This was a sermon I preached on the First Sunday of Advent 2006 in the waning days of Community of Grace, the new church plant I was a part of.
This week has been hell.
Not a good way to start a sermon, I know, but I need to be honest, this week has been sheer hell for me. It’s not been a bad week event wise per se, unless you count the apparent death of my iPod because it went plop into my cat Felix’s water dish. But emotionally, it has been damn hard. It took a lot of energy to finally get excited enough to plan today’s sermon.
What was the source of my unhappiness? It was being the pastor of a new church. We haven’t been able to get new people to come, and it sometimes seems like we can’t get other churches to help us grow and prosper. We are coming to a time when we may have to close the ministry. If that’s not bad enough, you start to wonder if you did something wrong to cause all this. It doesn’t help that I suffer from clincal depression, so when I get down, I really get down. I feel like I’m in a deep valley with now way of getting out. There is no chance of hope.
We really don’t live in very hopeful times. Take a look at the news today and you will see the headlines filled with dire news. The signs of global warming are becoming more evident daily and will wreak havoc on the earth’s climate for our future ancestors. HIV/AIDS is still rampaging the planet, especially among some of the world’s poorest people in places like South Africa or Uganda. Iraqis and American soliders live in daily fear of a car bomb going off while they are at the market or going to worship. The opening years of 21st century seem very bleak and we wonder what kind of world we are going to leave for the children who follow behind us.
Today’s gospel text is doesn’t seem like an Advent text. Here we are, waiting for Christ’s coming into the world, and Jesus decides to take a page from “Left Behind.”
The thing is, I think Jesus was right. He talks about a time that is very dark, indeed. Jesus isn’t trying to be cute, he is being realistic. Bad times were on their way, if not already here. In Jesus time, the Jews were dealing with Roman occupation. There is not much hope here. When Jesus talks about being weighed down, I can relate. Depression in many ways is like a weight that is pressed on your heart and you can’t see that there is any tomorrow at all.
And yet, there is hope. There is hope in the midst of this darkness, just as the Winter Soltice tells us that that the days are getting longer. In this text, he says that the Son of Man is coming and that creation’s redemption is near. That Son of Man is Jesus himself. His coming into the world bring us hope and not just that, it bring us salvation, healing.
The birth of Christ changed everything. This was proof positive that God was not against us, but with us and walked among us. Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are redeemed and when Christ returns we will be made new.
This is the hope that we have. It’s the thing that keeps us going; the fact that Christ made us whole before we were born, is prefecting us now and will redeem us on that final day.
Since cold weather is up on us, this is the time of year that I start making chili. One of things I’ve noticed is that if I leave the chili to cook, all the indredients will settle to the bottom. On the surface, it looks like I’m cooking a big pot of tomato soup. So, of course, I get the spoon out and start stirring things up and lo and behold, all the ground beef, chopped tomatoes and onions end up on the top. Before, the soup was weighed down, after I stirred things up, the chili was alive with color and textures.
You’ve noticed that the theme for Advent is “Stir Up Your Power, Lord Christ and Come.” Advent is a time to remind us to be watchful for Christ’s coming into the world. We are stirred out of our boredom and fear and in it’s place given hope. We are stirred to share this message with a world that doesn’t have much hope at all, especially at this time of the year. We are called to stir up the hearts of those facing the first holiday season without a loved one, to stir up those who are facing unemployment, to stir up those who are dealing with depression, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, to stir up those who are facing a cold night with no place to call home. We are called to share this message of hope in word and in deed.
That is what we, this small community called Community of Grace, must do. We must go out and share that message of hope with others. Tell them about hope. Tell them that God is with them and show that by befriending them. I want people to know that Community of Grace is a place where we share hope with a world that doesn’t have much hope.
A few years ago, the Irish rock group, U2 released a song called “Lemon.” This is one of the few songs, where the lead guitarist, the Edge, actually sings. During one part of the song, while lead singer Bono is singing in a falsetto voice, the Edge sings, “midnight is when the day begins.” Wow. How true that is. Midnight is the darkest of the dark and yet it is the beginning of the day. In a few hours daybreak comes.
We all deal with our dark times. And yet, hope is on its way. It doesn’t mean the problems will go away, but we know that God is with us, there to hold us and remind us that he will be with us for always.
Midnight is when the day begins. Thanks be to God. Amen.