Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Great Advent Expectations

Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Advent
Text: Deuteronomy 32:48-52; John 1:1-18

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

After 40 years of eating manna & quail sandwiches, wandering in the wilderness with whiny, grumbling, stiff-necked people, a little tap tap on a rock for some much needed refreshment doesn’t seem that bad.  Hardly seems fair, does it?  Of all the people that should’ve entered the Promised Land, surely Moses would be the first.

And yet the Lord calls Moses up to Mt. Nebo and speaks: “Go up this mountain and die.”  How’s that for a holly jolly Advent reading?  Care for a little more Deuteronomy with your wassail?  Let’s face it, if we had composed this story, we would’ve made Moses the first to enter the Promised Land, Cecil Demille style – hands waving, sandals stomping, robes flowing.  But there’s no Hollywood ending for Moses; he must wait for the fulfillment of the promise on a greater mountain.  That tap on the rock heard around the wilderness was more than poor plumbing technique; Moses failed to trust God’s Word.  And as good as the promises of the Jordan were, the milk would be richer and the honey sweeter when the long expected years spent yearning for the Messiah were over. 

Last week John taught us to repent; today, Moses teaches us to wait.  Bonhoeffer reminds us, “To celebrate Advent means being able to wait…Those unfamiliar with the bitter bliss of waiting, of doing without while maintaining hope, will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 10:542).  Waiting and fulfillment go together.  The farmer who fails to till the ground, plant the seed, and tend the crops will know nothing of the harvest celebration.  The person who fails to court and nurture their relationships will see little or no value in God’s blessed gifts of marriage, family or friendship.  We must wait for the greatest, most profound, most gentle things in life.
Just ask any mother about waiting and fulfillment, of pain and irreplaceable joy that follows.  No wonder birth pangs and pregnant metaphors are Jesus’ favorite for catechizing us about His second coming – for the His people, Advent is a season of expectant joy.

This is why advent is a serious season.  Not stuffy-pants, Bah-Humbug serious.  But a sanctified seriousness that only comes when the weight of God’s glory presses upon us: the Almighty Word of God in human flesh and bone.  Christ’s expectant return on the Last Day.  His body and blood, Water and Word Advent among us.

Sometimes the Word of the Lord comes and we don’t want to say, Thanks be to God.  We don’t particularly like what he has to say: Go up to the mountain and die; repent; wait; be humbled.  Most days we don’t want to wait on the Word of the Lord.  And our prayers start to sound more like demands to a Cosmic Bell-hop than petitions to our Heavenly Father.  Give me patience, Lord and give it to me now.
In our day of instant gratification, waiting seems downright blasphemous: “How dare you make my Christmass unjoyful.  What do you mean it’s not Christmas yet?  I wanna deck the halls like Chevy Chase, eat, drink and be merry.  And who are you to tell me to repent?  What gives you the right to tell me to wait in Advent?
When it comes to waiting, we are our own worst enemies.  Our old sinful flesh makes a 2-year old toy store tantrum look pretty civilized.  And don’t think the world is going to help you celebrate Advent any time soon.  Greed.  Self-satisfaction.  The world has taught the God’s people a great deal about buying presents to impress people we don’t like with money we don’t have – but have the people of God taught the world how to wait by their own confession in word and deed?
Waiting is so premature to everything our old sinful flesh knows and loves so well, you.  Waiting means denying ourselves.  Waiting means to fear love and trust in God above all things.  We do not like to wait because it is yet another sign that we are utterly dependent upon God.  You see it’s tempting to make Advent all about our repenting, our waiting, our preparing.  Advent is less about you and more about Jesus for you.  We like to be satisfied and yet He makes us hunger; we want to be proud and He comes to humble us; we want God’s fulfillment on our terms and yet He says, go up to the mountain and die.  Die in Advent.  Die to sin.
“Only people who carry a certain restlessness about them can wait,” says Bonhoeffer, “and people who look reverently to the One who is great in the world.  Hence only those whose souls give them no peace are able to celebrate Advent, who feel poor and incomplete and who sense something of the greatness of what is coming, before which one can only bow in humble timidity, in anticipation till God inclines toward us – the Holy One of God in the manger” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 10:542).  The Lord Jesus is coming.  Dear Christians one and all rejoice!  And in your rejoicing, pause to ask yourself:

In Advent, what do you wait for?  Do you wait for reconciliation from a bitter family quarrel?  He comes in perfect humility reconciling the world by His blood.  Do you wait for an age-old grudge between friends to end in peace?  He comes holding no grudge against you who Hated him most of all.  Do you wait for test results from an oncologist or a good diagnosis from the doctor?  He comes as your Great Physician of body and soul.  Do you join creation in its groaning and yearning?  Behold, He comes to make all things new.  Do you wait with the heavy burden of your sin?  He drowns your sorrows in the font and clothes you in His wedding garments. 

Rejoice, greatly O, daughter of Zion. Jesus’ Advent is for you.  Behold, your King comes, righteous and having salvation.  Jesus comes into our world robed in the same flesh and bones as us, into your sin, into your death; to fulfill the Word of the Lord that came to Moses – go up to the mountain and die.   He goes there for Moses.  He goes there for you.   Moses waited.  You wait.  But you do not wait alone.  One moment Moses is lying in his grave on Mt. Nebo and the next he is talking with Jesus and Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration.  One moment our Lord tells Moses to wait in hope of the promise, the next He sends His angels to a hillside where lowly shepherds watch their flocks by night. 
Our Lord brings you, just as He did Moses, from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Nebo and from the mount of Transfiguration to the mount of death…but not your death.  Not on that mountain.  No, that is where Jesus goes up to die and where you are given life.  That is where nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross He borne for me, for you. For you – God’s chosen Israel – Jesus repeats and completes the life of Moses.  For you He obeys God’s Word.  For you He is patient and long-suffering.  For you He was born to die.  For you He will come again.
One day we will lie in our graves as Moses did and before you know how long you’ve slumbered, you will awake to the sound of a new and greater Glory to God in the Highest; you will sing in heaven the song you join the saints here on bended knee: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth, Heaven and Earth are full of your glory. 
In the midst of our Advent waiting, Christ comes.  The night is far gone.  The Day is at hand.  Behold I stand at the door.  The Bridegroom calls us, “come to the wedding feast.  Come, eat, drink and be merry.”  Feast on Christ, the Christmass Lamb caught in the thicket of the cross; His flesh is your Promised Land, and His veins are coursing with the milk and honey of blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.  Waiting Over.  Promise Fulfilled. 

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

NB: The theme (waiting and fulfillment) for this midweek sermon came from a Dietrich Bonhoeffer sermon preached in Havana, Cuba on the 4th Sunday in Advent, December 1930.  The two quotations also came from a Bonhoeffer sermon preached on the first Sunday of Advent in Barcelona, Spain in 1928 on Revelation 3:20.

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