Longing for His Appearance     

Sermon by Co-Pastor Tanya Fernandes

OT Reading:    Jeremiah 33: 14-16

NT Reading:    Luke 21:25-36

Luke, Chapter 21 is directly from the lectionary and is a sort of ‘heavy’ reading for the first Sunday of Advent…but it is also very appropriate as we will see in a moment.

Have you heard of “Christmas Creep”?     It’s not a disease…well, maybe.  The Urban Dictionary defined Christmas Creep as “the inexorable tendency for the commercial aspects of Christmas to appear earlier every year”; ……it went on to say that “Christmas Creep is likely to be the source of our own destruction.”    A poll found that 3 in 4 Americans are annoyed by it!!!!

Apparently, it’s not only happening in America or in just sales, it is all around the world and it is in other industries such as broadcasting and TV shows ……1974 animated special It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, is a commentary on Christmas Creep – the characters go shopping at a department store and discover that it has its Christmas displays up in the middle of April, including a sign warning:  “there were only a mere 246 days left until Christmas.”

Most of us suspect all of this Christmas-Creep hype is about money…that is why so many find it so disgusting…we feel like our Christmas goodwill is being manipulated.

But the truth is that Advent, Christmas, and Easter are about the greatest promise and the greatest hope that mankind has ever experienced:  God promised to save the world from the ravages of sin by sending the promised one – the Messiah, his Son – who would eventually make all things whole again…including you and me.    At the core of each Christians’ experience with God—all year round—there should be a Christmas-like joy, expectation, and longing for Christ’s coming.

God began his promise to send Christ in response to Adam and Eve’s original sin—the sin that caused our current mess.  In Genesis 3 God has found Adam and Eve, who are hiding from him.  He asks what have you done, Eve tells God that the ‘serpent’ deceived me.  God seems to agree, he says to Satan…the serpent…in Genesis 3:14, because you have done this…because you have done what Eve said you will slither on the ground and eat dirt, etc.  At the end of God’s pronouncement about the serpent’s punishment, God states in verse 16, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers;   HE will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

God loves us.  In Genesis 2-3, humans have just thumbed our nose at our creator and God—ruined our fellowship with him.  But though Adam and Eve will experience temporary consequences for sin, God begins to promise a way out of the permanent consequences, death and separation from him.  The HE in Genesis 3:16, is referring to Jesus, to the promised messiah.  And that is what we see as Jesus goes through his final Passover—when he is our Passover lamb:  As Jesus is wrongly judged, mistreated, and crucified, Satan strikes at Christ’s mortal body—but this is like a snake striking a heel just to have that same heel deliver a crushing death blow to the snake’s head. Christ’s death and resurrection become the crushing blow to satan’s power.  Now Christ holds the keys to the power of sin and death and now through Christ, we have redemption and newness of life.  Oh, grave, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?  GONE because the power of sin has been crushed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Praise be to God.  That is the promise of Advent, the promise of Christmas, the promise of Easter, the promise of God!!

I love the language in Jeremiah 33: 14…this language is at the core of Advent, “The days are coming when I will fulfill the GRACIOUS PROMISE I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.”   The Hebrew word here for Gracious is towb—or beautiful—or pleasant, agreeable, good—the good, kind words spoken in promise.  God’s promise—God’s beautiful, kind, pleasant, agreeable and good words to us was that he would create the way, the truth, and the life for us since we could not save ourselves.

Jeremiah 33: 15 tells us that “In those days and at that time” God will cause his promise to be fulfilled.  Over and over, we see through scriptures that God has a timing.  God’s timing is just and holy and perfect.  He knows when everything is just right.  AND many times we see that what might seem like delay for those who love God waiting on his promises are actually times of great patience on God’s part toward those who have yet softened their hearts to him. God’s seeming slowness is actually mercy in action.  He is giving all a chance.

What does God promise in Jeremiah when the right time comes?  He will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line.  A Righteous branch.  We are studying the books of I & II Kings in the Monday night bible study AND there were a LOT of unrighteous kings who come from David’s line.  A lot of kings who did what was abhorrent in God’s eyes and hurt the people… kings who were not right, not in tune with the God of all gods, kings who made their decisions based on their own greed or pride or anger or whatever was motivating them.  When the leaders of a nation do not seek rightness with God, those they lead are in trouble.  Israel and Judah are eventually destroyed and carried away by the Assyrians and the Babylonians because there is no rightness in the nation.

