The Days are Surely Coming, say the Lord – a Sermon for Advent 1

Luke 21:25-36
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The days are surely coming, says the Lord. 

The first words of the season of Advent begin with Jeremiah, speaking words from the mouth of God to the people of Israel facing destruction by Babylon. An oracle that begins us immediately with the promise of God to a people who feels as though they are surrounded by oppression, suffering and darkness. 

We have flipped the calendar today, and are about to begin a new season of the church year. Advent might be the only time the church is ahead of the rest of the world… and even then, we don’t really do this time of year the way most do. We begin by talking about the end, we begin by pausing and stopping and waiting for what comes next. In Advent, as in the Church, beginnings and endings often go hand-in-hand. 

Advent is a peculiar season. The church decorates with blue or purples, we generally hold off on singing Christmas Carols (although it is sometimes hard to resist), we patiently and almost quietly count down the days until Advent ends on Dec 24th… all while wondering about what all these stories of John the Baptist and a pregnant virgin actually mean for us. 

But on the first Sunday of Advent, we don’t quite get into those stories just yet. We begin instead with the end. On this first Sunday of the church year we begin with visions and promises of the end, the great reconciling of all creation that God promises to God’s people. 

For the people of Jeremiahs’ day, their world was surrounded by war and destruction, the Babylonians were threatening to conquer much of the Middle East. And Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction, the people of Israel awaiting what was to come next for them as warring nations around them sought control of the region. 

And for the people of Thessaloniki, St. Paul writes to them hoping they are well in the midst of trials and tribulations because the Romans around this small fledgling Christian community are blaming them for upsetting the social order. 

Two communities who are wondering what comes next for them, what will happen to them in the midst of tension, chaos and uncertainty in the world.

And then we hear from Jesus as he preaches to his disciples about the end. Visions and signs of the coming Son of Man. Words from Jesus spoken to his disciples in the middle of Jerusalem during a time of great tension and uncertainty – during the days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. 

The tension and the uncertainty sounds oh so familiar to us doesn’t it?

Whether it is this ongoing and lingering pandemic, and it is restrictions and surprises, its struggles and effects of isolating us from each other. Or fears about the economy and inflation, the cost of groceries, gas and rent or housing. 

Whether it is the regular reminders that our society has yet to reconcile with our colonial and racist history, that we still struggle to care for the least among us, the poor, those struggling with addition and homelessness, those living on the margins. 

Whether it is this present reality that church is dealing with decline, with a future that we are not sure of, and now has to figure out where we stand in the midst of and following a global pandemic that sent us all home for longer than we every imagined we wouldn’t be gathering in-person together. 

We know what it means to live under a cloud of uncertainty and to wonder what comes next for us… even if we would rather not think about it. Even as we foolishly and misguidedly try to get back to normal with Black Friday shopping lists, baking and decorating and all the other things that come with the holiday season… here we are as the church, starting a new church year and forcing ourselves to pause and sit with this hard question of what comes next for us. 

And here is the thing about Advent, here is the thing about Jesus and all his talk of signs and visions of the end… there is no answer for what comes for us. That is not the answer we get to today, nor really any day in Advent. 

Instead, Advent arrives with an answer to a different question. And it answers it with the very first words of the season. 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord. 

Advent’s answer for us is not to tell us what comes next, but who. 

Messiah. 

Messiah is coming. 

The righteous branch of Jesse to save all of Judah. 

The one sent by our God and Father, the Lord Jesus

The Son of Man coming in a could. 

The Messiah. 

And no, the promise of the Messiah’s coming did not stop the Babylonians coming to destroy the Jerusalem and exiling its most important citizens. 

And no, the promise of Messiah’s coming did not stop the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. 

And no, the promise of Messiah did not prevent the ugly ending of Holy Week with a public execution on a cross…

But God’s promise of the Messiah was that none of these thing would not be end. Not the end of people of Israel and nor the people of Thessaloniki. 

And the cross… well the cross was no ending at all, but rather the beginning. The beginning of God’s new reality for creation, the beginning of God’s new promise of Resurrection and New Life come to fruition for us all. 

And then after the cross, that Son of Man coming in the clouds also walked out of the tomb. But that story is not for Advent to tell. 

