Advent - The Coming Near of God
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight – Our strength and our redeemer – Amen
Brothers and Sisters in Christ – Happy New Year!
This is the first Sunday in Advent – as our wreath lighting symbolizes
Advent is the beginning of the year
Advent – the beginning of the preparations for the coming of Christ can often be lost in the commercial preparations for Christmas
Our opening “Call to Worship” was taken directly from Psalm 80 and it sets the stage
The season of advent welcomes the faithful, even beckons the faithful to such a task:
To cast a new… to cast again… a theological vision amidst a world swallowed up in the sounds and images of completing claims.
The images in Psalm 80 fall out into one of three categories: images of God - images of the people of God - and images of the world.
The images associated with the world around the psalmist suggest that the world is a hostile place, a place that could surely undo the people of God.
And yet in advent, we confess that it is the world that remains undone; it is the world that remains a place that is in need of the Advent of God.
We, Christians, declare that there is no identity for the people of God apart from an identity rooted in relationship to God.
It is this identity in God that we celebrate at the beginning of the new year
It is this identity that we celebrate at the beginning of the ‘New Life of Grace’ for Callum, Chloe & Emma
And so on the first Sunday of Advent, we pray as our Psalm this morning claims, as we implore God to Restore us, to Come again so that we might be Saved.
Into our cultural setting, we are met with the single most dramatic news the world has ever heard
It is the message that God came in the midst of us
And today we begin anew the preparations for that
The gospel reading from Mark for the 1st Sunday in Advent highlights this with a shocking message – with an apocalyptic message… that is at the same time, comforting, confusing and challenging
It is not a gentle message of a babe in the manger, peaceful and tranquil, but in fact a shocking message of a shocking occurrence
God coming in the midst of us
For us, 2000 years later, with all the trappings of the world around us, we need 4 weeks of Advent to properly understand just how dramatic the news is that God came to us.
Jesus warns us about the danger of rolling over in the bed of our spiritual lives and falling asleep.
We sometimes would rather pull the covers over our heads, but Jesus tells us to wake up and be ready, because He is coming and we want to be awake for that!
It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God.
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God's coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God's coming should arouse in us.
We can be indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect,
That the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.
The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.
Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness.
God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us, and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.
God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be
In our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us.
One day, at the last judgment, he will separate the sheep and the goats and will say to those on his right:
"Come, you blessed? I was hungry and you fed me?" (Matt. 25:34).
To the astonished question of when and where, he answered:
"What you did to the least of these, you have done to me?" (Matt. 25:40).
With that we are faced with the shocking reality: Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality.
He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing.
He confronts you in every person that you meet. Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people.
He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you and makes his demands
That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message.
Christ stands at the door.
He lives in the form of the person in our midst.
Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?
Christ is still knocking. It is not yet Christmas.
But it is also not the great final Advent, the final coming of Christ.
Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate, goes the longing for the final Advent, where our Lord says: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).
Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent
That is, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where all people are brothers and sisters.
As we continue to consider Christmas as an apocalypse – as the great introduction of the incarnate God
You might be interested to know that Biblical scholars have titled this section of Mark as the ‘little apocalypse’
This little apocalypse presents a rich theological irony.
At the heart of apocalyptic literature is encouragement and hope.
To some extent, this is Jesus at his pastoral best.
That which looks like devastation and defeat will be God's victory.
Out of the suffering and death of their Messiah will be new life.
God's new way of being in the world will turn a cross into resurrection and a baby in a manger into salvation for the world.
This type of end of world – apocalyptic thought is not far from us in today’s culture
Witness the tremendous attention and preparation given after Harold Camping predicted -- and heavily promoted! -- that Jesus would return on May 21st, and then when that failed, on Oct. 21st of this past year.
And next year we'll worry about Dec. 21, 2012, the predicted end of the world according to the ancient Mayan calendar.
Speculation about the end of the world still seems rampant.
To all of it we are to be ever mindful of what Jesus instructs us –
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32)
And yet in a way they're right.
No, not right about the timing, or even the effort to make predictions
But they are right that one of the promises of Scripture is that Christ will return,
That God will bring the creation God fashioned to a good end.
Thoughts of end of the world, naturally draws us to the question
So what would you do if the world were going to end tomorrow?
Would you reconcile with a long lost friend or family member?
