First Sunday of Advent — Rev. Karen Barfield

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
Luke 21:25-36

In the name of the one, holy and living God:
who enlightens our darkness
and offers us the hope of eternal life. Amen.

Today is the first day of Advent,
a season of waiting,
a season of preparation…
for birth
and re-birth.

Advent comes to us as a pinhole of light in the midst of darkness,
beginning with the lighting of a single candle on the Advent wreath.

“In those days” are the scriptural bookends of this Season.

“In those days” begins the Gospel of Luke on Christmas Eve, pointing us back to a specific day and time in history…. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).

On a specific day and time in our past,
God became human…
Jesus was born.

But, on this first Sunday of Advent, Jeremiah turns his vision not backwards toward a specific day and time but points ahead toward a future time, “In those days and at that time….”

“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.” (Jer 33:15)

Jeremiah speaks to an exiled and crushed people, offering them hope for their future.

Gary Charles says this of today’s Scripture readings:

“[They] are dug from the harsh soil of human struggle and the littered landscape of dashed dreams. The are told from the vista where sin still reigns supreme and hope has gone on vacation.” (Feasting on the Word, p. 3, First Sunday of Advent)

The Israelites are living in captivity, banished from their homes.

Today’s psalmist confesses and laments his ways:
“Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions”
while begging for God’s mercy and deliverance….
“remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of a time when people will faint from fear and foreboding from what is happening in the world as the natural world begins to roar and there is distress among the nations.

Jesus points to a time when people are overwhelmed with a sense of loss of control…an exiled and crushed people.

Underscoring and enveloping today’s sobering readings is our own environment:
During this time of year we experience shorter days with longer and longer periods of darkness….the trees and land lie barren and fallow, coldness surrounds us. On the news we see visions of refugees who have against all odds made it to safety while many others have died along the way.

We hear horrific stories of terror attacks around the world and fear-mongering stories of hidden terrorists among refugees seeking a home in our own country.

Some among us cannot find work despite earnest attempts. As Winter arrives, our homeless neighbors are scrambling to find shelter from the cold. People come here daily searching for food and assistance.

Advent is not a comfortable Season;
it is an unpredictable and unsteady time,
a time when we wait with longing for redemption, both personal and communal.

We wait for the Christ to be born,
who we know has already been born
and who we know continues to be born in us each day.

During the season of Advent time is contorted
where we look both behind and ahead at the same time.

And, we celebrate that the Light has shined in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made….” (Jer 33:14)

Just as the prophet Jeremiah provided hope for an exiled people, these texts raise up for us the importance of waiting, anticipating and trusting in a promised future that may at times seem very removed from our current circumstances.

We are called upon, in our waiting, not only to name the sufferings and injustices of the world but to lean into God’s promise of a new creation….to engage our imaginations in hopeful expectation of God’s reign of justice and righteousness.

Jurgen Moltmann spoke of hope as:
the divine power
that makes us alive
in this world.

is the divine power
that makes us alive
in this world.

Faith, then, is living into our reality by virtue of God’s promise.

Barbara Brown Taylor says this of living with such a promise:
“The promise may not be fully in hand. It may still be on the way, but to live reverently, deliberately and fully awake — that is what it means to live in the promise, where the wait itself is as rich as its end. All it takes are some regular reminders, because as long as the promise is renewed, the promise is alive, as vivid as a rainbow, as real as the million stars overhead.” (Gospel Medicine, p. 41)

Jesus says, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly.”

It is oh so easy to get weighed down with the worries of this life.

Jesus calls us to be secure in the promise of what is to come while living in the “not yet.”

During the dark days of World War II, W. H. Auden wrote these words in his poem For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio:

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

And that miracle is the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus: yesterday, today and tomorrow.

It is with Jesus that we proclaim the words of the Psalmist:

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you…

Show me your ways, O LORD,
and teach me your paths….

Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.” (Psalm 25:1a,3,5)

In a few moments we will come to the Table to share in a meal,
a meal bought at a price too dear for words.

We will come with hands open and outstretched,
in hopeful anticipation of God’s redeeming Grace for ourselves and for the world.

As we go forth from this place, let us be bearers of the Good News that God is on the way!

Indeed, that God is already here,
fulfilling in our midst God’s promise of a new creation.