He Is Coming
Based on Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25, 1Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36
Every Thanksgiving Day, for as long as I can remember there has been a theme…“he is coming!” I would sit in anticipation for hours; it was difficult to control myself. All of the things that came before were just distractions for the main event. When would he get here – how much longer? Knowing he was coming, as he had come before, helped to keep me watching through most of my formative years. It was the same again this year as I watched the 95th edition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Finally, after three hours of watching all the stars of Broadway shows, marching bands and balloon characters, Santa arrived in style with Ms. Claus. Once again, Santa Claus had come at the end of the parade and ushered in the Christmas season.
Today we begin a new liturgical year, and we have lighted the first candle of the Advent wreath, the candle of “Hope” (also known as the “prophets’ candle”). Advent has begun and with it the hopeful waiting for the triumphal return of Jesus, and the celebration of the birth Jesus. Prophets of old had foretold the coming of the Messiah and believers wondered each year if this would be the year that God fulfilled the greatest promise to God’s people. We as Christians, as followers of the Christ, believe that God did indeed give to us the Messiah in the form of a little child in an isolated and neglected portion of a great empire. A child born to average folk, of no particular station in society. Yet, they were distinguished beyond measure among humans, because of a mother who said “yes” to an emissary from God and a father who trusted in a God-filled dream. However, I am getting ahead of myself.
Today our scriptures lead us into this new year and into our season of hopeful waiting for he who is, who was and who is to come. Whether it is the psalmist or prophet speaking/praying of the trust due to God for the redemption of Israel, Paul’s prayer for his church plant in Thessalonica or Jesus’ telling us all to “be alert at all times” for the kingdom of God is coming. Before we go any farther, let us go to God now in prayer and thanksgiving that God’s promises will be fulfilled, and that Jesus’ words will never pass away…
Paul is in Athens writing a letter of thanksgiving to the believers in Thessalonica. This is Paul’s earliest missional letter, and it gives us a glimpse into the state of the early Church. The believers and Paul are undergoing persecutions. Paul had sent Timothy to the church in Thessalonica to ascertain whether their faith had been able to withstand the trials afflicting them. Timothy’s report was that their faith was strong, and our reading today is a thanksgiving for them and their love for one another. Paul prays that they might be strengthened in holiness so that they can be found blameless at His coming.
The psalmist and the prophet Jeremiah both sing the faithfulness of God. The psalmist’s lyrics speak of a God who teaches, protects, provides salvation, is steadfastly loving and redeeming. The psalmist is full of trust that God will redeem Israel from all its foes and troubles and so the writer can wait in hopeful patience for the coming of the LORD. The prophet Jeremiah has just followed God’s directive to purchase a field during the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army. God has assured the prophet that after a time of exile, the people will be returned to Jerusalem. In our reading for today, we have the words of the LORD that when the time is right, a righteous branch will come from King David’s family tree to save Judah and allow Jerusalem to live in safety. Surely, He is coming at a time and place of God’s choosing – God has said it will be so.
Just prior to setting up his last Passover dinner with the Disciples, Jesus teaches about the end-of-times. Jesus has told his friends about the destruction of the Temple and in this week’s readings He goes on to talk about what will happen at the time when He is coming again. There will be signs for all to see that the rule of the earthly power is about to be replaced once and for all time. It will be obvious, just like the observant note how the new leaves on the fig trees denote the passage from Spring to Summer. Jesus tells us all to be on guard with our hearts not weighed down with anxiety or drink or squandering our resources. We should all be praying that we will have the strength to escape the judgment that will be visited upon all people when He comes again!
It is quite understandable, as we enter into the second COVID marred Advent season in a row, to be less than enthusiastic. There is another worrisome mutation of the SARS-CoV2 virus that has roiled the world stock markets and has caused new anxiety far and wide. Elsewhere, trials and investigations are ongoing for violent acts and some verdicts are seen positively and some negatively – there is a question about if justice can really be achieved in our world today. Families are still wondering if it will be safe to gather and celebrate like we always have – or whether it is better for all concerned to remain hunkered down for a while longer.
It would be easy for me to carry all of these negative and hopeless thoughts into the reflections for Advent and Christmas. Yet, the burden in my soul compels me to envision the coming of Emmanuel in a new way. I realized that God in Jesus was subjected to the evil and violence of the worldly Roman Empire in the first century. God became as vulnerable as today’s victims of riots, as vulnerable as the many people of color whose lives have been violently ended, as vulnerable as those persons displaced by wars, famine, climate change or self-interested leadership. For a moment, I was stunned by the reality that our Almighty God put God’s-self into a position never before assumed by any divine being – becoming both fully human while at the same time being fully divine. My mind wonders again why an all-knowing God would subject God’s-self to such a condition – to the real possibility that this great act of love would end badly.
Then in the silence of my wondering heart, I see as never before that incarnation means God refused to keep a safe distance between heaven and earth, between eternal good and mortal evil. If we are to be God’s people, we must follow the pattern of the incarnation, risking all through loving unconditionally and by refusing to keep our distance from the brutal evil of this world. God came down as a naked and vulnerable child in a stable, as vulnerable as any one of the millions of marginalized persons in our current day and time. This is the paradox at the heart of the Bible – our all-powerful God becoming weak as a human baby in order to have the strength to show us the way to live life abundantly and well here on Earth.
Jesus has to come; Jesus is coming again. Our job is to believe and to develop the trust in what the Bible says about the steadfast and faithful love of God. About how God is always fulfilling the promises made to Abram so many thousands of years ago. How God’s covenant with David secured for all time the relationship between God and humans and set in place the root from which the redemptive and righteous branch will grow. Let us hear again the words of the psalmist from Song 25:
“…O my God, in you I trust;…Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long….Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and bring me out of my distress. Consider my affliction and my trouble and forgive all my sins….”
He is coming again, and I am not referring to Santa. This Advent, I’m hopefully waiting once again for the greatest gift of all who brings with Him the gift of salvation for all. This is the promise of our God. This Advent season, I invite you to spend time with the promises of God – promises which God will keep for God’s people. We begin Advent with hope in an eternal and unconditionally loving God who will relieve the troubles of our hearts and redeem us from our sins, if we will dare to love like Jesus and humbly work with God to overthrow the evils of this world. May Jesus come again to us all this Advent season. Amen!