December 2, 2001
First Sunday of Advent

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The underlined text  will take you to a sermon
on the gospel text.


"When God's Kingdom Comes"
I. Light

Isaiah 2:1-5

We pray it every week and many of us pray about it several times during the week. It is something that is rooted deep within the foundation of the Christian community.

"Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven..."

What would it be like if by some incredible miracle we were to wake up one morning and discover that this prayer had been answered while we were sleeping. A new day dawned and when we opened our eyes and entered the day -- we found ourselves living our prayer. The kingdom of God had come and God's will was being done on earth as it is being done in heaven.

In other words -- What if God was actually reigning on earth?  What would it be like? Try to imagine it.

There would be no misunderstanding and human beings would live in harmony and peace and there would be true understanding among all peoples. There would be no injustice and the world would be right with God. Great joy would doubtless characterize all of living. And perhaps the greatest thing of all would be the realization of the promise of Revelation 21:3, "...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..."

What a world it would be and how we long for such a world. This is the world we pray for week by week.

***

On this very first Sunday in Advent we turn our hearts to the coming of Christ. Advent is a time of preparation. We sing about that preparation in the words of, "Joy to the World, "...let every heart prepare him room..."  When we make room in our hearts for Christ, we accomplish one of the central purposes of the Church - the Body of Christ - namely,  to be a sign of the kingdom of God for the world around us. The church is an outpost of God's peaceful kingdom in a hostile world. When we live up to and live out the qualities that are present in God's kingdom, we are a beacon of hope and a lifeline for those who are searching for hope in a broken world.

As we move through the four Sundays of Advent, we will be looking at four marks of the kingdom of God which are found in the lectionary readings from the prophet Isaiah. Eight hundred years before Christ, Isaiah pointed to four key qualities of the kingdom of God. When God's kingdom comes, there will be light, righteous, joy, and the presence of God.

As we gather today, Isaiah takes us to the first quality of God's kingdom. "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!"  When God's kingdom comes, there will be light.

What a powerful concept!

Remember Jesus' words? "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." [John 8:12]

Most of us know what it is like to walk in darkness. Have you ever tried to walk through a dark room - perhaps looking for the wash room in the middle of the night, or feeling your way around a room looking for a light switch? If you are not careful, you stub your toe against a chair or run into a door with your forehead. You mutter something like, "Gee, I have hit my forehead,"  :-) and wish for light to see your way around the room.

The lack of light can be difficult for a number of people who suffer from something called "Seasonal Affective Disorder." (SAD no less!) The condition is sometimes referred to as "Winter Depression."  People who live in northern parts of Alaska are especially vulnerable when there are less than four hours of light at winter solstice. Ned Rozell, a science writer at the University of Alaska writes, "The inevitable tilt of the earth once again plunges Alaska into winter and causes many Alaskans to feel melancholy, as if the sun is a loved one saying goodbye for the winter." One of the most effective treatments for SAD is light therapy.

There is much more to darkness than physical darkness however. There is a spiritual light therapy that brings relief to emotional and spiritual darkness. This is why Isaiah cries out, "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!" 

It is the light of the Lord that overcomes emotional darkness that creates a sense of being lost. The light of the Lord breaks through spiritual darkness and unites us to the heart of God in fresh new ways. This is the gift that can be ours on this first Sunday of Advent - the Light of God.

 

 Light signifies a new beginning. At the very beginning of the biblical story when chaos abounds and a formless void is all that is, "God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light."

Without light, planet earth would soon become a lifeless, frozen rock. And likewise the human heart without the light of God is a spiritually lifeless, cold thing. The gospel of John says that spiritual life is light. "In him (the logos become flesh) was life, and the life was the light of all people."

Ah - but the gift of the light of Christ that has come to us is something that we are bound to share. Advent calls us to a season of giving.  As Christ is the light of our lives, we are called to become bearers of that light for others. Isaiah said to the people of Israel on behalf of God, "I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations..." [42:6]

This gift of light for living is the first gift of Advent that God has given to us. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined." Isaiah said. [9:2] The dawning of this light is beautifully portrayed in those traditions where The Great Vigil of Easter is observed. The people have gathered in darkness representing the cold and lifeless darkness of a world without Christ when a fire is kindled and a candle is lit after prayer. A Deacon leads a procession to the chancel stopping three times to sing or say, "The light of Christ." And the people respond, "Thanks be to God."

The Christian faith and the Christian life is all about the light of Christ that has come to us and given us life and light. What a wonderful thing it is for us at the beginning of this Advent season to reflect on the light that has come to us in our darkness. It is good that when we celebrate the highest moments of the Christian year, light is at the center of our celebration.

In the very beginning there was the creation of light. At the beginning of a new church year --  (The beginning of the church year really is Advent and not Rally Day you know) -- at the beginning of a new church year, we celebrate the fact that light has come to us in the birth of Jesus Christ. As we move through the life of Christ, Easter will tell us that the light which has come to us in Christ can not be overcome. "The light shines in the darkness," the gospel of John says, "...and the darkness did not overcome it." [1:5]

***

As we look to the light of God on this first Sunday of Advent, we are taken to the most profound promise in all of scripture -- a truth so powerful that it provides the foundation of our Christian hope. No other gift and no other promise of Christmas can begin to compare with this promise.

