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First Sunday of Advent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, December 2, 2018

Anticipation with Joy

Text: Zechariah 14:3–9

Today is the beginning of Advent and also the beginning of the seasons of the church. The word “Advent” means coming or arrival. Last week we celebrated “Christ the King Sunday” the last Sunday before the beginning of the new year in the church calendar. I made the point that the kingly reign of Christ is also present in every season of the church and that certainly includes Advent.

The entire focus of this season should be one of joy and anticipation as we prepare to celebrate the fact of the birth of Jesus Christ in his first Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ our King in his second Advent. It’s not just about remembering a 2000-year-old event in history but a joyful celebration of God’s faithfulness.

The fact that Jesus Christ first came as foretold in Scripture gives us the assurance that he will come again just as Scripture promises and Jesus promised his disciples. It is celebrating a truth about the love of God, that all creation will be reconciled to him at the consummation of all things, an event that we should anticipate with longing.

The Scripture readings each week will reflect the emphasis on the Second Advent such as judgment upon sin, the importance of covenant faithfulness and the hope of eternity in the kingdom of God. It will be a focus on the past and the future and how one assures the other. Every week in the Eucharistic liturgy we proclaim the mystery of faith, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Advent invites us into the spiritual journey of joy and hope that this mystery assures us—that Jesus came, he is present in the world today and that he will return in power and glory. This provides us the basis of holy living and an emphasis on building and proclaiming the kingdom of God and the glory of our King. We should always have the sense that we live between the times and we are to live as faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to us as his people. It should also be the motivation to live in the hope of Christ’s return no matter what else is going on in our lives.

Paul wrote in Romans 8:18–21 that even creation itself longs to be restored from its “bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The church joins in the celebration of God returning to us in glory but also must remember that it is to be dedicated to the commission to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.

Our passage from Zechariah 14:3–9 promised Israel the hope of deliverance from the persecution and evil that their enemies had brought upon them as a nation, but chapter 14 begins with the prophecy that Jerusalem and its inhabitants would be overrun by their enemies and they would be devastated. Listen to the terror spoken of in Zechariah 14:1–2,

Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken, and the houses plundered, and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

The book of Zechariah speaks of God’s love for Jerusalem and his people in various stages in their history even though they had repeatedly been unfaithful. This book reveals over and over again God’s desire to bless those who would turn from serving other gods and follow him faithfully as their God but also how God would deal harshly with those who would not.

Finally, in chapter 14 Zechariah seems to have the very end times in view, when Jerusalem will be surrounded and attacked by some type of international force. When the Roman general Titus came against Jerusalem in 70 AD he came with a multinational army and brought terrible destruction on the city and its people. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and yet there was none of the deliverance that Zechariah describes in the following verses, so it is difficult to say that this was fulfilled in the Roman attack upon Jerusalem in 70 AD.

In the midst of the devastation the Lord promised to come to the rescue and do battle for his people. Verse 5 says, “Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.” God’s chosen servants, both human and angelic, will come to Jerusalem to liberate it from its pagan aggressors. This prediction will be fulfilled in the second coming of Christ, when God’s people will finally be granted ultimate victory. This is the same event that the Apostle Paul wrote about in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 that we read this morning, “so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

Zechariah prophecies in 14:4 that the Lord will return to the Mount of Olives and “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives … And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west”. This speaks of the LORD Jesus, as God the Son—materially returning to earth and setting His feet on the Mount of Olives. At that time a great split will cut the Mount of Olives in two, and the persecuted people of Jerusalem will flee through the valley made by the split. “Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him”. Jesus will touch His feet to the Mount of Olives when He returns in glory with all the holy ones, the armies of heaven described in Revelation 19:14.

This was the type of arrival the Jews in Jesus' day hoped for. I guarantee you that when the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem in 70 AD a mistaken assurance from prophecies like this made the Jews completely confident that the Messiah would return from heaven and wipe out the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem. They had forgotten that Zechariah’s prophecy foretold that the Messiah must first be rejected, and the nation brought to repentance as you can read in 11:12–13 and 12:10. By the time of 70 AD the Messiah had been rejected but the nation had not yet been brought to repentance. The event of 70 AD effectively removed Judaism from the land of Israel for a long time. We can understand the cry of their hearts as they long to be restored to their God and all things be made right.

This is the hope and spirit of Advent marked by anticipation, preparation and longing for deliverance from evil and godlessness in our world. This was the cry of the Israelite slaves in Egypt when they sought God’s mercy and relief from their oppression. It’s the cry of those around the world today who experience persecution, tyranny and injustice in a world still under the curse of man’s fall into sin. It is the message and mission of God’s people around the world who should be proclaiming the promises of the God who hears the cries of the oppressed and persecuted and will bring their deliverance in the second coming of Christ. God is very clear that in the meantime, he desires to move with mercy through his people.

It’s this hope that restores the spirit and allows us to keep on even during times where God can seem distant and meaningful prayer seems difficult. This is the purpose of the season of Advent, as it seeks to restore in us the anticipation of what it will be like in the reign of the anointed one, the Messiah who will bring peace, joy, justice and righteousness to the world. Part of the hope of this future event comes from looking into the past and seeing how God has kept his word since the promise made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

As we focus on the history of redemption, we can see the steady fulfillment of all that God spoke through Abraham, Moses and the prophets as it came to completion through the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The Second Advent then becomes a future event that is not merely based on hope but built on the assurance of God’s faithfulness.