Instead, Advent points us again to the promise of Messiah coming also for us. This Messiah whose coming means that all the things of our world which bring tension and uncertainty, conflict and suffering, sin and death… they will not be the end of us. Rather the Messiah’s coming means that we are not alone, not forgotten, not abandoned to the present nor to the future. Messiah’s promised coming means that our world is already transformed now, because a world with the Messiah on the way is a world designed for salvation, rather than a world destined for destruction. And that changes everything. 

And as the Messiah is coming, the Messiah also walks along side us. No matter the outcomes of all those things that cause us tension and uncertainty, no matter the outcomes of things that feel too big to control and too much to bare. No matter the uncertainty of pandemic and inflation, no matter the struggles of families, neighbours and community… Advent points us to the Messiah who shows us that God’s new world is right around the corner, coming into view, breaking through into our world right before our eyes. 

Breaking through to us in the things that have always been before us, that have always been the signs of God’s love and mercy for us here in this place. 

And so even as the world continues to be a place full of tension and uncertainty, Messiah is coming to us bringing God’s new world. 

Coming to us in word, water, bread and wine. 

Coming to us in the gathering of this community, a sign of the Body of Christ. 

Coming to us with the promises of God, made and fulfilled. 

Messiah is coming and Messiah is here. This is the story of Advent, the story that begins today, even the in the midst of all of uncertainty and endings about what comes next. 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord. 

Ep 201 – We‘re Back! Season 2 Starts Now!

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-iadqi-113f3e4

We’re Back for Season 2!

It’s been a while since you last heard from us! Things have changed a lot since the end of season 1 and ministry has taken new shapes as this pandemic continues to evolve. Join us as we catch up on pandemic ministry in our first episode of Season 2!

Check out The Millennial Pastor blog.

This podcast is sponsored by the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synodof the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

Music by Audionautix.com

Theme Song – “Jesus Loves Me” by Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Alberta and the North (LOMAN)

“See, I am making all things news” – a Sermon for All Saints

John 11:32-44
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

At our house, we are still working on our haul of Halloween Candy. Even as the stores switch from the Halloween decorations and music of October,  to the Christmas displays of November (?). The costumed masses or few, depending on where you live, that roamed the streets last Sunday have been lingering this week. Modern trick or treating has a lot to do with the practice of medieval Christians making pilgrimage for All Saints. Dressing up, lighting candles, journeying on the road was all part of the belief that spirits would often wander the earth until All Saints Day, and the costumes would be to scare away vengeful haunting spirits, and the candles, often lit in each room in a house or door way that would guide good spirits home. 

As the end of the middle ages saw the Reformation, our forebears sought to reshape the feast of All Saints. Rather than praying to the Saints on November 1st and then praying for all souls still in purgatory on All Souls Day November 2nd, Lutherans and other protestants have mashed the two together, recognizing that saints are not special or holy people. But that all those who have died in faith are made Saints by God’s Holiness poured out for us. 

On All Saints Sunday, we gather to pray in thanksgiving for those who have gone before us in faith, and we pray to God that we too may join the saints and heavenly hosts in the always ongoing great high feast. We recognize today, that our worship is not something that we create, but rather something we are invited to join with the heavenly hosts. We are like thirsty pilgrims who approach the always flowing river of heavenly worship and we wade into the water again and again, week after week, briefly pulling back the veil between heaven and earth until one day we too will be swept up into the great worship of all the saints and we too will join the heavenly hosts.

And yet today is not all sweet visions of heavenly worship and dreams of joining those beloved saints who have gone before us. 

Today, we also face the reality death. Like Jesus on the road to Bethany, we are confronted with the real, messy, emotional and overpowering experience of grief. This year, perhaps more than most years, our experience with death and grieving has been more complicated. Perhaps our spirits are disturbed like Jesus’ is. Maybe we are churning and twisting deep in our beings with Mary. Maybe we are like Martha and the crowds, still reconciling and trying to make sense of all that happened over the course of the past year, over the course of the past 20 months. 

As Jesus makes his way to Bethany to mourn the death of his friend Lazarus, we are not meant to see a doctor calling a time of death, nor a pastor leading prayers at a funeral, nor a funeral director guiding a grieving family through grief. Jesus is going to Bethany as a friend, a brother to Lazarus, family to Mary and Martha. 