As light was God's very first creative act - so light is at the heart of the divine life. Where God is there is light. Where God is there is light and everlasting life. And where God is there is no darkness, pain, suffering grief or death.

Toward the end of the book of the prophet Isaiah the promise is made, "The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 20  Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended." [60:19-20] Amazingly, though that promise was made almost 800 years before Christ, it persists until the end of the biblical drama where the Seer of Revelation repeats the promise.  When all is said and done, when God says of history, "Cut!" Then shall come to pass the ancient and eternal promise, "And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." [Rev. 22:5]

As you move through these days of preparation, you will also be confronted with all kinds of preparations for the holiday season. It is easy to get distracted from the real light of God to the lights of this world. (You may even be dreading going through all the lights you will need to decorate a tree or a house.)  Yet, you can turn things around this year. There will be lights everywhere you turn. Some of them will undoubtedly be wonderful to see. Yet, when you see the lights let them turn your heart and soul to the light.

"In him was life -- and the life was the light of all persons."

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.


See the complete article at: http://www.gi.alaska.edu/ScienceForum/ASF12/1260.html 


Reflection on the Texts

Isaiah 2:1-5

"Ain't gonna study war no more..."   What a wonderful Christmas gift to the world it would be if everyone finally woke up and said...  "This isn't working -- let's learn from God how to live and then turn all the instruments of destruction and hell into tools of development and healing!"

The vision of this passage is filled with an image of peace that can fill our eyes with tears. How much do we need this vision in the world today?  Ask the children of Belfast or Bosnia or the Sudan.  And when will the children stop suffering?  When we learn to "learn of the Lord" and "walk in the light of the Lord."  Look at the passage in terms of:

1. 2:2  The house (abode) of God will be lifted up

2. 2:3  The word of God will be lifted up

3. 2:4 The peace of God will be lifted up

4. 2:5 The light of God will be lifted up


Matthew 24:36-44

[Notes from Last cycle]

the Matthew passage used at the beginning of Advent is out of context.  The point of the pericope is watchfulness and readiness in light of the coming of the Son of Man.  It can be applied to the season of Advent, but that is tangential to the core of the text.

This is not only true of cycle A, but also of cycle B when the reading for Advent 1 is from Mark 13 and in cycle C  from Luke 21.   The three synoptic teaching passages on eschatology are variously debated as being from a single source such as an "Olivet Discourse" -- or from separate collections of apocalyptic sayings combined with separate sources. The relationship of the synoptic accounts remains a subject of debate.

As with the apocalyptic literature which flourished in the centuries before and after Jesus, the interpretation of these accounts has been fraught with extreme divergence. A key to approaching the texts is Matthew's beginning to toady's lesson:  "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matt. 24:36)  The critical issues for the disciples is watchfulness and faithfulness in light of the coming of the Son of Man -- not cleverness in interpretation of the eschatalogical sayings.

Two quips have informed my own understanding of these passages.  When asked "When do you think Christ will return?" My answer is always, "Not a moment too soon."  Secondly, when asked about my view of the millenium  ( with pre-millennial, post-millennial and a-millennial versions and all their children available) I reply with the old line that I am "pan-millennial" which being translated means, "I believe it will all pan out exactly the way God wants it to!"


Romans 13:11-14

This text has the same eschatalogical implications as does the gospel text -- however, you might use it to address the notion of "darkness" that fills the land in terms of spiritual and moral darkness. Tie in Isaiah 9:2 and its corollary in Matt. 4:16  (The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined.)  An outline for this would be:

1. The Need for Light
Night is far gone..  give up works of darkness.   There is ample material this year for an exploration of the "works of darkness"

2. The Need To Wake Up
Verse 13:11 ... time to wake up because our salvation is nearer now.  One way to treat this would be to look at how the coming of Christmas can serve as a "wake-up" call when we look seriously at what is happening around us.   (Crisis in government -- honesty -- crisis in schools with children killing children -- it really is time to "wake-up!")

3. The Need for a "Put -On"
Discuss what it means to "put on" the Lord Jesus Christ in our time, in our neighborhood, work place, school...   That would make for a great celebration of Advent and Christmas!


 Worship Helps

Call to Worship    (Based on Psalm 122)

Leader:   I was glad when they said to me,
People: "Let us go to the house of the Lord."
Leader:   Here we gather, in this place,
People:  To pray for the peace of your people, O Lord.
Leader:   May the shalom of God fill our hearts and our world,
People: As we journey toward the birth,
             of the One who brings peace!   Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

We begin our Advent journey, O Lord, with the awareness that no gift, at any time, in any place can compare with your gift to us.   O use the gifts we bring to open our hearts more fully to that which is ours in Christ.  Amen.

Benediction

May the peace of God be with you and fill the days of this season as you go from this place. May the light of the Lord shine upon your path and the joy of the Lord be your strength.  Amen.