November 29, 2015

Advent Readiness: Oriented to God’s Redemptive Plan

Passage: Jeremiah 33:14–16 , Psalm 25:1–10, 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13, Luke 21:25–36
Service Type:

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

On Sunday, September 27, 2015 the moon passed through Earth's shadow resulting in a lunar eclipse. What made that eclipse unusual was that it occurred during a full moon when the moon is at or near its closest approach to earth. As a result the moon appears abnormally large and bright; the event is known as a blood moon. (Show picture). The Sept. 27 event is quite special; the last blood moon eclipse occurred in 1982, and the next won't take place until 2033.

This rare lunar event in light of Scripture is the topic of two recent books: Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change by John Hagee, and Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs by Mark Biltz and Joseph Farah. The thesis of these books is that when a blood moon occurs on a Jewish festival something significant occurs in world history in relationship to the second coming of our Lord. September 27, 2015 marked the beginning of the Jewish feast of tabernacles.

We read today of our Lord’s pronouncements about “the coming of the Son of Man.” He spoke of signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars and of distress among nations and so on. He spoke of the unmistakable nature of the event in that “the heavens will be shaken.” Just before these sayings Jesus had spoken of things like wars, rumours of wars, famines and plagues; of these things our Lord said they were not immanent signs. These sorts of things fill the pages of our daily newspapers.

Over all of this I invite you to write that word of hope our Saviour gave to all those who cling to him in faith: “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus’ teaching was not so that we live life in a posture of foreboding worrying about coming disaster. Rather his word is a word of hope for any who would believe—the only things that these events mean for the believer is “that the kingdom of God is near.”

The church season of Advent has come again; a season for getting ready; ready for the coming of our Lord. It takes place on two horizons. On one horizon we are getting ready for the celebration of Christmas; on the other we are to live in readiness for our Lord’s return in glory. These two horizons indicate the “now” and “not yet” of God’s redemption of his people.

There is a now about redemption. Christmas. God’s coming among us in Jesus of Nazareth. His resurrection to life is the guarantee that the redeeming of his people is accomplished. The birth of our Lord is not an event that can be separated out from the rest of his life; the celebration of his birth has in full view the whole of the life that he would lead; yes, the life that he would freely give for our sakes. Crib and cross are united in the one story of his life.

There is a “not yet” to redemption. The promise of the end of war; the coming of the new world where “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares” is “not yet.” (Isaiah 2:4) The fullness of God’s redemption is yet come. Our Lord implies this “not yet” when he said, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Not yet, still looking for it.)

So how do we live in this in-between time; this time of “now” and “not yet?” Our Lord calls us to live in readiness. An advent readiness that means we live life oriented to God’s redemptive plan. There is a now about it; we cling to Jesus Christ in faith. There is a not yet; we live knowing the best is always yet to come; that justice will be done and be seen to be done; the future is bright—heads up, stand tall, because your redemption in all its resurrection fullness is drawing near.

1. We may wonder what our Lord’s apocalyptic pronouncements have to do with getting ready for Christmas. Why do we read texts of gloom and doom in preparation for the happy time of Christmas. Advent begins with a frank, honest assessment of history's perils, of the present moment's terrors, and of the future's all-but certain calamities because looking all of that square in the face is the only way to frame Advent and Christmas correctly. Our Lord’s birth occurs in just such a world and for such a world. It is the canvass on which the gospels paint the nativity of our Lord.

Do you ever feel a certain melancholy about life in events that bring home its fleeting nature to you? This past summer the house my in-laws lived 50 years of their life in was torn down to make way for a new house. Valerie drove past and upon seeing it experienced that melancholy that seemed to say, “See, none of that mattered.” When I pass by the farm I knew as my family’s home and see that it is no longer that place of my childhood, I sometimes feel that melancholy lapping at my heart. You know it as well in reflecting that things have not turned out as we planned and hoped for our life. Relationships have gone sideways, economic reversals blindside, or disease puts us on the sidelines. It calls to mind the truth of the Psalm; As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. (Psalm 103:15-16)

“And it place knows it no more.” But that is not where the Psalm leave us. “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:17) In the face of human mortality is the hope of the eternal love of God. Clinging to our Lord in faith is to cling to everlasting love and is what guarantees your future. The reason we celebrate Christmas is because this is the steadfast love of the Lord for us on display. Jesus tells us that our redemption is drawing near because the Lord’s love is from everlasting to everlasting. Over all that melancholy of our mortal existence take this word of hope to your heart; “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Live life oriented to God’s redemptive plan.

2. Does the fact that Christmas—the events of our Lord’s birth—occurs in the midst the world’s terrors means that we should tame down the celebratory nature of our Christmas gatherings? Does Advent’s stark assessment of our world call for some austerity, some scaling back on Christmas?

Consider Advent’s message this way; in the soft glow of your Christmas tree's lights; when you see the twinkling of your neighbor's yard decorations or see the shimmering of a child's eyes as she opens a gift; when you enjoy the delicious food and good drinks of someone's Christmas party; keep in mind that this is not a distraction from the brutality of real life. All this holiday ambiance is not a chance just to forget the world's troubles for a little while.

Instead see in those pockets of light and joy a reflection of the only bright hope this troubled world has. Remind yourself that though the darkness still swirls all around but precisely because that is so, and not despite it, we must recall that a light shines in the darkness—a light no darkness, no apocalypse, no warfare, no falling of meteors, and no holocaust can prevent from shining. Let your Christmas lights shine this season never forgetting Whose light it finally is and why this raw world so badly needs to see it.

3. Today, at the beginning of Advent, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. In the rich meaning of this supper is the anticipation of the Messianic Banquet. There is a supper to come, a future supper which will also be the final supper which never ends. The Messianic Banquet will celebrate one glorious truth: the destruction of all that opposes God’s kingdom and violates his rule and disputes his sovereignty. Christians are convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s agent in restoring a creation warped, a creation disfigured, a creation significantly disabled and frequently grotesque; a creation rendered all this through the multi-tentacled grip of evil. At the same time, as our Jewish friends remind us, when Messiah appears he has to bring the Messianic Age with him. Without the arrival of the Messianic Age it’s absurd to speak of the arrival of the Messiah. In the Messianic Age swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks; war will no longer preoccupy us even as poverty, disease and exploitation no longer afflict us.

Have swords been beaten into ploughshares? Not only does war (terrorism is war by another name) rage throughout the world; at this moment there are approximately fifty civil wars raging throughout the world: fellow-citizens are slaying each other. Have poverty, disease and injustice ceased to afflict us?

Let’s be sure to admit this much: those who dispute the sovereignty of Jesus Christ have a case. Nevertheless Christians may and must say this much: in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead the risen Messiah has brought the Kingdom with him and superimposed his Kingdom on a fallen creation. To be sure, his Kingdom is not yet fully manifest (if it were it wouldn’t be disputable); but it arrived as the risen one himself triumphed over every principality and power, over every human sin and cosmic evil which are bent on denying their defeat and molesting whom they can with their last gasp. In his resurrection from the dead our Lord has guaranteed the healing of the creation’s gaping wounds.

Thinking pictorially as they were trained to do, the earliest Christians depicted this God-ordained event as a feast that never ends. The bedraggled of the world, a bedraggled world itself, will shine forth resplendently as the creation restored redounds to the glory of the God who made it, who sustained it through its afflictions, who wrested it out of the hands of the molester who warped it, and who has freed it for the blessing of his people; which people in turn will praise him everlastingly for it. Then the mood we must bring to this aspect of Holy Communion is the mood of eager anticipation and steadfast confidence.

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’