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1st Sunday of Advent
December 3, 2000
Preaching the text
Even though this is the First Sunday in Advent, the gospel reading chooses a text, which speaks of the end of things. Using typical apocalyptic language, the author of Luke describes signs of the end much the same way that Mark and the book of Revelations use a standard stock of ideas, symbols, language and images.
The overarching theme of Advent is the idea of God coming to us in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Messiah, or more simply put: God coming. From a process perspective, God is continually coming to each of us, every moment, providing the aim for which we may seek to be the best in each moment. Jesus is a metaphor for God continually coming. God's coming involves transformation; in fact, God's continual coming has the effect of transforming the world. This text is positioned immediately before the section of the gospel, which deals with the suffering, and death of Jesus.
Transformation involves the dual aspects of death and life. Without death, there is no new life. Death is required for transformation. This might seem like a banal observation, but the idea of God's transforming power, which brings life out of death, is at the heart of the gospel.
Beyond the typical apocalyptic imagery of the text, the affirmation is made that God's hand is involved in both destruction and construction, in death as well as life. The idea that God's hand is involved in the whole process is the basis of hope.
These words express the simple hope that God will come to us to fulfill God's intentions toward us. This has a future orientation, as does the text from Luke. The point doesn't have to be the delay of God's coming, but that God comes to us from the future, not from the past. We are not standing in the present moment looking back to find God, but we are oriented toward the future, expecting God to come to us in new ways.
Preaching the text
If I were preaching this text, (and I plan to) I would focus on the future as a source of fear; fear of the unknown, fear of catastrophe, fear of bad things coming at us. The future is a source of anxiety for all of us. It is something over which we have little control. The apocalyptic language of the text seems to give expression to this fear. Yet, and here's the point of the sermon, the future also involves the transforming power of God. Even though the worst possible thing happens to us, God is willing and able to transform our death into new life.
When individuals or couples come to me for counseling, I sometimes ask them what is the worst possible outcome for the problem they face. What's the worst thing that could happen? We then discuss that particular scenario and the steps that might lead to it. Often the person or couple realizes that the worst-case scenario is not very likely, and we discuss other scenarios that are more probable. Getting the worst-case scenario on the table is a very important step in facing fear of the future.
A helpful approach to the text might be to focus on the future as a source of fear and how the text gives voice to the "worst possible scenario." There are always signs of the end; in the same way that there are always signs of death. Death is the other side of the coin of life. By naming our fear of the future and particularizing it, we have a better chance of facing it. The sermon might go on to ask the question of how can we view the future in such a way that this could be a source of hope rather than fear. If the future is a construct of our own hands, the invention and fabrication of human effort, then fear will arise from the flimsy nature of human effort. What is more enduring and hopeful that to realize that the power of God is in the future, waiting to transform our experiences of death into new life?
Even if the worst-case scenario comes to realization, God is still there working to transform even the worst possible situation. This is the basis of Christian hope.
Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for more than 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.