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Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, Year C (December 2, 2018)

Dec 02, 2018

Passage: Luke 21:25-36

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Category: Advent, Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Detail:

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent- Year C (2018)
December 2nd, 2018
St. Anne’s Episcopal Church (Lackey Chapel at CCU) 

Jeremiah 33:14-16 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36

 

I was in fourth grade the first time I was sent to the principal’s office. I only vaguely remember what the occasion of misbehavior was that landed me there, but I distinctly remember the fear I had as I made my way down the hallway with the note from the teacher explaining what I had done. It was a very lonely walk. When I entered the school office and told the secretary that I had been sent to see the principal, she told me to sit and wait in his office until he got back. 

After what felt like an hour but was probably no more than five minutes, the principal walked in and asked me what was going on. I handed him the note and then I think I told him what I had done, as well. And I was expecting him to give me a harsh talking to and probably tell me I was going to be suspended or expelled. Instead, he asked me if I was ok and if there was anything else going on that had made me misbehave. I cannot remember what I said to his question, but the result of that trip to see the principal was that not only did I not get expelled, but I also learned that the principal - the person that every student so feared to see - was more concerned about safeguarding my well-being than he was about punishing my misbehavior. That’s the first instance I can recall of learning such a lesson. 

But if I’m honest, the lesson never really sunk in. 

The next time I recall being in a principal’s office, I wasn’t actually in trouble at all. I was in high school, and I had been summoned because the principal wanted to talk with me about getting involved with the school newspaper. But when I got the note to go to the principal’s office, I think I turned a shade of green and started to sweat. And my mind began racing with wild ideas about what I was in trouble for. Once again, though, I learned only that the the person that every student so feared to see, was only looking out for me.   

But still the lesson did not quite sink in. Even to this day, when I get an unexpected call from a superior, my first instinct is to think that I am in trouble. I’ll joke about this now because she’s not here, but for the first year of my time at St. Anne’s, whenever I got a call from Rebecca Lovelace, I was worried that I’d screwed up and that she was calling to reprimand me! But not once was I right!

Now, I’m telling you all this in good humor, but really I think that the habitual attitude of “I must be in trouble” is a burden that many of us carry and a hurdle that many of us struggle to get over. We can make light of it - some of you may have heard me say “Expect the worst so that when the best happens, you can be pleasantly surprised” - but I think if we dig down into what that type of sentiment means, then we can gain some insight into what fears are keeping us from being most fully alive.   

In the Gospel lesson we have for today, Jesus is talking about what has become popularly known as “the end times.” And he says that one of the indicators of these so-called end times will be that signs in the natural world will fill people with distress and confusion and that people will be so afraid over what the world is doing that they will literally faint. 

But I want us to note here the specifics of what this passage from the Gospel says. Note that it does not say that God will use natural signs to make people afraid OR to punish them. Nor does it say that all these natural phenomena will be the result of God’s anger at sinful humanity. All Jesus says is that people will be afraid when they see the powers of the heavens shaken. Which has been true for pretty much the history of human existence and which I imagine will go on being true until the end of time.  

As most of us here know well, there is NOTHING like a natural disaster to make you realize just how not in control of life you are. And in the face of things that are out of our control, it’s easy to get so caught up in fear that we begin to think that we’re being punished for something we’ve done wrong. In the face of things that are out of our control, it’s also easy just to give up and anesthetize ourselves to fears that might overwhelm us. But Jesus tells us that instead of being caught up in fear or in the mere avoidance of fear, we need to relinquish our fears so that we will be able to raise our heads and stand before him when he comes again to bring about the redemption of all things. 

The message of the entire Advent season is that we’re not supposed to be afraid of Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ return is not about the destruction of all things with fire and brimstone and death and judgment and terror all around. Those who cling to such ideas are, in my opinion, not being faithful to the Gospel message because they are doing nothing more than holding fast to the burden of fear, and the expectation of punishment, that Jesus is calling us to relinquish. 

Jesus’ return is about God making good on God’s promises to humankind. 

But we are bad at learning this lesson. We have gotten so used to the habit of thinking that God is only there to call us to account for what we’ve done or left undone that we’re unable to see that God is primarily concerned with our well-being. It’s almost as if we’d prefer to hear the harsh words of judgment that we assume we deserve. 

But no. God is more concerned with our wholeness than he is with meting out punishment for the things we do to damage or avoid our being made whole. 

So, this Advent season, I invite you to ponder what it means to be ready to stand before the Son of Man. I invite you to take some time each day thinking about what fears are weighing you down and preventing you from lifting up your head in the joyful expectation of Jesus’ coming. I invite you to take some time each day thinking about what you do to avoid confronting the things in your life that you fear are beyond redemption. In short, I invite you to make a beginning to the work of casting out fear. Because it is only by casting out fear that we will be able to see the coming of Jesus as the joyful arrival of God’s kingdom among us.