Sermon I Advent Yr B
November 28, 2008 Leave a comment
I Advent Yr B, 30/11/2008
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Waiting for God”
Well, here we are in one of my favourite seasons of the church year—Advent. Advent is the beginning of a new church year; hence it is a season offering the possibility of new beginnings, fresh starts, which we all need. Advent is, as you likely know, the Latin word for coming. In Advent, we celebrate three “comings” of Jesus: first as a human being who came in the past to live with us on earth; second as Jesus comes to us in the present through, primarily, the preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments; and third, we look forward into the future to his promised second coming, at a time no one knows, except God the Father. Advent is therefore a season of preparation—we prepare for Jesus as he comes to us each day to guide and direct our lives that his will be done. We prepare for his future second coming, so that we may be found faithful and ready to greet Jesus at that time. We prepare too for the next season after Advent, Christmas, so that we can truly be ready to celebrate with joy the birth of Jesus. Therefore, it is appropriate during the season of Advent to wait, to watch, to live in readiness by preparing for Jesus. So welcome to Advent, and yes, Happy New Year!
In our instant society, it is a huge challenge to wait; people want and expect everything to happen in a nano-second. Our high-tech world keeps speeding up and those of us who are growing older are increasingly challenged to live life not in the fast lane, not in the faster lane, but in the fastest lane! Yet, the season of Advent moves us in the opposite direction. We are called and challenged to slow down, and to wait.
Waiting can be and often is a challenge, yet that is what God often requires us to do. In Advent we wait for God. I like the following humorous story about waiting, as told by Edwin Robertson:
At the Opening Service of the Oslo World Student Conference in 1947, when Bishop Eivind Berggrav’s sermon was ended and he moved down from the pulpit to the altar to give the blessing, a misunderstanding with the organist occurred. Berggrav began, somewhat quietly, with the explanation, “If I may, I will give the blessing in Norwegian.” The organist did not hear, and assumed it as the usual greeting: “The Lord be with you,” and played for the congregational response, “And with thy spirit.” As Berggrav then said, “The Lord be with you,” the organist thought it was the blessing, and thundered out the threefold “Amen,” followed with his usual piece after the blessing, going on for some time. Berggrav stood quite still until the organ was silent. Then he finally said in a loud voice and this time in English, “So is it often in life that one has to wait for God’s blessing, but it always comes.”1
In our first lesson today, the people of Israel, returning from their Babylonian exile also discovered this truth, that one does have to wait for God’s blessing, but it always comes. The passage, described by scholars as a community lament, consists of Israel’s deep longing for God to come as he had in the past. The desire for God to reveal himself by tearing open the heavens and the mountains quaking at God’s presence is reminiscent of the past, like for example, God revealing himself to Moses on Mount Sinai. For the Israelites, God ruling over the natural world were signs of God’s power that evoked in human beings a state of reverential fear and awe towards God.
As the passage continues, Israel is reminded of the blessings that God gives through waiting and being obedient to God’s ways, they recite the following promise, which was fulfilled over and over again for them, and continues to be for us as well when we wait and are obedient to God’s ways, they said: “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways.”
So it is with us too, our waiting for God is blessed when we are faithful, when we are obedient to the LORD. For example, a student waits for her or his day to come when they finish and graduate and find that dream job. Yet, it involves more than waiting. It also involves faithfulness in study, attending classes, doing the assignments, writing the exams and calling on God for help and grace to learn what is necessary to learn for the future.
For a congregation to flourish, it also involves waiting on God, as well as acting in obedience to the LORD’s ways. A congregation, as you know, cannot survive when people do not love God and neighbour. This love includes both waiting on God and acting in faith, by obeying God’s ways. There are times in the history of a congregation when hardships and troubles seem overwhelming. Yet, at precisely those times a congregation needs to wait even more on God and act in obedience to him and his ways. At our Southern conference convention, Bishop Mayan told the story of a small rural congregation in our synod that was struggling to survive and wondered if they should close their doors. However, as time passed it became clear to the congregation that they would stay open longer. However, this involved some changes for them, one of which is a Sunday evening worship service once a month along with a potluck meal instead of worshipping during the day. This particular change has become well received and popular in the community.
Speaking of change, those ancient Israelites also realised that they had sinned against the LORD because the LORD had hidden his face from them and delivered them into their own sins. God allowed them to suffer the consequences of their sins by carting them off into Babylonian exile. They confessed their sins and repented of them. Then they appealed to God as their Father to mould and shape them as the potter does with clay. This theme of repentance, of turning away from our sin and toward the LORD and his forgiveness is an important one during the season of Advent.
According to former LAMP Pastor-Pilate Les Stahlke: We think that flying in the North is quite safe, but there is one simple practice that makes it even more so. That is the willingness to turn around when something is wrong. Reversing course or “doing a one-eighty” as we call it, when faced with poor weather or mechanical problems, reduces the risk dramatically and prevents us from getting into serious trouble. Making that decision is not always easy because of “get-home-it is” or simple pride that tempts us to say, “Aw, I can handle this.”
In life we must make similar decisions. Our Advent King said of Himself, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Yet we are still tempted to speed on to our own destruction because we don’t want to admit that we need help or that we have gotten ourselves into deep trouble. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they turn from their evil way and live, says the Lord.”
Advent is a good time to reassess the direction our lives are taking.2
In turning to God, our Potter, we can live in hope—for he will form us creatures of clay in ways that are pleasing to him. He can shape us in beautiful ways so that we can indeed wait patiently and respond when the time is right by acts of obedience and serve his holy purposes. As Advent people, we live in hope; for Christ our Saviour has come, continues to come, and shall come. Our future is hopeful as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled in Jesus our Messiah. Amen.
1 Edwin Robertson, Bishop of the Resistance: The Life of Eivind Berggrav, Bishop of Oslo, Norway (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2000), pp. 174-175.
2 LAMP Advent Devotions 1988, p. 6.