“What are you waiting for?” I’m guessing that with the all the recent Black Friday deals, you may have heard this screamed from your TV or radio a time or two. There are great deals waiting for you down at-fill in the blank store. The best buys on flat screen TV’s, appliances, cloths, furniture are happening now. So, what are you waiting for? Get down there and spend your money, even spend some you don’t have! You have a credit card, don’t you? Wouldn’t uncle Bob love another fish tie this year? What about a scented candle for aunt June? Get everyone something, no matter the cost. What are you waiting for? Hurry and get your shopping done! The countdown to Christmas has begun!
Something else has begun, too. Stress. How many of you feel stress this time of the year? I think it is easy to let stress rule the season, with the gift lists, the debt, the running around, the hurried schedules, the shop until you drop mentality that comes from this season of shopping that is pushed by the culture. Buy and spend! Spend and buy!
But there is a different season that seems to get quietly pushed aside by the larger culture, or at least drowned out by the sounds of the shopping season. It is Advent. And you may be here because it is Advent, hoping to escape the crazyness that swirls around outside the doors of the church. Now you are here, ready to hear about Christmas, shutting out all the insanity of the world, and wait for a smiling young Mary, a cooing baby Jesus, inquisitive shepherds, or singing angels. But, I’m sorry and glad to tell you, that’s not what you will find on the first Sunday in Advent. We will not encounter the sweet baby Jesus we thought we were waiting for, but the stern, adult Jesus, picturing the whole universe being shaken and turned upside down.
Advent means “coming” or “arrival” and this morning’s text from Luke reminds us that Advent involves two comings: God coming to earth in the infant Jesus whom we await at Christmas, and Christ returning at a time we do not know. We are Advent people, always living between the times of Christ’s first coming with the retelling of the story over and over with pageants and Christmas eve celebrations and looking toward his second coming. And his second coming is a story we only get minor glimpses of here and there in scripture, with sometimes frightening images, confusing metaphors, and shocking admonitions.
Your first thought when I read the text this morning may have been, “Let’s get on to Christmas already!” But wait! I want you to take the passage in again and hear it differently. Despite some frightening images, the Advent text from Luke offers not fear and damnation, but hope and expectation. God in Christ is coming because God loves us—because God wants to redeem us. In the midst of all of the turmoil, Jesus calls us to “stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.”
Our hope is in Christ, and he calls us to be alert, to wait and be watchful for the signs of his coming. How is it that we wait then? He calls us to active waiting, not to let the issues of the world weigh us down, not with idleness. We are to pay attention and live out a life of discipleship. Jesus wants to finds actively living our lives following him. Once, the reformer Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he heard a rumor that Jesus was returning tomorrow. He said he would plant a tree. Odds are that the rumor would be wrong and his planting a tree would be an investment in the future. But, if the story was true and the Lord returned, Jesus would find Luther taking care of the earth, giving something that gives to others. Luther saw his call to discipleship as something that was done both with an eye towards those around him and an eye toward the Lord.
Discipleship is a full time job, this life of active waiting, and we don’t shut it off when we don’t ‘feel’ like being a disciple. When you walk out of the doors of the church, your discipleship still matters. At home, at the office, in your neighborhood, on the farm, or in the grocery story, you are still a disciple of Christ. Coming to church on Sunday and glorifying God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is only the beginning. An important beginning, yes. But it continues through the week as you read scripture, pray, and give of yourself to everyone you encounter.
But. There is always a ‘but.’ There is a saying out there that I’ve seen on T-shirts and hats. “Look busy, Jesus is coming.” That phrase has some deep truth, but it can also be a trap that piles on a whole heap of shoulds. If our discipleship is weighting us down with the ‘shoulds’ such as, “I should be doing more,” then we have fallen into the same trap that the culture catches us in with the “shoulds” of the season. Christ came to set us free, to offer us his hope, his peace, his joy, and especially his love by being in relationship with him. We respond in thanksgiving to what he has given us. We respond in love to his love, not by guilt, not by “shoulds.”
So, what can Advent living look like? Well, a group of three churches a few years ago asked that same question, and started what they call the “The Advent Conspiracy.” Sounds kinds of shadowy, but conspiracy is a good work when you think about what the consumer culture was doing to their members life’s of discipleship.” I’d invite you to check out their website this week. Their goal is to turn to turn Christmas ‘upside down,’ just like Christ comings have turned and will turn the world upside down. They want the season to be about Jesus. They want the season to be one of celebration and not regret. Not to bad of goal, is it? Their first principle is to worship fully. Jesus deserves to be celebrated, not Santa Claus or the dollar. Come to worship over Advent with your whole heart, mind, and soul focused on Christ. Second, spend less. How many people remember the first gift they opened last Christmas? Now, who remembers the fourth gift they opened? Right. It was probably because it was something you didn’t need or want. Spending less isn’t a call to stop buying presents, it is a call to stop buying presents that will be forgotten, discarded, or just not wanted in the first place. Their third principle: Give more, especially of yourself. The most powerful and memorable gift you can give someone is the gift of yourself. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. Spend time with those you love, don’t spend money on gifts they don’t want. And fourth, love all. It all boils down to love. Love from a savior. Love to a neighbor in need. By spending just a little less on gifts we free up our resources to love as Jesus loves by giving to those who really need help. Friends, just trying to follow these four goals can make our waiting so much more Christ centered.
So, what are you waiting for? That’s the wrong question, isn’t it? Friends, who are you waiting for? We wait for Christ. We wait to meet him at the stable, as we bow to worship him with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, and an uncountable magnitude of angels. That day the world was turned upside down as God came among us, and God’s promises were fulfilled in tiny fingers and toes. But we also wait to meet him, watching as he comes descending on a cloud. That day, too, the world will be turned upside down as God’s promises of redemption will be fulfilled before our eyes. He came because he loves us, and he will come again because he loves us. He is the one and only one our hope rests. He is the one we wait for. In his name, may it be so. Amen.