November 28th is the first Sunday in the season of Advent. Advent is a four-week long season in the church year. It marks the beginning of the church year (Happy New Year!) It is a season of preparation and reflection, as we wait for the Christ Child to arrive on Christmas morning. What’s that you say? Jesus was born over 2,000 years ago? Well, I guess you’re right on that fact. But we sort of intentionally forget about that fact for a few weeks, and pretend. We will attempt to recreate that first Christmas, by pretending to be like Israel, waiting for the coming of the Messiah. (Advent means “coming”.) In addition to celebrating the historic event, we will also do a little pretend celebration of his arrival this Christmas. Finally, we will study some of the scriptural passages that look forward to his return. This is the third “coming” of Jesus that we consider during this season. In summary, there are three Advents.
- The coming of the Messiah on that first Christmas 2,000 years ago.
- The coming of the Christ Child on December 25, 2021.
- The coming of Jesus, when he returns again.
I think we’re going to have our hands full these next four weeks!
Some of the themes of Advent are 1) Wait, 2) Watch, 3) Hope, and 4) Prepare. We wait and watch for the coming of the Messiah. We hope that he will come to save us. We prepare our hearts and mind for his arrival this Christmas. (We already know he’s coming, but don’t tell anybody!)
We’re sort of “hard core” about Advent at our house. We use these activities as a way to resist the commercialism of the season.
- We might prepare a batch or two of Christmas cookies during Advent, but we wait until Christmas to eat them.
- We try not to listen to Christmas carols until very near Christmas. Would you expect people to sing “Happy Birthday” to you a month or more before your birthday? We try to wait to put up the Christmas tree for the same reason, waiting until just a week or so before Christmas. Once Christmas comes, however, we will celebrate the full 12 Days of Christmas, all the way to January 6th. Only then, the tree comes down.
- Some ways to prepare for Jesus’ coming are to write Christmas cards, shop for gifts for loved ones, do the baking (but not the eating), and get all the Christmas decorations ready. (But don’t put them up!)
- Special daily Advent devotions are good to do. When the kids were small, we would light candles in a Yule log or in an Advent wreath, and read bible devotions before dinner. This is how we prepare our hearts for the arrival of baby Jesus on Christmas day. My “kids” still talk about this on occasion.
The result of doing all this stuff is that we redirect our attention to the “reason for the season”, Jesus. In recent years we have gone a little soft on some this. The tree and a few decorations go up mid-December. But the message is still clear—Christmas should be more about Jesus than going to Walmart! These might seem strict, but they keep our hearts focused on the true meaning of the season.
As you may recall, chapters 30-33 of Jeremiah are called the “consolation chapters” of his great work. The rest of Jeremiah is full of turmoil. But this section of his prophecy offers a glimmer of hope; a little relief from all that tension and strife.
God’s people have been behaving badly. They now find themselves in exile in Babylon. It seems doubtful that they will ever return to the Promised Land. But here is a message of hope from God.
- God makes a promise that He still intends to keep—He will fulfill his earlier promise that the Davidic line would last forever. (vv. 12-15a)
- The new king will not be like those old, wicked kings that came after Solomon. This new king will be fair to all and do what is right in God’s eyes. That’s justice and righteousness. (vv. 15b-16)
Isaiah 11:1 states that “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.“ In today’s passage, Jeremiah basically gives the same message. The seemingly dead royal line of David will sprout a new and righteous branch.
As Christians, we know that Jesus is the fulfillment of this scripture.
1 THESSALONIANS 3:9-13
Paul was in Athens, preaching the Gospel message to the Greeks there. With him, of course were his helpers Silas and Timothy. Paul became concerned about the wellbeing of the church in Thessalonica, and sent Timothy there. When Timothy returned, he had some good news and some bad news. They were rich in faith and love, but they lacked the hope in the resurrection. Paul writes this letter to help correct the problem.
- Paul is full of joy and thanksgiving for them. He longs to see them face to face, so that he can works on the areas that are lacking in their faith. (vv. 9-11)
- The remaining verses in today’s passage are a blessing and prayer of hope to the Thessalonians, that they might “abound in love for one another and for all”, and strengthen their hearts. It ends with a reminder of Jesus’ return, which is intended to be the incentive for the encouragement for holiness. He has already discussed Jesus’ return in chapter 2. In these verses, he includes a prayer that they remain strong and blameless as they wait for Jesus’ return. (vv. 12-13)
The church in Thessalonica was full of love and faith. They expected Jesus’ return to be at any moment. When it did not happen as soon as expected, they became concerned and discouraged. Paul encourages us to grow in faith as we keep waiting and watching, not losing hope for his return.
Two weeks ago, we looked at a passage from Mark, in which Jesus was talking about the “end times”. We called it “Mark’s Apocalypse”. As you may recall, apocalyptic writing is a distinctive writing style that is found in many places in our bible. The Roman Catholic bible contains some additional Old Testament writings. In fact, there are many other writings from this time that were written in this apocalyptic style. These are not part of our bible, but they do exist. All of these are that same writing style, which are a lot like our book of Revelation. The symbolism is confusing at times, but the message is always the same— we should keep the faith, because God is in control. Today’s gospel lesson has Jesus speaks in the apocalyptic style. He’s talking about the end times; about the time when he will return. It’s a good Advent message.
- Jesus tells us that there will be signs in the heavens that indicate that the end is near. There will be confusion, fear, and foreboding. We Christians should not be afraid, but stand up and raise our hands in praise, because our redemption is about to occur. (vv. 25-28)
- Next, he gives us a parable which is intended to give us some sort of sign that the end is near. Throughout the generations, many theologians have interpreted this parable to fit their time, and were wrong. Surprisingly, Jesus even states that that the current generation would not pass away before the end took place. We all know that this did not occur. In Mark 13:32 Jesus states that only the Father knows the timing, not even Jesus knows. (vv. 29-32)
- One thing is certain—predictions may come and go, but Jesus’ words stand. (v. 33)
- In conclusion, Jesus gives us some Advent advice. We should be on our toes, spiritually speaking. We are to wait, watch, and be prepared for his return. It will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. (vv. 34-36)
So, let us cleanse and prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas Day.