Today is the first Sunday of Advent. So what is Advent? (The following section on Advent was drawn from Christianity.com with slight modification – https://www.christianity.com/christian-life/christmas/what-is-advent.html)
The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.
But by the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. The “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
Today, the season of Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At the start of advent, the new Christian year begins. On Christmas, with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, we celebrate Christ’s coming, the first coming, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6.
Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.
What is the Advent for us today, now? What is our prayer?
We ask God to give ear to us and to stir up God’s strength and come to save us! We ask God to restore us. Let God’s face shine upon us and that we may be saved.
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
3 Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:1-3)
What are we to return to? How are we to be restored? What is salvation for us? We are currently awaiting vaccines for coronavirus. We are awaiting healing, as individuals and as a nation. We are in need of healing. We need to be saved. Only couple weeks ago we went through a divisive election. We have had prolonged isolation, working from home or having nowhere to report to for work! And in the midst of this transitional and hectic time, we had Thanksgiving. Was it difficult to come up with things to be thankful for this year?
I had this deep profound sense of thanksgiving about having a moment to remember and to be thankful. Given this opportunity to reflect on the past year, although it was a difficult year, I am thankful for God’s grace, which has sustained me and each of us to stay healthy, to show up for each other, and to be of supportive presence to each other. While we are thankful on thanksgiving, and grateful to still be here while some have lost their lives due to the pandemic, I draw our attention to verse 3, 7, and 19 of Psalm 80.
“Restore us, O God; Let your face shine upon us that we may be saved.”
What will God restore us to? Will life be the same as before the pandemic once vaccines become available? Will everything be all right and as they were before? I doubt things will be exactly the same as they had been before pandemic. The pandemic has given us time to slow down, a time of reflection, a time of being grateful for what we have in our lives already, rather than focusing on what we desire that we don’t have in our lives. I hope some of these changes that shaped us in the past few months will remain with us. Our willingness to wear masks for the benefit of others who may be more at risk for catching coronavirus than us. Our willingness to check in on each other more intentionally. Our willingness to stay connected and to remain faithful as a church even during moments when we could not gather at church together as a community in person.
We ask God to restore us, but not to pre-pandemic ways of life. We ask God to restore us, to revive us, to give us life, to save us! We ask God to return us to God. Only by returning to God, soaking up God’s face shining upon us, will we be renewed and revived. If we were meant to be revived through eating, we would be at restaurants this morning, would we not? If we were meant to be revived through exercising, we would be at parks or gyms and working out and moving our bodies? But neither food nor exercise nor anything else we can do can save us and restore our souls, our spirit, and our whole selves. Is all well with in your soul? I always find challenging to sing the hymn, “It is well within my soul.” Is it well? Is it well within your soul?
If the answer is yes, then praise the Lord, Hallelujah! Thanks be to God for grace and mercy abounding more and more in our lives. If, however, all is not well within our souls, we are all the more in need of message of this psalm, our prayer to be restored and to be saved. God, only God can save us. Psalmist speaks of this.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80: 7, 17-19)
Our prayer is this: that through Jesus, one who is at God’s right hand, the one whom God has made strong, we ask for salvation through Jesus. Our prayer is that our faith in God’s unfailing love will be revived in Christ Jesus:
“But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.” (Psalm 80: 17-18)
We ask God to draw us near to God, that we would be in God’s presence and know that God is our Lord and Savior. To know that only through God we will be saved. And even as we pray, we thank God for hearing our prayers, for caring about the longings of our heart, and about our well-being. We seek God, seeking first God and God’s kingdom.
Yet, as we wait, we cannot help but ask God how long will we wait for God to save us?
4 O LORD God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
our enemies laugh among themselves. (Psalm 80: 4-6)
How long will God be angry with God’s people’s prayers? We have been fed with the bread of tears, and given tears to drink in full measure.
As we wait for God to save us, we also pray for coming of the Lord, the Messiah! Today as first Sunday of Advent, we have the Gospel reading of Mark 13, giving us guidance. On days much like our present days of suffering, in those days we will “see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”
24“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mark 13: 24-27)
On days of darkness one where we may not feel much hope, sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. Starts will be falling from heaven. And the powers in the heavens will be shaken. The sun, the moon, the stars, and the powers in the heavens, these are all things we look to anchor our lives, no? The sun gives us light and warmth, the moon reflects the light on us at night, and the stars in their beauty give us direction. But after the time of suffering, when we can no longer count on things that we used as anchors in our lives, we will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds, with great power and glory.” The Son of Man will come sending angels, and gathering his elect from the four winds, and from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven!
Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8 about God’s love:
“38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, or even politicians, nor things present, nor our future, nor any power, nothing stands in the way of us and God’s love. Not the length of isolation and social distancing, not the intensity of the pandemic spreading, not the loneliness of not being with friends and family, not the hopelessness and despair and uncertainty of the future, nothing. Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But friends, we do not know when we will get to “see” the coming of the Messiah. We are urged to “keep awake.”
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:32-37)
Keep awake for the coming of our Lord and Savior calling upon God’s people. Let us remain faithful, asking God to restore us, to shine God’s face upon us, and to save us.
Let us Pray – Creator of the world,
you are the potter, we are the clay,
and you form us in your image.
Shape our spirits by Christ’s transforming power,
that as one people we may live out your compassion and justice,
whole and sound in the realm of your peace. Amen.