Sergio Rodriguez, Pastor for Community Ministries
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Advent 1. November 28, 2021. Series C.
“Attentive to hope, from the outside-in”.
Stir up your power, O Lord, Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit, and show us your ways of justice and peace. Amen
Waiting, watching, warning; Jesus calls the church to live into such a hope defined. Wait. Wait for the Lord whose day is near (Taize). Jeremiah announced urged the people to wait for the days when God would fulfill his promise to his people. Living in exile by the rivers of Babylon, the people sang a song of longing and resilience: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! (Psalm 139:5).” The people waited for God to cause righteousness to spring up before them as a branch. They yearned for life to spring up all around them in the winter of their discontent. Watch. I wait for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for the morning (Psalm 130:1). A people living in exile watch for signs that the Lord has returned. The people looked around for the descendants of the line of David, or for the Lord’s anointed. Or in the case for apocalyptic thinkers, they looked for the mysterious Son of Man to come and bring forth God’s reign; a reign as Daniel says, “an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed (Dan 7:14).” The people looked for signs of such glad tidings of comfort and joy. Warning. Jesus bespoke God’s hope as a reversal of human expectations. Redemptions shall come out of a hopeless place where, “fainting and foreboding of what is coming upon the world (Luke 21:27),” is the name of the game; a canticle of the turning made true.
As we commence our time of waiting, watching, and living out of these warnings, there are an innumerable amount of signs of hope defined. Some we enjoy like our advent wreaths, or caroling or Las Posadas. Others, strike our ears every time we enter into a certain coffee shop; think All I want for Christmas is you on repeat. What then are the signs of hope defined in our midst? Rather, how can we distinguish the Dawning of Christ’s coming from the blinding lights below? The subject of this morning’s sermon, “Attention to hope, from the outside-in” supplies a way for the Lord, not the way of the Lord. The text for our sermon this morning is our gospel text and in particular verse thirty-one where it reads, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near (Luke 21:31).”
These words of Jesus explained a disconcerting truth to his listeners in the temple; the kingdom of God is near but not yet in sight. As Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, the people supposed he was the Son of David coming to establish the Kingdom. Jesus had announced to Zaccaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost (Luke 19:9).” The people immediately thought, ‘This is the sign we have been waiting for! Here’s our hope defined! This teacher is the Son of Man. And what great news! He’s on his way to Jerusalem.’ Can we blame the people for their rush to proclaim Jesus’ embrace of Zacchaeus as a sign that the rich are being pulled from their thrones and the poor are being filled with good things? We too would like for our world to reflect a more equitable society, with harmony and peace between all peoples. Joao Batista Libano says such is our human condition. God made us to be Beings-yearning-for-more. And so we strive to make a world more liken to our own. We are attentive to such hopes in our world but the question then arises: how is this particularly God’s reign? How do we
know such reign is not simply utopic dreams but hope defined. A waiting, a watching and live out of the warning of Jesus to be alert for the kingdom?
Let’s look towards Jesus, our morning star to enlighten our way of hope and life. Contrary to the folks’ hope of Jesus’ renewal of the temple, he predicted the coming days. The days when the cruel oppressors rod would strike so hard so as to completely shatter all illusions of power. Rome would, in 70 A.D., utterly destroy the temple and exile the people. After this destruction, Jesus warned of the portents in the heavens; “there will be signs in the sun, moon, stars, and on the earth distress among the nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” In these words, we hear echoes of the Psalmists when he describes the coming presence of God: “His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles; the mountains melt like wax before the Lord (Psalm 97:4-5).” In other words, after the destruction of the temple, God’s presence would come to save them. These signs are signs of the glory of God turning the world around in order to dwell with his people. If we forget this insight, then we truly see Jesus’ words as utopic when he says, “Truly, I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Such is the insight of the nativity and the death of Jesus. This is one singular reality for us in the earth. At his birth, the cosmos bent towards hope and at his death, hope defined and conquered the grave. This hope from the outside comes within through faith in such a singular reality for us. How then are we to be attentive to as Jesus say, “these things taking place?” How does Jesus bespeak to us a hope from the outside-in?
The artist and theologian Scott Erickson in his book, Honest Advent, has a way. Attentiveness. Living into attentiveness to this singular reality of hope-defined in our midst. He says it like this: “the wonder [of encountering] God-with-us is found in paying attention to the exterior patterns that illuminate the patterns within. If you are watching, you’ll see them.” Attentiveness to hope, from the outside-in requires that we allow ourselves to receive the signs of hope defined in our midst. In so doing we shall catch the light, the thundering of the glory. The measure of joy we’ll fully know at the coming of Christ.
Let us turn to our Songs for guidance as to the signs of the portents above. Mary sings of God lifting up the lowly, of filling the hungry around us with good things. To remember the forgotten ones. Look at the ancient practice of the great litany for the signs of hope outside-coming in: We implore God to hear us as we pray for all in danger, need, and tribulation, women in children birth, travelers, the children, the youth, the sick and their families, families in discord, immigrants, the unemployed, the imprisoned, the orphans, the widows, the widowers. When these for whom we sing with appear before us, here Jesus calls us to see the kingdom drawn near. Then shall our hope be made sight. Here is your redemption. Wait for the Lord. Watch for the Lord. Be Warned! The Lord is coming! Amen. Come Lord Jesus.