Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The church year starts on Advent Sunday which is always on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. What is Advent? It means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. It is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppression and brought deliverance. It is that hope, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over his people and his creation. It is that hope that anticipates anew the reign of Jesus who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.
Earlier this week, my daughter asked me when I will take out the advent calendar and start the count down for Christmas. A few years ago, the kids have been given this Advent calendar with scrolls from their American grandparents. Each day they would take turn unrolling the scroll on the calendar. Inside the scroll was a Bible verse, part of the Christmas story, and a little gift they can have. One year there were snacks and not the usual chocolates. Each scroll and snack opened were a sign Christmas was getting closer. They were counting down the days. That’s what Advent was about. The way the houses looked around the neighborhood, the happy cheerful Christmas songs we hear here and there, the guests we will have over, the presents, Santa Claus, … Advent: a time of expectation, excitement, anticipation. Jesus is coming!
But then as you grow up, your understanding of Advent expands. It no longer is just a count down before Christmas. Advent became a season of change, looking to the future that is not yet known or clear, but all the signs were there.
It might have been that night when I was fed up with asking God forgiveness over the same thing repeatedly. Doing the things I hate and not doing the good I should be doing.
It might have been the pain and brokenness in friendship, the guilt and regrets of could have, would have, should have.
It might have been the day when grandpa then grandma then my aunt and uncle passed away.
It might have been reading the headlines and seeing the news and feeling like my prayers are not able to keep up with all the vices in this world.
It might have been the shooting here and there and knowing there will be a vigil and moment of silence brought about by violence.
It might be waking up each morning wondering what’s next? Where will it happen? When will it take place?
Those are just a few of my Advent stories. Stories about how my life has been changed and the world as I had known it ended. What are your Advent stories? I’ll bet you have them. I’ll bet you could tell stories about the day your life was changed and your world ended. I’ll bet you have lived through seasons of change, letting go, and stepping into an uncertain future, maybe even a future you did not want.
Wouldn’t it be easier if Advent was as simple as unrolling a scroll on a calendar, eating a snack, and knowing that Christmas is one day closer? But it’s not. You and I both know the world is not that simple and life is not that easy. Maybe that’s why every year on this day, on the first Sunday of advent, we always hear a gospel text (Luke 21:25-36) that seems to describe the end of the world and the signs that will accompany that ending. This is not just a story about Jesus and his disciples. This is your story and my story. We experience it in our lives. We see it in our world.
“There will be signs,” Jesus said. More than ever our world needs to see the signs. Every Advent story is accompanied by signs. Jesus says if we look, we’ll see the signs everywhere; in the sun, the moon, the stars; in the distress among earth’s nations; and in the roaring of the sea and its waves. I see the signs in this world’s violence, in this pandemic. I’ve no doubt you’ve seen the signs too, in your life and in the world. They’re everywhere and they are not hard to spot. They are, however, too easily and quickly misunderstood and misused to scare and to stir fear.
“There will be signs” are words of hope and reassurance, not words of warning and threat. It’s not “hey, you better shape up or God is going to get you.” If that’s our understanding of the signs, then you’re only pushing yourself further into the darkness and deeper into your fear. Our misuse and misunderstanding of the signs blind us to the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory.
“There will be signs” are not Jesus’ words of warning and threats. He never says these are the signs that the end of the world has come. Instead, he says that when we see the signs we are to stand up, raise our heads, and know that help is on the way; our redemption, our healing, our Savior have drawn near.
The signs are not a reason to hang our head in despair or shrink from life. That we can see the signs in our lives and world means that the circumstances we face and the events that happen contain and reveal the promise of Christ’s coming. The signs are our hope and reassurance that God has not abandoned us, that God notices us, that God cares, comes to, and participates in our life’s circumstances.
Jesus’ parable of the fig tree teaches us how to read the signs. The Advent signs are as ordinary and common as a fig tree sprouting leaves. We see the leaves and we know something is happening. Summer is already near. It’s a new season, with new life, new growth, new fruit. That is the promise and good news of the Advent signs. And yet that promise, that good news, is fulfilled not apart from but in and through the reality of our life’s circumstances and our world’s events, no matter how difficult or tragic they may be.
So, what if we looked on our lives and our world and we began to read and understand the signs in our Advent stories as sprouting leaves? What would we see? What would it mean?
It would mean that the kingdom of God is near. It would mean we are entering a new season. We would see new life and new growth. We would produce new fruit. We could open the doors of our life with new courage and confidence. We could look on the world with a new sense of compassion and hope. We would be strengthened to do the work God has given us to do. Yes, the Advent seasons of our lives can be long, difficult, and painful. But we never face those seasons without the signs of hope and reassurance, signs that point to the one who is coming.
The Sentinel & Rural News covers the news and events of Clark County and southern Taylor County, as well as regional news that affects those areas.