On this grieving journey to Bethany, Jesus meets a desperate Mary. “Lord, if you have been here my brother would not have died” she pleads. And Jesus is disturbed, Jesus is moved. The greek points to a deep churning passion, even anger within Jesus. He doesn’t just recognize and acknowledge the grief in the Mary like a therapist would. But Jesus feels it too, but Jesus loves Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Even knowing what he is about to do, Jesus feels the depths of grief too. 

The kind of grief that we all know. The kind of grief that always comes with death. And yet even  that difficult yet predictable and known experiment of grief has been altered this year. 

Funerals delayed, grieving done in insolation and from afar. Private gravesides, zoom funerals, or even simply nothing to help us navigate the strangeness of our grief. Like everything else in our world, this Pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we experience the death of loved ones and death within our community.

In the before time, we knew how to attend to those last things. We knew the rituals around death. We knew how to make the phone calls, send the cards, leave the casseroles on doorsteps. We knew to read the obituaries, to show up 45 minutes early to a funeral to make sure we get a seat, how to appropriate greet a grieving friend at a funeral lunch. 

But those rituals have been taken away, but our grief for those who have died has not. 

The grief that Jesus feels today is the same personal, raw, churning grief that we know in our lives. And while grief makes death feels so personal and lonely, death is also transcendent, cosmic, universal. It is found on the road between two friends grieving a dead brother and it also the great darkness hanging over all creation:

See, the house of God is far from mortals

Death hovers over them as their master;

they will all suffer the same fate

and death will spare not one;

Life will be no more;

there is nothing but mourning and crying and pain,

for the first things reign over all. 

This is the old heaven and the old earth, this is what All Saints pilgrims carried with them on their journey, this is the personal grief that we bring today for loved ones. 

This is death. 

This is death, and Jesus stands in front of the tomb, tears running down his face and defiantly says, “Take away the stone.”

And grief, personal and cosmic says, “But Lord there will be a stench” because death is too strong, too powerful, too overwhelming. 

Except for God. 

Except for the God who created something from nothing. 

Except for the God who is creating a new heaven and a new earth. 

And out walks a dead man, out walks Lazarus alive again.

The very last thing that Mary or Martha expects is to see their brother alive. Grief cannot imagine that there is an answer to death. That is why Jesus meets Mary and Martha in their grief. That is why God’s spirit churns with anger, that is why God grieves with us on the road to the tomb, that is why God, even knowing that the stone is about to be rolled away, weeps along with us. 

And there walking out of the tomb, the personal and cosmic realities of death collide into the personal and cosmic promises of God. The reality of stinking rotting dead flesh that we know too well suddenly smashes into the loving, heart-pounding, passionate love of God for all creation. 

As Jesus stands at the tomb, calling for the stone to be rolled away, beckoning forth a beloved brother and friend, Mary and Martha finally see the the reality of Jesus’ promise, of dreams and visions of Revelation made tangible:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Our All Saints pilgrimage this morning is the same mixture of personal and transcendent grief. We acknowledge that death comes for our loved ones and us, death comes for all.

But with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, we discover that in our grief, God in Christ meets us on the road. God in Christ churns with anger and grief, with sorrow and sadness weeping with us just as if death had the last word. 

Yet, Jesus has also come to meet us with that great Revelation promise, 

“See, I am making all things new.”

As Jesus stands there, tears running down his face, disturbed in spirit… He commands the stones be rolled away from all of our tombs. Jesus enacts the cosmic and transcendent promise of resurrection, Jesus declares that God has come to live with mortals. Jesus declares that death is not the end for those whose names we will read today, not the end for those whom light candles for… Jesus declares that death is not the end because,

“See, I am making all things new.”

As we gather on All Saints, with hearts full of both grief and thanks, of joy and sorrow, we discover a God who is deeply and powerfully and intimately involved in the affairs of mortals, who sheds real tears for Mary, Martha and Lazarus out of love.

We discover a God who cannot help but love us. A God who cannot help but love us in our grief and a God who cannot  help but make all things new in our world.

Today on All Saints we confront grief and death, we confront the personal and cosmic and we make pilgrimage to tombs and grace, sealed shut forever.  But then we see a passionate and loving God, weeping with us AND calling us out of our graves into new life.  And all of a sudden, those great promises of resurrection, those promises of a new heaven and a new earth collide with us. 

They collide with us when the creator of all things stands before us and our stones of grief and says to us, 

“See, I am making all things new – including you”

  • Header Image – Public Domain