But here, God is promising Israel and Judah a righteous king—he will do what is just and right in the land and in those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.  God even promises that this rightness will be so great that Jerusalem will be given a new name: Adonai zidkenu, “the Lord is our righteousness.”  The promised righteous branch of David will be their righteousness—they will be counted as righteousness—-as right with God BECAUSE of Jesus, that promised branch.  Adonai zidkenu—the Lord IS—-IS their righteousness.

God gave Israel and Judah the promise of the coming messiah and the coming better world over and over in the Old Testament.  BUT God’s promise took what seemed like forever for his people.  And to make things worse, their sins brought about natural consequences and the people of both Judah and Israel are defeated and taken as captive.  The beautiful temple built by Solomon is knocked down stone by stone and Jerusalem is eventually burned completely by King Nebuchadnezzarand the Babylonians (current day Iraq). The educated, well to do, and the leaders are taken as captives, the poorest people are left as surfs.  Then for years, both groups cry out for justice, cry out to be in their homeland, cry out for peace, cry out for a righteous king.  They were longing for God’s promise, but they struggled in the waiting.

Waiting is a hard thing. I don’t do it well.  Waiting when you are longing for something is even harder. Longing is a synonym for words like yearning, pining, craving, ache, burning, hunger, and thirst.  Waiting in line to pay a bill is irritating.  Waiting in line when you GOT to use the toilet…is misery. Longing is that last kind of feeling—I’ve got to have this thing of something inside of me is going to burst.

The people were waiting for the righteous king…….but most of Israel struggled in their waiting.

When the promise, Jesus, comes, we see that people were in various states in their wait:

  • Some had made up their own story during the wait: they wanted relief from Rome, so God’s promise became a human king who would come and destroy the oppressor.  They were watching, but they were watching for the wrong thing.
  • Some had forgotten the promise: God had been silent for 400 years, so they were not even watching for Jesus when he came and missed it.
  • Some were trying to force the promise: the zealots were raising up, and using God’s promises were trying to bring peace to Israel through might—Judas was a zealot—he was following Jesus, connected to Jesus, but missed the truth of God’s promise through Jesus because he was part of the group trying to bring peace through their own efforts.
  • Some were actually watching expectantly, knowing the scriptures, trusting in the scriptures, and trusting in their God during the long wait:
    • Mary believes and is a willing vessel immediately when asked,
    • The wise men are looking for the sign and not only see the star, but they act as soon as they see it….they don’t sit around and dither, do we go, don’t we go—NO we are waiting, God has promised, they went!
    • In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph come to the temple to present Jesus and Mary as was customary on the 40thday after a birth—in this trip they meet two people who have been waiting in faith for God’s promise righteous branch:
    • First they meet Simeon: Luke 2: 25-32 “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles,  and the glory of your people Israel.”
    • Second, they meet Anna:She had been a widow many years and was 84 years old.  Luke 2: 37 & 38 tells us that, “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.38 Coming up to them (Mary, Joseph, and Simeon) at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Anna becomes one of the early evangelists (the shepherds were the first) – Anna speaks of the child to ALL who were longing for the appearance of the promise.

Our New Testament lectionary reading helps us look at our own wait.  Are we longing for Christ’s appearance?  Are we trusting in the promises that Jesus and God made about the second coming of Christ?  Are we watching and listening to scripture in our watching?

  • Or have we made up our own stories about Christ’s return? Have we tried to use human logic to make the promises more palatable to a secular world?  Have we decided this is a different time and place—people are more evolved than previously, surely God’s promises mean x, y and z instead of a, b, and c?
  • Or have we just forgotten the promise of Christ’s return? Last week, Chaplain Sugg suggested that we no longer live in a Christian nation.  When I was growing up, people who really didn’t seem to care much about God, still seemed knew a lot about the bible.  Now you ask ‘unchurched’ people questions and they are clueless. The words are absolutely foreign to them—I’ve told you before about having college students not begin to know who Cain and Abel—and that was in the late 1990’s.
  • Or are we people trying to secure our own salvation through means other than through the promised righteous branch—Jesus? I mean, who knows what truth is?  What right do you have to push your truth upon someone else? There are many ways to God?  We serve the same God?  Right?

