of God-focus, placed him in that manger, not just the cross, have you ever thought that there is no distance that you can go from him? Gathering my people from the four winds. Wherever the wind blows, God is there. God will find you. Wherever your sins might take you, God will find you. Wherever our personal idolatries capture our attention, God’s Word speaks to you to call you from that slumber. Wherever the work of Christ brings you, working in you and through you, God will be there. When the moment of your death arrives, God will never abandon you. He is there to cradle you, placing you in the manger of his mercy, and taking you to himself.
We never know the day nor the hour. God knows. Until that time comes. We wait. He has left his estate, the estate of freedom from sin and death, that we might keep watch and be awake there in that blessedness of grace. He leaves us with our tasks, not because our tasks make us more holy, or make the world more holy, or change this world to something it is not. Our tasks are assigned as we are able, different for each as the moment changes, because we are needed for our neighbor. There are not Christian tasks, just tasks. It could be anything, small or great, heavy or light. Each might stay the same all our life or change as the Lord sees fit, but neighbors change as times and places do. Neighbors understood in the Scriptures as the ones closest to you. But most regularly, our neighborly love calling for us as parents to train up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Children to believe as children, having that faith like a child that most of us see as foolish. A faith that just trusts that the love of Christ is bound in a blood spilt to wash you clean.
Neighborly love, holy tasks, the healthy to care for the sick. The sick to testify to the goodness of the Lord, even in trouble. The dying to remind all that we have a God of resurrection on our side, with hope arising through his grace.
As this advent season approaches, there is so much to do. So many tasks. So much work. So many things we need to get done. You have your list, I have mine. Let us not be carried astray by those things though. Let God alight himself in you through his Word and Sacraments. Let the wonder of his grace birthed in a child for your redemption empower your holidays to be holy and pleasing. May the working of God be your light as you live and serve this Lord who comes again in glory to raise the dead. Knowing that what begins with a manger ends with his glory. Prepared as we are, let us look to the Christ who comes to us to shake us to our core, knowing that regardless of what it is we find we are doing, may it be for the glory of God, the salvation of humanity, and the spreading of the mercy of Jesus where we die to ourselves and live for him. Thanks be to God. Amen.