This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on December 1, 2019. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church”!
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only God. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Happy New Year!
Since we’re now in Advent, you all may be thinking, we are very very close to Christmas, right?. Now is the time it’s socially acceptable to put the tree up, so it must be close. This holiday is one that many of us go over the top for, celebrating through dinner parties, movie nights, shopping, serving others, caroling, time with friends, church, and the list goes on. Maybe some of you planners have your Christmas Dinner shopping lists set already. Maybe Black Friday inspired your holiday gift giving early. The point is, this is a busy season, because we love to celebrate the season of Christmas.
But, here’s the deal. As many liturgical scholars will rudely point out to you if you ever forget, Advent is not Christmas. Christmas comes after Advent is finished, because Advent is about preparing for Christmas, that is, preparing for the birth of Christ.
Preparation is essential, in order to thoroughly enjoy the event itself. If the table isn’t set before your guests arrive, you’ll be busy placing napkins and silverware while your friends chat without you. When we prepare well, we can be more present when the time arrives.
We read in Isaiah this really interesting prophetic message, prophesying the birth of Christ. Isaiah, written way before the gospel, talks about Mary, though not by name, having a child, and calling him Immanuel, God with us. Isaiah is thinking ahead, way ahead!
Each year, many of us find ourselves seeing from a lens like that of Isaiah, seeing what is ahead before it happens, before we see the birth itself, or any part of the story for that matter. It doesn’t mean we are wrong. It’s not a bad thing by any means. There’s this giddiness, this excitement, this anticipation that comes with the baby Jesus narrative, one akin to kids waking up super early on Christmas Day to look under the tree. But before baby Jesus, there was a lot of preparation.
In the New Testament passage today, we have Jesus talking about the day when the Son of man is coming, “for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour”. Son of man is perhaps the most important title in scripture, so this phrase here is to say, something big is going to happen.
The gospel makes a comparison to Noah, who was aware and preparing for the flood to come, building and following God’s instructions. Those who weren’t paying attention, who were distracted by food and parties and apparently getting married, they missed out. They were completely surprised when the flood came, and simply put, they were unprepared. They weren’t active in their waiting.
In the season of Advent, we are commissioned to be active in our waiting. Today, we do that through peace. The in-between and the not yet brings a lot of tension with it, and also can bring a lot of peace, when we allow ourselves to pay attention. Through Advent, we are invited to actively anticipate the birth of Christ. We are invited to prepare. So, we put the tree up. We set up the nativity scenes and plan the meal, not so that we lose sight of what is coming, but so that we can fully experience it. All because we can be in peace, because Jesus will in fact be born, because we’ve seen it before, but also because that’s what was promised.
The season of Advent calls us to live in joyful expectation of a new thing, a thing God promises to do through the coming savior. And this scripture is a message about expectation in light of the coming kindom. We practice expectation, and we practice peace, because of these things God promises.
In our season of waiting, our season of joyful expectation, our season that some days, even shows up with anxiety or impatience, how do we live in peace? How do we see and seek it, when we still have so much to do, or when it is still so far away?
I want to suggest today, that maybe this is what we should be thinking about this Advent season. Rather than worrying about when that final outcome will come, when the Son of man is to arrive, maybe instead, we can spend our time along the way preparing, anticipating, and finding peace.
Because we know it will happen. We know, that at the end of this month, we will get to celebrate the little baby in the hay, surrounded by animals. We know we will get to sing about the coming of Jesus. We can find peace, because we know the end of the story.
Jesus in our gospel, tells us to slow down, to take a breath, and to pay attention to the now as we prepare for what will be coming. Something is coming, and yes, we know what it is, but right now, we can’t miss what is in our midst today, here.
The call of Advent, is to wake up and to pay attention to what is happening around us in the present, joyfully anticipating what will come next. When we do this, we can see the signs of Christ. We can find peace.
Let us pray.
God of patience and peace,
You have revealed to us a heartbreaking, full, and beautiful story of your creation. As we enter this season of preparation, give us the wisdom to pause, to find rest, and to be guided by your peaceful spirit. Help us to be Advent people, joyfully anticipating the coming of the risen Christ.