Preparing For Advent – Part 1

Below you will find my sermon I preached on December 3rd.  This year we are preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ.  This sermon is specifically designed for our community of faith.  Some of the ideas presented in line with the theology behind the text is helping our congregation incarnate the gospel of Jesus Christ as we prepare for the coming of Christ.

Sermon Text: Jeremiah 33:14-16 
Title: Christ, the One Whom Brings Hope

There are officially twenty-two days until Christmas morning. For those who have those chocolate calendars in their kitchens that is twenty-two more pieces of chocolate to eat. To us men this means that we have twenty-one days to do our Christmas shopping. This means that we have twenty three days until our bank accounts run dry with the mad shopping spree of Boxing Day. There are twenty-two days until Christmas morning. Christmas is here as is evident with the stores in the mall having their Christmas trees up and decorated, Santa Claus sitting in his big chair and the excited, and sometimes crying kids telling him what they want for Christmas. Now, if we can believe it even our pets can have their picture taken with Santa Claus. Christmas is here; it is in the air.

We know Christmas is more than Santa Claus. Santa did not give birth to Christmas, Christmas was born out of hope. Hope that this world with all its brokenness would be made whole. Hope that all the injustices we see in this world would actually break through to justice. Hope that redemption from the oppressive powers that hold us captive would be broken and we would be free. Santa did not give birth to Christmas; hope gave birth to Christmas. 

We begin this Sunday preparing for Christmas 2006 by preparing for the coming of Christ. This preparation is born out of hope. Hope that with the coming, the birth of Christ our broken world will be made whole; that our broken lives will somehow be put back together.

Jeremiah Speaks To Us Today
As we enter into the world of scripture we enter through the words of Jeremiah the prophet. Today Jeremiah does not speak a message of destruction or a message of captivity, today Jeremiah offers a word of hope; a word of hope because indeed God is going to act and make his powers known. Jeremiah offers these words to us:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:14-16). 

The Chaldeans have taken Israel and Judah hostage. They have destroyed their cities; desolated their homes, burned their fields, filled in their wells – they have made life miserable. Where once shepherds rested with their livestock now is a charred and desolate field. The streets that were filled with music, laughter and dancing is now filled with silence, loneliness and emptiness. The people are in captivity. Their homes have been ripped from underneath them. Their lands are their lands no more. The people are held captive. And where captivity is found one will always find hope. Ask the cancer patient who is held captive to a life threatening disease; there is hope that death will not take a hold of their life. Ask the Parkinson’s patient who is held captive and they will tell you they are hoping for a cure. Ask the desolate single mother who is held captive by high rent, an abusive boyfriend, even society itself and they tell of a hope for a brighter day. The people of Israel and Judah are held captive and they are hoping that God will act and redeem; they will not be disappointed.

They will not be disappointed because God always finds a way to fulfill his promises; to keep his covenant. As surely as the sky turns dark in the evening and the morning sun rises God will find a way to make true on his promises. As sure as there is a night and as sure as there is a day God will always make true on his word.

And Jeremiah brings the word of hope. “The time is coming” he cries to the people “when God’s promises will be fulfilled.” A new king will be born; a king that will execute justice and righteousness. And with this new king will come a new people, a people that will say, “The Lord is our righteousness.” Captivity will no longer be an issue for God will raise a king and set the people free. The harsh captures will no longer be able to oppress the people. The land that once was charred and desolate will now be filled with shepherds and their flocks. The streets that once were empty will now be filled with people singing and dancing the night away. The time is coming when God will fulfill his promises and a new king will be born.

Jesus the King Is Born
Of course, we who are followers of Christ, who anticipate Christ, who hope for the coming of Christ believe that Jesus is the king. The gospels are quite clear that this king is Jesus. Matthew says in the beginning of his gospel that a new king is born. Luke says that a child will be born who will occupy the throne of his ancestor David, and of course we know this is Jesus. The time is coming cries Jeremiah and we say the time is here with the birth of Jesus. The birth of Jesus brings hope for indeed we see justice and righteousness being executed.

Jesus executes justice for the widows and the orphans. The prostitutes, the lepers, tax collectors, the demon possessed, those who are held captive are being set free. The leper will no longer be held captive by society’s view of a skin disease; they have been set free. The demon possessed child is no longer held captive from the demons that inhabit her body, rather she is set free. Justice is given to all people, not the elite of society. And with justice comes righteousness. The people are led back to God and find salvation in God once again. Jesus is the new king that executes justice and brings righteousness.

