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Sermon November 27, 2016, Advent 1

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1281

November 27, 2016 - Advent 1 Romans 13:11-14

Dr. Ed Pettus Matthew 24:36-44

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Vision, ‘Clothing’, and Readiness”

 

  • A Great Vision Isaiah 2:1-5

 

We are here on the first Sunday of Advent, surrounded by Christmas anticipation and preparations. Advent is a time of expectation. It is a time to look forward, to anticipate the coming of Christ, both his first coming in Christmas and also the second coming promised in scripture. In essence, we pay attention to the Advent season looking two ways, back to Jesus’ birth and ahead to Jesus coming again. But we also take time to look to the expectations of how God promises to come into the world in numerous ways.

 

We tend to major on the Christmas story and the great expectation of a birth. It is more familiar to us because we know the expectancy of birth.

 

Let's look at three advent passages. We begin in Isaiah with Isaiah’s vision where the advent of God is evident through the establishment of peace and justice, worship and education. Out of Zion shall go forth instruction. God shall judge between the nations. Isaiah invites us to expectations of what shall be. Isaiah sees this in a vision. It is a fascinating vision that begins with “the words that Isaiah saw.” The invitation of verse five is that we walk in the light of the Lord. The light enables us to see the word, and in this vision, to look beyond what is to what shall be. Isaiah offers new possibilities beyond the crisis of exile and captivity for Israel. “In the days to come…” There will come a day when the current situations of the world will be different. Advent is the time of looking beyond the current situations of our world. Could we possibly imagine a world without war in the middle east? Could we imagine a world where many people will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, ” Isaiah’s vision is a vision of the future. “ It shall come to pass in the latter days …” They do not know when those days will come, but they will come.

And in those days:

the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains

The nations shall flow to it,

many peoples shall come, and say

For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations

they shall beat their swords into plowshares

 

Out of “what shall be” comes an invitation. Because of what shall be, the prophet is bold to invite people to walk in the light of the Lord. There will come a day when this vision of Isaiah will be reality – a reality we will see if we are walking in the light. In the days to come there will be nations streaming to the mountain of God. In the days to come God will teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths. In the days to come instruction will come out of Zion, God will judge, and nations shall not learn war anymore. That day is not today, but it is coming.

We don’t know when that day will come, but it is coming. It might be very difficult for us to see such a day coming. We get glimpses from time to time when peace comes after a conflict or war. Advent is the time to rekindle our vision, to develop the vision to see beyond the day to what shall come. Isaiah invites us to a prophetic imagination and, in Advent, we seek to develop a vision inspired by God’s word for all we see in Isaiah. War will end. Poverty will cease. Judgment will come. What we see today is not the final word on what the world will one day be like. God has promised a better day. Advent points us to that better day. Isaiah is our constant reminder of the vision we share in Christ of a day to come. This is our great vision.

 

  • Great “Clothing” Romans 13:11-14

 

We live in a complex nation. On the one hand we are told to stop saying Merry Christmas for the sake of political correctness and. on the other hand, Christmas season begins as early as possible for the sake of our consumer based economy. Perhaps our culture suffers from a bi-polar disorder. Both poles exemplify the ways of the world: denial of the birth of Jesus Christ as Savior or exploitation of the holy day for profit.

There was a time when our culture and the church were in harmony on Christmas and its meaning, but we know that those days are no more. Advent is a time for clothing, that is literally, to put on Christ. We attempt to show the world the meaning of Christmas by “what we wear”, that is, by how we live. Think about this as a metaphor of clothing. We put on Christ to live differently, to live in great expectation of Advent. Think about how we wear certain clothing to do certain tasks: hunting, golf, worship, house work, gardening, whatever activity we like, we often have special clothing. Advent reminds us to wear our faith, or wear our love, to walk in a certain way that demonstrates Christ will come again.

 

Paul says it this way:

Rom 13:11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

The coming of God is always nearer than we believe. We look to Jesus to come in the clouds, in glory with all his angels, yet Jesus comes in the Spirit each moment of the day, God comes in the stranger, in the friend, in the family member, in every way imaginable. I think it is safe to say that Paul believed that Christ would return in his lifetime. Often we see signs that give us the hope he would return in our lifetime. And he just might! Paul’s exhortation is that the hour is now. It is time to trust that the Lord has come and is coming, and will come again. We celebrate his coming, we celebrate that he is here, and we celebrate that he will come again. It is time for us to understand the time and become more aware of the coming of the Lord.

 

 

Rom 13:12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Because the coming of the Lord is closer than we first believed, we are summoned to put away the ways of darkness, put away sin, to be rid of fear and anxiety. And we are called to put on the armor of light. Let’s consider also what Paul says in Colossians 3:12-17, 12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

This is the clothing we wear, it is the life we live.

 

Rom 13:13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.

Paul addressed the church of Rome, a culture filled with things like reveling and jealousy, and he did not want that to live in the church. Just like today! Our behavior reflects our sensitivity to the Lord's summons to walk in the light. Behavior that avoids drunkenness and jealousy is the behavior of those who put on the armor of light. We see so much indecent behavior in our society; we feel that we are swimming upstream to get people to behave properly, but also to keep ourselves in the light!

 

Rom 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

This is the contrast that Paul sets for the Christians in Rome and for us today. The world only wants us to provide for the flesh, to gratify our desires. The contrast to that way of life is to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the light. Clothe yourself in Christ, put on Jesus Christ like a big coat that surrounds your whole body, your whole life. We are called to occupy our time with Christ. Spending time with Jesus Christ is a great way to prepare for his advent, whether the first advent or the second.

 

Basically it is all about living faithfully as a Christian. This first Sunday of Advent is simply a reminder to do just that – to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. This is how we can remain a witness to the truth of Advent and Christmas.

 

  • Great Readiness Matthew 24:36-44

 

Matthew’s gospel also inspires us to be ready for God’s Advent, for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus speaks to the disciples about the signs of his coming and that know one knows when Christ will return, except for God the Father. But Jesus says two things about our responsibility toward that day: Keep awake and be ready. Keep awake so that we might be attentive to the signs of Christ’s Advent. Be ready all the time because we do not know when God’s Advent will break through.

I think when we combine Jesus’ words with Isaiah’s vision and Paul's metaphor of clothing, we are called to be ready by keeping the vision of God’s prophetic imagination always before us. The admonition is that we cannot forget that Jesus will return. We “see” that Christ is returning, we “see” it in the word and we consider how that vision affects how we will live today in a world with troubling problems. During this Advent time, we are able to rejoice in the vision of Christ’s return, affirming for the world that there is a new future, there is more to come that is good news.

Isaiah and Matthew affirm a connection between vision and readiness. Our readiness depends on how well we see Isaiah’s vision and Christ’s Advent. Our readiness is marked by how the vision of God’s activity and promise shapes our lives. The invitation for Advent is to stay focused on what will be so that we will not miss out on God’s advent. We stay focused in Advent on what shall be and who shall come. That is why Advent is a crucial season in the life of the church. Advent tempers the Christmas frenzy of our society by enabling us to look to God’s coming reign in accordance with Isaiah’s vision and God’s coming again in Jesus’ return. We need not worry about today’s trouble, for God has promised a better day. We do not know when that day will come, but it will come, it will come. Advent reminds us that it will come and that we can find our way through today because of the promise of a new day to come.

I am looking forward to Christmas – the joy of Christmas morning, the excitement of the season. But I am also not ready to rush too quickly because I want to be ready and I want us to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man.

Advent is thus a season of great vision and great life and great readiness, for the time is coming when all will see, along with us, the future with God’s promise and will see the coming of the Son of Man. Amen.