“Finding True and Deep Stability” Advent Message from
Luke 21:25-36 preached on Sunday Dec. 2, 2018
Well, it’s the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas preparations are well underway everywhere.
I don’t know what your picture is of what Christmas should be like.
Many people picture a Christmas that is warm and cozy –
I guess especially with winter weather like ours.
We picture a warm decorated house,
maybe a fire, presents under the Christmas tree,
a well-laid table, and hot drinks – maybe hot apple cider or mulled wine!
We picture the family all together, enjoying peace and togetherness.
This takes a lot of preparation and now is the time we do it.
The church calls us to prepare for Christmas as well during the 4 weeks of Advent,
and it has quite a different kind of preparation in mind. A spiritual preparation.
You can tell by the kind of Scripture readings it sets out for us.
We just heard this in our gospel reading:
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heaven will be shaken. And 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, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
It might seem strange that the church makes this the gospel reading to start Advent.
And it’s not just a quirk of this year -the return of our Lord,
and the disturbing images of that, are one of the main themes of Advent.
Our picture of what Christmas should look like is warm and cozy –
everything that our gospel reading is not.
But we should take the words of our gospel reading seriously.
After all, it was Jesus, whose birth we are going to celebrate, that said them.
How do we hold together the preparation that the church wants us to make in Advent,
with the household preparations that are going on all around us?
Well, we want to be well prepared for Christmas and to have everything ready
to carry out all the traditional things we do each Christmas
because we know from experience that that makes for a happier Christmas.
There are so many changing things in our lives that it is good for us to have some things that stay the same.
Parents of children know that children flourish best in an atmosphere of stability.
They need to be able to count on a large part of their lives to be the same from year to year.
That’s the way children grow best, and that’s the way families are happiest.
There’s a great example of that in the Bible.
It’s the description of the excellent wife in Proverbs, which is a little “old-school”
but it still has something to tell us!
The excellent wife has a steady routine for her work around the house.
She is prepared with clothes for the family, whatever the weather.
There’s an interesting description of what the woman of the house did:
“She puts her hand to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle…
she is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself:
her clothing is fine linen and purple.”
She seems like a really good person but she also seems as if she might be the kind to say, “I don’t like anyone else in my kitchen.”
She’s in charge.
Her family are confident when they go about their business in the world
because they have a secure base in their home.
And all this family stability is a blessing from God.
And perhaps one of the reasons that the disturbing words of Jesus are difficult to accept is that they seem to ask us to have an unsettled, uncertain attitude.
They suggest that we must think that our stability may be upset at any time,
and we know that we count on stability for a good family life.
Let’s look at some other words of Jesus that relate to this.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus tells us to attach ourselves to heavenly treasures and not earthly treasures.
And then he goes on to tell us not to be anxious,
but to trust in God for our food, and clothing.
Well, it would be interesting to imagine a conversation between Jesus and the excellent wife of Proverbs.
When he said, “Consider the lilies of the field; they neither toil nor spin”,
you can imagine her, devout as she is,
thinking to herself, “well, he may be the Messiah, but after all, he is a man”!
But I think Jesus might say to her: “All the things you do to make a stable, secure home are good and they are important. But faith in God gives a stability that will still be there even if that earthly stability is taken away.”
You might remember how he ends the Sermon on the Mount:
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them” – everyone who has their treasure and their trust in heaven – “will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”
Jesus taught that the truest and deepest stability is found in God,
and in faith and trust in God,
and our stable homes and families must be built on that rock.
The rain and floods and winds of the world can take away our preparations,
our stable traditions.
But they cannot take away the kind of faith and trust that Jesus teaches.
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus takes this one step further.
When he talks about signs and distress of nations and the roaring of the sea and waves, if we set aside the poetic language,
he is saying that the tribulations of the world not only can take away our earthly stability, but they will take it away.
In the first place he was talking about his own people of Israel.
Jesus was saying that the things they trusted in would soon be taken away from them.
And that’s what happened.
A few decades later, Israel rose up against Rome,
and the Roman armies came and demolished Jerusalem, and the Temple – the heart of their religion.
And Jesus says that this is an example for us,
and that sooner or later all the earthly stability that we enjoy and that we need,
will be taken away.
But if we build our house on the rock of faith and trust in God,
then that will never be taken from us.
And this Advent message is the church’s preparation for Christmas.
It doesn’t take away from the things we do to prepare for a warm traditional family Christmas, but it teaches us to set them on the rock.
Maybe the Advent message suggests to us that we shouldn’t go overboard on our Christmas spending.
After all, we are going to remember the baby who was born in a feeding trough.
It suggests to us that we should think about sharing with the less fortunate our Christmas bounty.
And it suggests to us that our prayers and our worship are just as important a preparation for Christmas, or maybe even more important,
than the things we do to make our Christmas materially bright and beautiful.
So let’s hope for a holy Advent, as well as a merry Christmas.
They aren’t that easy to hold together.
But if we can grow in our faith and trust in God,
as well as grow together in our families,
then it will surely be worth it.