But here is the important question:   do we serve the same Messiah?  I’ve shared the verse with you that states that the Demons believe there is a God and shutter!!   Believing there is a God is not how we are saved from the eternal consequences of sin and death.  Scripture is clear, Jesus declared in John 14: 6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh to the father except through me.”  And Paul declares in Ephesians 2: 8-9:   “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Our Lectionary Scripture in Luke 21:22 are Jesus’ words.  Jesus’ words about the end.   You and I, as Christians, are in a literal season of Advent.  We are in a time of waiting for Christ’s return—a time when we should be prayerfully waiting and watching with great expectation and joy and hope.  Someday, just as God promised and fulfilled his promise to send Christ the first time—someday, God has promised and will fulfill his promise to send Christ the second time to gather his people and to set all right.

See during our wait, these 2,018 some years since Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, have been God’s mercy in action.  He is giving all peoples time to come to know him.  He is giving his people time to listen to him about sharing the Good News of the Gospel.  God is very patient.

In Luke 21, Jesus talks about the destruction of Harold’s temple (the 2ndtemple) and his disciples ask him when will these things be?   Jesus begins answering their question by saying, watch out that you are not deceived—the time of the end will be a confusing time full of deception. Jesus goes on to give them various things that will happen or will be signs of his coming.  In our part of the reading, he talks of how difficult things will be near the very end…However, Jesus didn’t just tell us this information for no reason or just to scare us.  He tells us what to do—– WHEN we see these things “Look up for your redemption is drawing near!”

It would take a different sermon, but Jesus tells us several things to do while we are waiting for his return.  In our reading today, he tells us to look to God when you feel the weight of this world and all that is a mess pushing down upon you.  For the more out of control things look, the closer we are getting to the time when Christ will return and set all things right.

In verses 29-33, Jesus suddenly begins talking about the fig tree.  He reminds them that in their day to day lives, they read the signs of nature.  When the trees begin to leaf you know that summer is near.  In this part, he later states that this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.  Jesus was not talking about the disciple’s generation.  That generation has passed and the things of Luke 21 had occurred by the time that generation was gone.    The fig tree is used in the Old Testament to represent Israel.  Some scholars take verse 29-33 to be talking about the land of Israel.  When Israel blooms—when it becomes a nation again after Christ is crucified—THAT generation will not pass before the things Jesus is telling us in Luke 21 come to pass.  That generation, alive when Israel became a nation again in 1948, scholars believe that it is that generation which will not pass away before all these things happen.  If this is a correct interpretation, then folks, maybe our wait for Christ’s return is not too much longer????

In verses 34-36, Jesus tells us that during our wait for his glorious return we are to not let ourselves be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life.   Some synonyms for dissipation are debauchery, decadence, dissoluteness, dissolution,intemperance, excess, overconsumption, profligacy, self-indulgence, wildness.  In America, it is easy for us to slip into some of these things.  We have too much here.  If Jesus walked into your home or office or school and suddenly was standing beside you, would he find you watchful, ready to rejoice that your salvation has come—or would he find you looking for the wrong thing, not even noticing him, or trying to make your own way to God?   We are to always be on the watch and praying that we may escape all that is coming—so that we may stand before the Son of Man.

Advent is a time of expectation.  It is easy to make what Israel experienced in their wait distant from our current experiences.  They were waiting for a messiah and man how did so many of it get it so wrong   BUT the truth is that WE are in our own ADVENT as we expectantly await Christ’s return. How are we doing in our wait?   We are to use this Advent season to examine ourselves.

We are to be waiting and watching with great hope and joy.  We are to know what God and Jesus have promised regarding Christ’s return and what we are to do during our wait.  Our scripture today clearly tells us that we are to be praying that we may escape the confusion and deception that will try to keep people from true faith in Christ prior to his return.  We are to look up in faith to God, the one who loves our souls, when the world seems to be breaking down around us—for he has promised redemption and his timing is JUST and will be right.   We are to be about God’s business of love and about telling others the Good News—tell them there is hope–The Messiah has come, there is salvation through Jesus Christ AND one day he is returning to make all things right—ALL things right.

The Righteous Branch of David, Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, will come and set up his kingdom and it will be good. Creation will be renewed. No more sin and death.  No more enemy of our souls trying his best to destroy our eternal hope.  We will be renewed.  All will be in perfect peace.  We will be in the presence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Brothers and Sisters the greatest hope and promises are upon us!!  Advent is here!!!     Rejoice!!!!!