Let All Creation Praise the Paradox
Welcome to Advent!
Christmas Day is just four weeks away which means you still have time to deck the halls and purchase a gift for your favorite 30-something bearded pastor. Christmas is just around the corner and yet it seems as though we skipped right over Advent back in October as the glow of Halloween pumpkins gave way to tinsel, inflatable lawn decorations, and garland. On top of that, the first Sunday of Advent, today, is also the beginning of a new church year. Traditionally, the Christian year ends on Christ the King Sunday, and the New Year begins on the first Sunday of Advent. A New year brings new possibilities and the glow of lights donning a tree in your living room may add more excitement to the season. So while I have never received an Advent card, Merry/Happy Advent, may it be full of peace, hope, joy, and love as we await the coming of the Messiah, and remember that Christ was born in the lowliest of positions.
Our Gospel reading this morning does not match the peace, hope, joy, and love we usually associate with this time of the year. Advent leads us up to the joy of Christmas Day when we recall the in-breaking of God’s grace into our world in the form of flesh and blood. Recalling this event leaves us proclaiming, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let Earth receive her king… and heaven and nature sing.” But what Jesus is talking about in Luke 21 seems to be anything but peace, hope, joy, and love. His words do not make me want to break out in song. His words leave me scratching my head, wondering why on earth the organizers of the lectionary would choose this reading to start Advent. I know many of you were anticipating a sermon that would begin to lead us towards a manger, some animals lowing, and shepherds, but its just not in the text. This is a time where we put out manger scenes and act jolly but Jesus’ words seem anything but jolly.
Jesus is talking about signs that will come, to proclaim the return of the Son of Man, “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,” and we are in a time where we expect to hear about other signs, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” The same instrument that will point to the return on the Christ is the same instrument that helped point to the Shepherds and Magi to the manger.
Jesus speaks of power and glory in His return, “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory,” and yet Christ came into the world with the humility and helplessness of an infant, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” It seems to me that when the Son of Man returns the roles will be reversed. He will come with power and glory and we will be the ones showing humility and helplessness.
Jesus tells his disciples that upon His return, “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” This is a warning to the nations, that they will be distressed and anxious, yet we see in the infant lying in the manger “good news of great joy for all the people.” All people, not a single nation or person.
Just like finding space in the inn, finding space in the season of Advent for the paradox that seems to be created by Luke is difficult for us. This is the time of year when peace, hope, joy, and love are supposed to prevail and Jesus is talking about distress, confusion, power, fear, and shaking the world. But the paradox of Advent, the Incarnation, and the return of a crucified and resurrected savior, the Parousia, is what we find. So while we look at this season of anticipating a birth we have to also remember that Christ has already been born, and we now live as a Church awaiting his return and with his return the fullness of the Kingdom of G-d will be made known to us.
Our theme for Advent this year is “Let All Creation” praise. Christ reminds us that when he returns all of Creation will participate. The sun, the moon, and the stars, the sea and the waves will all give signal to what is happening. The return of the Son of Man will mirror his birth with celestial celebration and signs, making the grand proclamation of the in-breaking of G-d, in dramatic fashion, to all of Creation.
We are living in a time between the born infant Messiah and the return of the mighty Savior.
We live in a time of trial and tribulation. Just pick up a copy of today’s New York Times and you will read about fires devastating California, an earthquake in Alaska, growing polarization around the world, the reemergence of nationalism and antisemitism, and war in Afghanistan, Crimea and Yemen. Even in a season full of peace, hope, joy, and love “sin and death continue their alienating work.”
Jesus does not sugar coat things in the apocalyptic language used in Luke 21. Destruction, death, and betrayal are a part of our lives. There is no getting around it. But we are reminded by Christ that these matters are temporary, and that God’s vindication, carried out by the Son of Man is coming. Jesus told his disciples that their redemption was “near.”
The prophet Jeremiah spoke during a time when it seemed the destruction of Judah was imminent. Destruction, death, and betrayal were the norm. Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians and it appeared Judah was being punished for turning away from G-d, placing their trust in an earthly king instead of the One who made a covenant to protect and deliver them. The prophet Isaiah said “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” Meaning, our acts of righteousness are worthless if they do not function as signs pointing to the redemptive power of G-d.
Jeremiah was living in a chaotic time and was addressing the future of a nation that seemed to be lost.
Jeremiah reminded Judah they could not make things right own their own. The corruption they lived in had distorted their thinking, leading them to believe they could be saved by their own righteousness. But friends, we know that our righteousness is not what will redeem Judah and it is not what redeemed us in the in-breaking of divine flesh and blood into our world.
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise.”
“Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.”
This safety will shoot forth as a branch from the line of David in the form of an infant, offering the world peace, hope, joy, and love.
There is more than meets the eye in the Kingdom building work G-d is doing. This is why Jesus tells us to “Be on guard,” and “alert at all times” and at the same time reminds us our righteousness will not cause these things to come to being. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “The Lord is righteous,” meaning Christ is the source of what is to come.
It is easy in Advent to become so focused on the babe in the manger that we forget Christ’s promise of return and vindication. The shininess of the tinsel and glow of the lights make it easy for us to lose focus. It is easy in our attempts to control the peace, hope, joy, and love of the season through packages from Amazon and Target we forget G-d is in control, holding all things in a vision that is boarder and more intricate that we can either think or enact on our own. Advent is a time when we remember the Kingdom of God is coming, it is not just a season for the gathering of family celebrating and making memories together. Through the manger and in the return of Christ we see the fulfillment of a promise “made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” A promise that has already been fulfilled and not fully realized. A promise that will be celebrated by all of creation.
 Luke 21:25, NRSV
 Luke 2:12, NRSV
 Luke 21:27, NRSV
 Luke 2:7, NRSV
 Luke 21:26, NRSV
 Luke 2:10, NRSV
 Luke 21:28, NRSV
 Isaiah 64:6, NRSV
 Jeremiah 33:14, NRSV
 Jeremiah 33:16, NRSV
 Luke 21:34, NRSV
 Luke 21:36, NRSV
 Jeremiah 33:16, NRSV
 Jeremiah 33:14, NRSV