Would you finish a project you started years ago?
Would you tell your children, or maybe your parents, that you love them one last time?
Would you wrap your beloved in one long, tender embrace?
What would you do?
Further to that consider that the end will come with the power, majesty and judgment of the Lord
What then would you do?
There is a certain realness in this Gospel text to begin the Advent season.
It cuts through any sentimentality and romanticism about Christmas and reminds us that incarnation is risky business.
The darkening of the sun, the dimming of the moon's light, and the stars falling from heaven means the end of the world as we have known it.
That death will be no more because God will die is something to anticipate during Advent
It's to speak the truth, about ourselves and our unrealistic expectations;
About God and how God exceeds them.
The incredible event, for which we wait, of course, is our God who has chosen to enter into all that decays, into all that will die, and to know it with us.
We find God in everything it means to be human, even in death.
No longer will God remain in the heavens or behind a curtain high up on a hill.
God comes us to bring life to that which would surely die, and to bring a new heaven and a new earth to the moments when the sufferings and despair of our earthly life is more than we can bear.
Advent gives us the time and space once again to believe in and live out this reality. 
And here's where Mark's otherwise confusing and alarming passage has something even more to say.
Because after all the predictions about the end, Jesus says that no one will know the day or the hour and so we have to keep close watch.
He goes a little further, actually, and compares our situation to that of servants who do not know when their master will return and yet are expected to be prepared for it.
One way to read this mini-parable is as a call to constant vigilance.
And I think there's a lot to that. We are indeed called always be on the look out for our Lord -- whether at the end of time or, as we noticed last week, in the face of our neighbors' need.
But I think there's something else going on here as well.
In fact, the details of Jesus' warning are very interesting.
We do not know, he says, whether the master will come in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.
Notice where these thoughts ‘on the end’ come -- just prior to the story of his passion.
And now note the way in which Mark divides the scenes of the Passion
1) There is the Last Supper, the evening
2) Jesus' prayer and betrayal: in the garden where all fell asleep because it was the middle of the night
3) Thirdly, Jesus' trial and Peter's denial: “At that moment the cock crowed for the second time" (Mark 14:72a).
4) Finally the Trial before Pilate: at dawn
Do you see what Mark has illustrated paralleled in both Jesus’ apocalyptic parable and the Passion narrative
Beyond reading this injunction to watchfulness and prepared is to hear Jesus declaring the very way of His return
When the heavens shake and the sun is darkened
It is precisely the moment when He is nailed to the cross … and in that moment we see God's love poured out for us and all the world.
Whatever, whenever, and however the end of the world may come, it is both prefigured and realized right here, in the form of a man who goes to the cross out of love for us and all the world.
For this reason theologians across the ages declared Jesus' cross as the pivot point of history, for at that moment one age ended and another begun.
We would do well to ask what difference this makes and to ask where do we find God?
The answer, of course, is not in the glorious temple but on the cross.
Not in the city proper but outside the city walls.
Not in the center of power and authority but in the wilderness.
A good Advent question for each of us is: Where will we look for God this Advent season?
We, Christians are people of the promise realized but we are also people of the promise to come
We live in the now and the not yet
When we Christians proclaim the gospel, the good news of God – the good news of Jesus Christ
We can take great comfort in the fact that Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light
That Jesus has achieved for us what we could not do on our own
BUT we also live in the hope of the promise to come
A Christian, properly understood – is perpetually an Advent person
Until our Lord comes again for the final Advent
If we are to have integrity as followers of Christ as Lord – we have a job to do
We have a role to play
It is not ours alone – but prayerfully walking with God
As we stated and restated in our Baptism service today
“I will… with God help”
As advent people – pregnant with expectation – and partner with God
Consider how you can respond – now – today
To be God’s visible presence in this age
To show the world, Your neighborhood, Your workplace,
To your family and friends To be witnesses of God’s forgiveness,
To be a witness of the promises
To be a witness of drama that is God in the midst of us
To be a witness of the truth of Christian Hope
To be a witness of what it means to be an Advent People
O God, whose coming is certain and whose day draws near, thank you for preparing us through our spiritual gifts for your coming. Thank you for strengthening us so that we may be blameless on your day. Thank you for being the faithful one. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.
 The Coming of Jesus into Our Midst, Dietrich Bonhoeffer