Sermon delivered on Sunday, November 28, 2010.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Happy new year! Today, of course, is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year in the Christian liturgical calendar. If you are using the daily lectionary in the BCP to read your Bible, remember to switch back to year one today. Since Advent, in part, looks forward to Christ’s birth and Incarnation, it is an appropriate way to begin the Church Year. However, the four Sundays of Advent are not part of the Christmas season itself, but rather a preparation for it. Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” It is a time of preparation and anticipation, both for the birth of Christ at Christmas and for his Second Coming. Today we light the first candle in our Advent wreath, the candle signifying hope, and this morning I want to talk about our Christian hope because in a world like ours it is easy to get distracted and so allow ourselves to be robbed of the hope that is ours in Christ.
At first blush, today’s readings don’t have a lot of hope-filled material in them, especially the Epistle and Gospel lessons. Many years ago when I first started to read the Bible seriously, I remember reading passages like the ones from today’s Epistle and saying to myself, “Boy, Paul sure would be a good time at a party. No reveling, no drunkenness, no good old fashioned debauchery that often accompanies both. What a spoilsport!” Of course, I started to read passages like this in an era that championed sexual liberation and individual “freedom,” but which in fact has resulted in even more oppressive forms of slavery to sin. This, of course, produced a certain mindset in me, a mindset that interpreted passages like this as nothing more than being a set of arbitrary, prohibitive, and oppressive rules. Consequently, it didn’t take me long to develop an inadequate conception of God in which I believed him to be some kind of Resident Police Officer, always looking over my shoulder and waiting for me to do something wrong so that he could quickly punish me for my offenses or even wanting to have fun. I reasoned that if Paul really was the voice of God, then God must be someone who was always haunted by the fear that somewhere someone was having a good time and he was determined to put a stop to all that nonsense. Sadly, I suspect there are still some Christians today who have a similar, if not identical and erroneous, view of God. But to read passages like today’s Epistle and Gospel lessons with that kind of interpretive lens is to miss their point almost completely. Instead we should read passages like these as reminders that we are to live our lives in ways that are consistent with being hope-filled and Kingdom people. To this we shall return shortly.
So what is this hope that is ours as Christians, a hope that would want to make us change the way we live our lives so that others stop and take notice? We get hints of it in both today’s OT lesson and Psalm. It is the hope of New Creation and if we do not understand its glorious promise and the wondrous depths of God’s grace and love behind it, we will likely never be able to live truly hope-filled lives.
The promised New Creation will be ushered in at Christ’s Second Coming. When our Lord comes again in great power and glory, the dimensions of heaven and earth will be fused together into one glorious and new dimension. We will no longer be separated from God’s direct Presence as we are now. Instead, we will get to live directly in God’s great Light. When that happens, our exile from him will be ended permanently. Sin and evil will be abolished forever and so will our alienation and separation from God.
When God ushers in his New Creation with the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus, awful things like mass murder will happen no more. Their darkness will be forever banished and replaced by God’s wondrous and life-giving Light. In practical terms, this means that there will no more death or dying. There will be no more sickness or suffering. There will be no more deformity or decay. We will not have to be worried about being excluded or forgotten or abandoned or accepted for who we are. All of our hurts and sorrows will be healed forever. We won’t have to worry about any of the hundreds of things we worry about now in this life because all of our needs will be provided for by God himself. We will be reunited with our loved ones in Christ whom we have lost for a season and our mortal bodies (and theirs) will be transformed into immortal and resurrected ones. Everyone who is in Christ will be invited to the party and it will last forever. Now that’s my idea of a great party! What about you?
We must be careful about assigning too much detail to what the New Creation looks like because the Bible speaks about it more in general terms than in specifics. But nothing I have described is inconsistent with what Scripture tells us about it. We get glimpses of the New Creation in today’s OT passage when Isaiah speaks of God judging and instructing the nations, transforming them to be the kinds of people God created them to be. As the prophet reminds us, this will inevitably happen when people walk in God’s Light.
If you want to read more about the New Creation—and I hope that my description of it has been at least adequate so that you want to do so—then read the Creation narratives in Genesis 1-2 to remind you of the paradise God originally created for us to live in and how our sin got us kicked out and exiled from his direct Presence. As you do, take note of the fact that even as we hid from God in the Garden, he sought us out because he loves us and created us to have a relationship with him. Then read the wondrous promises of New Creation in Isaiah 55, 60-65, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21-22. Read these passages slowly and deliberately. Allow the breathtaking promises of New Creation to sink in and then dare to dream of the day you will get to live directly in God’s Presence and enjoy his company, love, and life forever. As you do, think about this question. Does the thought of living in God’s direct presence excite or frighten you? How you answer will give you keen insight into the kind of God you worship and whether you are worshiping the God of the Bible or the god of your own making.