In our Gospel passage from Luke 21:25–33 we see another aspect of this future event of the coming of the Son of Man. Let read again Luke 21:25–27,

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the 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 heavens will be shaken. And when they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Along with the expectation of the glory of Christ being revealed comes the anticipation of judgment on sin and calling the world to accountability before a holy and righteous judge. The ones shaking in fear and foreboding see the holy one returning as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, no longer the lamb who submitted to sacrifice but the Lion who will pounce on the ones who rejected him. I love the imagery captured by C.S. Lewis in the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the Lion, Aslan, strikes fear in the enemies of Narnia. When he was not present, they spoke with arrogance and fearlessness but as soon as he shows up in the story they are undone with fear.

The main point is that we must not find ourselves unprepared for such a glorious event. We long for God to restore all things and make all things right but the Scriptures teach us that the “Day of the Lord” will also bring with it God’s judgement even upon those who consider themselves the people of God. Amos 5:18–20,

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

God was addressing those within Israel who were so confident of their standing with God that they believed the “Day of the Lord” would be to their benefit. They had not realized that their flagrant violations of God‘s covenant actually made them enemies of God, the objects of his wrath. Amos is pointing out that it makes no sense to long for the day when God and his people are vindicated from an evil world when you are the contributors of that evil. We are seeing within the church worldwide a separation between those who love God and his word and those claim to but show by their actions that they love the world and its demands even more. It is grievous that more and more we see and hear of those who confess that they are Christians but instead have aligned themselves with the evil practices of a fallen world and called it good and unifying.

Certainly, Advent is a reminder to us that we must not be deceived by the lies of the enemy and we must be careful to follow the commands of our God, but the main theme of Advent is still to be one of anticipation and joy in the hope of the imminent return of King Jesus. There will be plenty of time during our journey through the church year to focus on our sins, It begins in Epiphany when we hear about the coming of the Kingdom and the face the reason that Jesus had to come and deal with our sins. Then we move through the season of Lent where we acknowledge that Jesus came to expose our sins that there might be healing and restoration. This coming full circle from the joyous celebration of Advent through the realization of what our sins cost the Savior prepares us for the somber reality of Good Friday. That realization prepares us to hear the Good News on Resurrection Sunday. We are taking the same journey that the disciples took and asking God through the Holy Spirit to produce in us the same surrender and commitment to Jesus that they manifested.

When Christ returns in glory and power, he is bringing ultimate and final victory to his people, God himself will be with us in his Holy presence. Listen again to the joy and wonder that Zechariah describes in verses 6–9,

On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. 7 And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. 8 On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.9 And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

Isn’t this a wonderful picture? For those of you who are always cold, it will be perfect for you. God’s glory will be the light for the city and as a result of the presence of the Lord a refreshing stream of water will bring healing and refreshment to those who seek refuge in him. In the scriptures water is often a symbol of the blessings of salvation (Isaiah 55:1–5; Ezekiel 47:1–17; John 4:10–14) especially from the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39). Listen to the description of this scene from Revelation 22:1–5,

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

When I read what is in store for those who have given their lives to the glory of God in Christ, I can’t help but have a spirit of anticipation. All this comes to anyone who bows down to Jesus Christ as Lord and King and embraces the sacrifice that he made for them upon the cross. It really is quite amazing to look back through the Old Testament into the New seeing how imperfect and weak the “heroes” of our faith really were. Abraham who was an old man when he first encountered God, Jacob who was a deceiver and a cheat, Joseph an arrogant teenager and braggart, Moses a murderer, Gideon a frightened Baal worshipper, David an adulterer and murderer, Solomon a very serious womanizer, Hezekiah a king who was afraid to fully trust God, and a young Jewish girl from a small insignificant village in the middle of nowhere. None of these characters would qualify as impressive in a world where bigger is better and super stars are the example of greatness. No one would see them as an example of greatness worth following.

I believe that God appears to want to use the small, insignificant and inadequate to accomplish extraordinary things in his kingdom because this is how he receives the greatest glory. There is no room for self-righteousness in God’s plan because none of us is able to accomplish his will on our own.

This Advent season we must focus on the main reason for the season and that is to provide hope. The incarnation of Jesus was to bring hope to those who had none, strength to those who are weak and healing to those who were physically, spiritually and emotionally sick. Both the Season of Advent and the Season of Lent bring us hope. Not just the hope that things will somehow get better or the lessening of pain and suffering but that God’s desire for us is for a new beginning. Jesus came that we might have life full of promise and meaning as we encounter the living God and live into the joy of relationship with him that we were designed for.

We live in a world of the “quick fix”. We want what we want right now. We want pain and suffering to stop and God’s promises to be fully realized now. It has been my experience that those who suffer and yet still hope in God have a deeper experience and understanding of God than those who have had very little trouble. In those times of my life where there didn’t seem to be any relief from the painful circumstances that characterized our lives, it was by continually crying out to God that I found the greatest comfort. I discovered that even though the situations didn’t change, I did. It was because I found that God was what I needed more than a change in my circumstances. I still prayed for relief and for answers to the dilemma’s, but I did so with a stronger faith that what God was doing was ultimately best. Even during those times where there was no evidence of things getting better, I continued to see the possibility of relief and joy because of who God is. Frankly, what I want more than anything else is more and more of God. The Good News is that he wants you and I to have more of him to. That I think is the wonder of Advent.

Let’s pray

©2018 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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