“For You, O Lord, Are My Hope!”
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (First Sunday in Advent, November 28, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“For You, O Lord, Are My Hope!”
Psalm 71:1-6; Matthew 24:36-44
Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, the season in which we wait and prepare for Christ’s coming. Advent seems simple but it is much more multidimensional. Someone said that Advent is a strange season. It may be the strangest season of the church year. The Christmas season is straightforward: Christ is born, and we celebrate with joy! The season of Lent has a clear trajectory: we are walking with Jesus towards Jerusalem, and the cross. Easter season is the celebration of God’s victory over death in Jesus. But Advent is strange. Advent tells us it is almost Christmas, but then it forces us to wait, a full four weeks for the real celebration.
“Hope” is celebrated as the theme for this First Sunday in Advent. In other words, Advent invites us to live in hope; to hold onto our hope and eventually to be a people of hope. As I mentioned, Advent is a multi-layer season, a multi-dimensional season. So as we enter this season together today, I want to make a few remarks:
First: Advent Connects the Dots
Advent orients us beyond the event of Christmas. Advent exists in a space that is simultaneously past, present, and future. This is why our scripture readings for today do not focus on the Christmas story. In fact, we don’t hear about Mary, Joseph, or baby Jesus until the very end of the season. Instead, our scriptures pull us from this past event and draw us towards the future, toward the coming of Christ.
The coming of Christ can be understood in three ways – so to say, with the three tense markers – Jesus came; Jesus comes; and Christ will come again. The first coming of Jesus is plain enough. It refers to the historical coming of the Second Person of the Trinity 2000 years ago, as Jesus of Nazareth. We call this, the Mystery of Incarnation. We also hopefully await the coming of Christ in glory at the end of times. This is referred to as the Second Coming. This is one of the core beliefs of Christianity, and strongly alluded to in the New Testament. In the Creed we assert our faith in these two comings of Christ.
But there is still the third meaning. The coming of Jesus is not just a dead past in memory, nor is it a mere imagination of the future. By the power of the Spirit of the Risen Lord, the coming of Jesus continues to be enacted even today. Jesus comes in our midst as the Word is proclaimed, and as the Sacraments are celebrated. Jesus comes to us today in powerful tangible ways. He comes as our faithful companion in all the ups and downs of life. As our Friend, He rejoices with us and He cries with us. As our Savior, He comes to our aide when we are helpless and broken.
Like the people of Israel who lived in between the promise and its fulfilment, we too live in between Christ’s birth and His Second Coming in glory. Advent reminds us that we live in this middle space. As humans, we don’t often appreciate ambiguity, mystery, and the unknown, but here comes the season of Advent to connect the dots and to remind us that our waiting is not in vain. Here comes Advent to remind us that our waiting is meaningful and that our God is faithful and He is near.
Second: Advent Invites us to Wakefulness and Watchfulness
The gospel reading offered to us for this First Sunday in Advent is Matthew 26. Jesus seems pretty keyed up about something. He seems upset. It is late in Matthew’s gospel… Jesus is in Jerusalem with his disciples, a few days away from his own crucifixion, and he is looking at the end of his own life and the end of life as he and his friends know it.
Jesus is talking about a coming catastrophe, about death and destruction, and he’s talking about the cost to the community. Those who will be taken. Those who will remain. This is not about a supernatural rapture, but about something this community actually witnessed: the crackdown of Rome on Jerusalem, in which families were torn apart, in which all their religious and cultural treasures were decimated, and in which many, many people were killed.
And Jesus’ refrain to those who are listening is: keep awake, because the Son of Man is coming… and no one knows when. Jesus’ urgent message is: keep awake. The Advent season is a time of wakefulness. This wakefulness is not due to our need to stay up too late ordering presents online or wrapping them or finishing up the Christmas cards. It is not because we are up too late worrying about our finances, our heath, or grieving the loss of a loved one.
Jesus was talking about a different kind of wakefulness. Even though Jesus is upset, and full of warnings, Jesus isn’t talking about staying awake so that we can fret or worry, or add grey hairs and wrinkles to our collections. He’s talking about the kind of wakefulness we experience when we’re waiting for something wonderful. The call with the good news about the job, or the diagnosis. Someone we love walking through the door. Some wonderful surprise we’ve been tipped off to expect. Jesus is talking about staying awake in hope. Waiting in hope becomes a joyful thing because we are waiting and watching for the coming of our Lord.
Friends, sometimes we struggle to see the presence of God in the here and now. I cannot help but wonder if the people of Israel had given up. Over the years, I’ve met many Christians who wonder if this Christianity thing is worth fighting for. We so quickly forget the incarnational God in Christ. Matthew reminds us to get ready and “wake up” because the Lord is near. Advent is a season of hope, expectation, waiting, and preparation. We are told to do all of this together; in community! To wait, to hope, to prepare ourselves for whatever our mysterious God has in store.
Let’s ignite our hearts with hope. And let’s remember that filling our hearts with hope and preparing ourselves for God has in store for us is not something that just happens. Each Advent we have the opportunity renew a vow: to wait for our God and to place our hope in him. To vow to work, to be the Christ’s light for our neighbor, and to make our world a better place and as we follow the way of Christ, we shine Christ’s light into the darkness. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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