Sermon · Sunday Services

A series on the meaning of Christmas – Advent sermon 1

The Preachers of St Mary’s Anglican Church decided together to share our sermons on the blog, to share our message about the real meaning of Christmas. Today we share the first sermon, that was preached on 2 December 2018.

“There will be signs,” Jesus said.

When I was a child one of the signs I always looked forward to was my Advent calendar. Every year about this time my sister, brother and I were given a new Advent calendar. It was usually a beautiful picture that had a bunch of little numbered doors, one for each day of Advent. Each day we would open a little door on the calendar. Behind the door was a chocolate. Each door we opened was a sign Christmas was getting closer. We were counting down the days. That’s what Advent was about for us back then.

I liked Advent. I liked the way the house looked, the music my parents played, the bowls of snacks set out for guests. Advent was a time of expectation, anticipation, and excitement. Yes, it meant Jesus would be born in Bethlehem but it also meant grandparents, presents, and Santa Clause. I looked forward to the future one day at a time.

Then something happened. Somewhere along the way life got really real and Advent changed. Advent was no longer just the season before Christmas, a countdown. Instead it began to describe the reality of life and the world. The gospel texts about the destruction of the temple, war, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and betrayals as written in the previous verses (Luke 21:1-19) took on new and often very personal meanings.

Advent became a season of change, letting go, and looking to a future that was not yet clear or known. I’m not exactly sure when it began or how it happened but I know it did. All the signs were there.

  • It might have been the day my niece died, a world ended, and lives were lost, hers mine, our family. “There will be signs,” Jesus said.
  • It might have been reading the headlines and feeling like my prayers are unable to keep up with the pain and the needs of the world. “There will be signs,” Jesus said.
  • It might have been one too many pictures of another suicide bombing “There will be signs,” Jesus said.
  • It might have been waking up with the world each morning of the past week and wondering,
    • What’s next?
    • Where will it happen?
    • When will it take place?
    • “There will be signs,” Jesus said.

It might have been any one of these, all of them, or a thousand other things just like them. These are just a few of my Advent stories, stories about how my life has been changed and the world as I had known it ended.

What are your Advent stories? I’ll bet you have them. I’ll bet you could tell stories about the day your life was changed and your world ended. I’ll bet you have lived through seasons of change, letting go, and stepping into an uncertain future, maybe even a future you did not want.

I sometimes wish Advent was as simple and easy as opening a little door on the calendar, eating a piece of chocolate, and knowing that Christmas is one day closer. But it’s not. You and I both know the world is not that simple and life is not that easy. Maybe that’s why every year on this day, the First Sunday of Advent, we always hear a gospel text that seems to describe the end of the world and the signs that will accompany that ending.

This is not just a story about Jesus and his disciples. This is your story and my story. We experience it in our lives. We see it in our world. And today the Church declares it to be the good news of Christ.

“There will be signs,” Jesus said. More than ever our world needs to see the signs. The longer I live, the more I see and experience, the more I realize how necessary those signs are. I want to be reminded that the signs are there.

Every Advent story is accompanied by signs. Jesus says if we look we’ll see the signs everywhere; in the sun, the moon, the stars; in the distress among earth’s nations; and in the roaring of the sea and its waves. I can see them today in the pictures of refugees and in the world’s violence. I’ve no doubt you’ve seen the signs too, in your life and in the world. They’re everywhere and they are not hard to spot. They are, however, too easily and quickly misunderstood and misused.

“There will be signs” are words of hope and reassurance but far too often they are heard as words of warning and threat. And when they are, the signs are used to predict a future of impending doom and loss. They become indicators that the world will end and you better shape up or God is going to get you. Our misunderstanding of the signs pushes us further into the darkness and deeper into our fear. Our misuse of the signs blinds us to the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory.

“There will be signs” are not Jesus’ words of warning and threats. Jesus does not ask us to predict the future. He never says these are the signs that the end of the world has come.

Instead, he says that when we see the signs we are to stand up, raise our heads, and know that help is on the way; our redemption, our healing, our Savior have drawn near.

The signs are not a reason to hang our head in despair or shrink from life. That we can see the signs in our lives and world means that the circumstances we face and the events that happen contain and reveal the promise of Christ’s coming. The signs are our hope and reassurance that God has not abandoned us, that God notices us, that God cares, comes to, and participates in our life’s circumstances.

Jesus’ parable of the fig tree teaches us how to read the signs. The Advent signs are as ordinary and common as a fig tree sprouting leaves. We see the leaves and we know something is happening. Summer is already near. It’s a new season, with new life, new growth, new fruit. That is the promise and good news of the Advent signs. And yet that promise, that good news, is fulfilled not apart from but in and through the reality of our life’s circumstances and our world’s events, no matter how difficult or tragic they may be.

So, what if we looked on our lives and our world and we began to read and understand the signs in our Advent stories as sprouting leaves?

What would we see?

What would it mean?

It would mean that the kingdom of God is near. It would mean we are entering a new season. We would see new life and new growth. We would produce new fruit. We could open the doors of our life with new courage and confidence. We could look on the world with a new sense of compassion and hope. We would be strengthened to do the work God has given us to do.

Yes, the Advent seasons of our lives can be long, difficult, and painful. But we never face those seasons without the signs of hope and reassurance, signs that point to the one who is coming.

How to we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ? We can use today’s Psalm as an example of humble attitude before God. Jesus calls us to pray and Psalm 25 is a good example of a prayer that call us to penitence, a prayer asking for guidance and a prayer for protection, all very much needed in our day.

And in today’s text in Luke, we are called to live lives of vigilance, to live each day as if Jesus may return today.

What would you do differently if you knew Jesus would definitely return today?

Would you be kinder to the people you meet?

Would you be careful not to lose your temper?

Would you go out of your way to help a stranger?

Would you read your Bible more and pray more?

How would your life be different?

This text asks us to question how prepared we are for the return of Jesus, to take stock of our lives, really look at the areas that need work and think about how we could live differently. This text is a call to action, to be expectant, to be prepared.

“There will be signs,” Jesus said.

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