1st Sunday in Advent – November 29, 2015  

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

“The days are surely coming,” says Jeremiah.

The days of promise and fulfillment are surely coming. The days of justice and righteousness are surely coming. The days of salvation and safety are surely coming. These are words we need to hear this Advent. When the news is grim and there is no shortage of injustice or unrighteousness or damnation or danger, we are called to hold up God’s promised future. We are to hold it up and live into it.

During distress among the nations, Christians are called to stand up and raise our heads in anticipation of redemption. Lifting up examples of Christians working for justice and mercy while war and violence rages is critical. We need to know there are alternatives to the predominate narrative of fear and retaliation. We need to bear witness to the coming Kingdom in ways that make it possible for the world to see signs of its coming, too. There are leaves coming forth from the fig trees, but we have to look to find them.

Check out this story of five roommates, four American college students, the fifth a Syrian refugee. Here is a small exchange from the story:

Shapiro: I asked Doug, why did you decide to take in a refugee as a roommate? What was the motivation there?
Walton: My immediate answer just sounds so cliché, but I think the motive is love. I was told he’s coming and that I have an opportunity to help him out. And I was like, yeah, why wouldn’t I do that? I just love Mohammed, and I just want to help him out.

Or how about this story about Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville that helps resettle refugee families. Matt Nickel, associate pastor at Highland, says of their recent experience welcoming a family from Syria, “I don’t know much Arabic, but I do know shukran, ‘thank you,’ and the family is constantly saying that,” said Nickel. “They’re always bringing us water, juice or coffee when we visit. There’s a real kind of hospitality when you go over to their house.”

“Here’s a family who has lived through extraordinary circumstances and come to the United States with open hearts and so much to contribute to our community. … I guess they change us in a way too.”

Perhaps you could share this story of Nassau Presbyterian Church and their partnership with Centurion Ministry, an organization that works on behalf of those wrongly imprisoned. David Davis wrote:

“The CM family gathers in Princeton for celebrations and fundraising on a regular basis. The weekend gatherings include Sunday morning worship at Nassau Presbyterian Church and the telling of story after story in adult education and in fellowship hour. It is there that our congregation has heard from Willie Green freed after 25 years in prison. We have listened to the testimony of steadfast love from Thelma Lloyd who described what it was like to have her son Richard Miles serve 19 years for a crime she knew he didn’t commit. Over the years members of the congregation have come to know Ed Baker from Philadelphia (26 years) and Michael Austin (26 years) and Joyce Ann Brown (9 years) who died suddenly this summer in Texas. I led the burial service for Lou Mickens-Thomas last year. He was buried with full honors at a military cemetery outside of Philadelphia after being wrongly convicted, having served more than 45 years before being freed in 2011. These are just a few of the names, faces and relationships that are now etched in the hearts of a congregation that will never think about the criminal justice system, race and bias the same again.”

I suspect you have stories from your communities to share, stories of Christians standing up in hopeful expectation when circumstances seem dire. What are they? How do they represent glimpses of God’s promised future, sprouts of life on things long thought dead, light in the midst of darkness? Now is the time to stand up and proclaim what God says is surely coming.

Advent is a time of heightened awareness, not to the threat of terrorists, but to the inevitable coming of the Son of Man. We are to be on the alert for the kingdom of God, even in the midst of the tumultuous earthly kingdom that surrounds us. The days are surely coming when God’s promise will be fulfilled. Redemption draws near as the days get shorter, but seeing it in the pervading darkness takes intention. Now is the time to adjust our eyes and search for sprouts of life. They may be difficult to find, perhaps making them all the more precious and resilient.

This first Sunday of Advent is one that features apocalyptic imagery and a sense of foreboding. There is no way to sentimentalize this text from Luke. The Gospel writers won’t let us get away with skipping ahead to the babe in the manger. First we have to imagine what it will be like to stand in judgment before the Son of Man. Texts like this one from Luke force us to tune out the Christmas carols on the radio and look away from the glittering trees and giant candy canes in the stores, at least for an hour. Christians are to be on hunt for glimpses of justice and righteousness, salvation and redemption, and they are found in those very places that cause us to faint from fear.

Perhaps it helps that the apocalyptic language strikes us as odd and other. Maybe it is appropriate that this Sunday morning, in the sanctuary, the words of Luke aren’t at all like the ramped up rhetoric of the Christmas machine that is running full out just outside the church doors. Call attention to the differences and explore the implications of them. Challenge those gathered to stand up, look for life, work for justice, proclaim salvation and get ready to meet the Son of Man who is surely coming.

This week:

  1. Consider these two quotes from an Advent devotional produced by the North Carolina Council of Churches: In “Long Walk to Freedom,” Nelson Mandela wrote: “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keep­ing one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lay defeat and death.”  And in Howard Zinn’s essay adapted for “The Impossible Will Take a Little While,” he wrote: “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kind­ness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
  1. Imagine standing before the Son of Man. What would that exchange be like? What would you want to say? What you want to hear?
  2. What are our hearts weighed down with that impedes are ability to be alert to the coming Kingdom of God? How do we unburden them in order to be on the look out for the coming Christ?
  3. Try doing a Google image search on fig trees. Be sure and do one of fig trees in winter. Fewer things look less likely to ever sprout than a fig tree in the dead of winter. The contrast between the seasons is striking and perhaps one of the reasons Jesus uses the fig tree in this parable.
  4. Advent texts often command us to stay awake, be alert and on guard. In your context, what are the things that prevent attentiveness to the present and coming Kingdom of God?
  5. Here is an Advent prayer written by Janet Morley from “Imaging the Word, Volume 3”: For the Darkness of waiting of not knowing what is to come of staying ready and quiet and attentive, we praise you, O God: For the darkness and the light are both alike to you. For the darkness of hoping in a world which longs for you, for the wrestling and laboring of all creation for wholeness and justice and freedom, we praise you, O God: For the darkness and the light are both alike to you.


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