Jesus however does not stop at executing justice and righteousness he also creates a people, a people who say, “The Lord is our righteousness.” A human community that goes by the name, “The Lord is our righteousness” understands itself to be delivered, redeemed, and cared for by the Lord. As we understand that we are delivered, redeemed and cared for by the Lord we become committed to all those ways God has defined as right living in relationship with God and neighbor. Just as the new king executes justice and righteousness so do his people. So as we confess “The Lord is our righteousness” we also confess to be his people and to live as his people.

Thus we will execute justice, both individually and corporately. When the company we work for is going to support a family who has become desolate from a fire that has destroyed their home two weeks before Christmas we will be the first to throw some bills in the hat and help support this family. When we hear the bells ringing in the malls or the corners of the busy streets we will be the first to dig in our pockets a little deeper and pull out some loose change. When the straggly looking teenager doesn’t have enough change to buy his coffee we will slide a few quarters over the counter. We will execute justice because the Lord is our righteousness.

Executing justice does not stop with what we do as individuals for it continues to be seen in what we do communally as a church. Church is not a place to simply find a relationship with God; church is a place where ones relationship with God will be pushed so that one has a relationship with the neighbor. And so we must continue to set up the Christmas tree every year and place gifts underneath it so that we can have a visible reminder that gifts must also be shared with the underprivileged neighbor. The mission team must be given 10% of the budget in order that it can find ways to minister in the name of Jesus Christ. Executing justice on a communal level will mean that churches of the 21st century will not build buildings with pews, but will build buildings where ministry in the name of Jesus can take place seven days a week.

Simply executing justice is not enough, righteousness must be practiced. Thus we practice righteousness by loving God. We live our lives with a certain ethical responsibility. No longer will the golden calf be the god we worship, no longer will the Pharaoh’s of this world be the ones whom we will serve, no longer will the sun and moon or the stars be our guiding light, rather we believe that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will be the one whom we serve and whom we follow. As the poet states, “Come, let us bow down in worship this child for this child brings us hope.”

Two Paintings
In 1601 the famous and often scandalous painter Caravaggio painted a picture of Luke 24 when Jesus was breaking bread with the two men on the road to Emmaus. After traveling with the risen Christ for some time the two men come to recognize him only during a meal in which they shared together. The picture depicts Jesus in the center blessing the food, being flanked by the surprised disciples. In 1606 Caravaggio painted the same picture but with slight differences. This time there is an old maid, her face is heavily lined and downcast. She holds an empty bowl and seems to be too preoccupied with her own thoughts to be paying attention to the dinner party. This inclusion in this painting is very strange for it does not appear in his first painting that he painted in 1601. Many art historians have asked the question, who does this maid represent?

Michael Frost has said that the maid in this picture is a picture of the people who long for hope.  “She represents the field of mission to which we are called. In this savage, corporatized, militarized world she represents the people in occupied Iraq, Palestine . . . and Chechnya. She might be the aboriginal people of Australia or the Kurds in Turkey. The worried maid represents the millions who are being uprooted in their lands by dams and development projects, or the poor who are being actively robbed of their resources and for whom everyday life is a grim battle for water, shelter, survival, and, above all, some semblance of dignity. She represents your neighbor and mine. She focuses our attention on the . . . homeless, the addicted, and all those who clamber on the margins of society and yearn for a place at Jesus’ table, though they might not recognize their desire to share Christ’s food” [Michael Frost, Exiles (Hendrickson, 2006), 48-49].  The maid represents the people who long for hope.

We Long For the Christ Who Brings Hope
This Christmas season there are hundreds and thousands of people who long for hope. The homeless teenager hopes that he does not have to sell his body for food or shelter. The struggling single mother hopes that the boyfriend will not come home and beat her. The cancer patient hopes that she can see another Christmas, though the doctors say it is unlikely. The elderly hope they can continue to see and have the physical capability of caring for themselves yet another year. The businessman hopes that work will not disrupt his family anymore than what it already is. All of us, to some degree are longing for hope this Christmas season. We are the maid in the Caravaggio picture who yearns for a place at the table of Jesus, because the table of Jesus is always a table where we believe and understand that God will always find a way to deliver, redeem, and care for his children.

Christmas is only twenty-two days away. The fulfillment of hope is only twenty-two days away. With the birth of Christ comes the hope that we have all been longing for. And so we say together, come Lord Jesus come! Come so that justice might be found. Come so that righteousness might be practiced. Come so that we may say to the world, “The Lord is our righteousness.” Come so that this world might have hope – and let us go and bear witness to this hope that is seen in the birth of a child.

Published in: on December 5, 2006 at 1:40 am  Comments (1)  

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