And, of course, we have the sure and certain expectation–which the NT always calls hope–of being invited to the New Creation because we have been redeemed from our slavery to sin by the blood of Christ. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we have done (or not done). Christ loves us and bids each one of us to believe in him and act accordingly. That is what it means to have a saving faith and we are now ready to look afresh at today’s Epistle and Gospel lessons.
Read through the lens of our Christian hope, the hope of New Creation, we see Paul reminding us to act like people of real hope. Paul is essentially reminding us to avoid the things that dehumanize us or that entice us to give in to our sinful, selfish nature. In the New Creation, there will be no artificial distinctions that separate us in this life and we will treat each other accordingly. We who anticipate living in the New Creation must do likewise in God’s current creation. That is why, for example, we are to refrain from drunkenness because drunkenness makes us lose our inhibitions and typically exacerbates our less than stellar behavior, behavior that is inconsistent with Kingdom behavior. That is why we are to refrain from quarreling and jealousy because both indicate a selfish and possessive spirit and neither will be allowed in the New Creation. Think of this life, then, as a kind of basic training for the New Creation. Paul is not telling us not to have fun. On the contrary, he is reminding us to live out our faith as redeemed people of Christ and faith always manifests itself in action. That, of course, was Jesus’ point in telling us to be ready for his return because we don’t know when that time will be. If we really do not have faith in Christ or his promise to return to finish his redemptive work, it is unlikely that we will live as if there will be a New Creation. Instead, it will likely be business as usual and we all know what that looks like.
And when Paul reminds us to put on the armor of light and Christ, he is reminding us of the spiritual law that we tend to become like that on which we focus, whether for good or for bad. He is also implicitly reminding us that we have the very Presence of the promised Holy Spirit living in us, working in us and transforming us to be just like Christ. It is by the Spirit’s power that we will be able to overcome our sinful and selfish desires about which Paul talks in today’s passage. That is why we must spend adequate time in our spiritual disciplines so that we can make room for Christ, our hope of glory, to live in us (Colossians 1:27). If we truly believe in the hope of the New Creation, a hope made possible not by our merits but by the blood of Christ shed for you and me, then we will start to see this as a lifestyle we want to live, not a lifestyle we have to live. We will want to live this way because we’ll have hearts overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to God in Christ for giving us a gift we can never earn or deserve.
What about you? Do you want to put on Christ because what he has done for you and the promise of New Creation that awaits you because you are his, or are you still reading passages like this as something you just have to do because, well, Christians are supposed to follow the rules? How you answer will give you great insight into the state of your relationship with the Lord Jesus.
So what is a practical application of this during this season of Advent, a season of anticipation and preparation? This Advent, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on your hope as a Christian. Better yet, do this as a family and/or in your small group and expect Jesus to engage you as you do. Don’t get caught up in the mad rush that secular culture demands we engage in during the weeks before Christmas. Instead, take some time and be purposeful before God. Read the New Creation passages from Isaiah, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Revelation. Read the Creation narratives from Genesis and ask the Lord to give you fresh perspective on each. Don’t try to read all these passages as once. Instead, read them in small chunks that are manageable for you. As a supplement to your Bible reading, pick up a book like Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. This book contains appropriate reflections from some of the greatest Christian saints, past and present, and you will certainly be edified by their insights.
Then take time on a regular basis these next four weeks of Advent to ask the Lord in prayer to help you put on his armor and make you into the kind of person he created you to be. If you have doubts or fears about his love for you, ask him to take those from you and to bless you with his assurance. Be ready to hear that assurance from any number of sources, including trusted Christian friends and family. Among other things, you will likely find that you have a new sense of hope and purpose, not only for the New Creation but for living in God’s current creation, because you will be allowing yourself to let God use you to help him bring about his New Creation by introducing its ways to those who are around you and who might not know the ways of God’s Kingdom, let alone the hope of New Creation. What a great privilege and honor! If you want to find meaning and purpose in this life, you need look no further than living as a Kingdom citizen.
Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation. It is also a time of great hope, the hope of New Creation. As we prepare our hearts and minds to remember the wonder of Christ’s Incarnation at Christmas, we also prepare our hearts and minds for the hope that is ours at his coming again. When he returns, there will be darkness and judgment for those who reject God’s gracious offer of healing and redemption and an end to exile. But for those who put our whole hope and trust in Christ, we can look forward to the New Creation with longing and eagerness. Even as we struggle to live faithfully in God’s good but fallen creation, we remember our hope. We also embrace God’s living Presence in us in the person of his promised Holy Spirit who will help us become the persons God created us to be, to love and enjoy him and each other forever. And when we really understand this, we will discover that we really do have Good News, not only for this season of Advent but also for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.