In an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip – there’s a conversation taking place between Calvin, a curious young boy and his long suffering stuffed tiger, Hobbes. In the first frame Calvin speaks to Hobbes, saying: "Live for the moment is my motto. You never know how long you got". In the second frame he explains "You could step into the road tomorrow and WHAM, you get hit by a cement truck! Then you’d be sorry you put off your pleasures. That’s what I say - live for the moment." And then he turns to his friend and asks: "What’s your motto?" Hobbes replies: "My motto is - look what’s coming down the road."
You never know what’s coming: We never know what’s on the way and what might happen.
So my talk today is based on one word, "come."
One instance of the word "come," can be translated as "advent." Advent also means a coming into place or an arrival. For us in the Church, it has also come to mean the coming birth of Jesus, and, in the words of Jeremiah from today’s reading, “the Righteous Branch that will spring up”.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church calendar. And an advent always has a sense of adventure to it. Life itself is full of comings and full of adventures. Life itself is an adventure. It is in this spirit that we approach the word, "advent." Advent is the Latin equivalent for the English word, "come." In fact, the word, “adventure” is just an extension of the word, “advent”.
The word has a fundamental place in the season; remember the opening hymn of the worship today, "O come, o come, Immanuel." We sing about Emmanuel at Christmas because we remember that we have a God who cared enough to come to us through his Son.
So, just for a minute, come with me to Valleyfield during the summer Regattas: It’s now time for the professional class races, and we are standing in the grandstands, surrounded by thousands of other folks, and you and I and all of us are waiting with bated breath. We can hear a distant thunder, a distant roar, and our senses begin to tell us that those are the sounds of the powerful racing boats: And the sound gets louder and louder and soon in the horizon, you can see black specks moving towards you faster and faster. And the specks gets larger and larger as they come closer and closer and and before you know it, these little specks have become sleek flashes of speed thundering across the water: There is an anticipation, an excitement as they come fully into view. There is a sense of great adventure to it all.
The word “advent” means coming; something off in the distance coming closer and closer and clearer and clearer as it approaches. There is an excitement, a sense of adventure, as you wait as it approaches. We have no control over what is coming at us: That is part of the excitement. That is part of the adventure.
Or, perhaps as a historical example you could come with me back in time three thousand years, to the land of Egypt, where you and I are common peasants. In the distance, the entourage of the Egyptian Pharaoh, is coming. You and I are waiting with anticipation. We have never seen anything like this in our whole lives. We are waiting for this grand parade, the greatest parade our little eyes have ever seen. And soon, in the distance, there is a speck and then a cloud of dust and soon come into view the camels, the chariots, the horses, the gigantic elephants with royal figures riding them, and finally.....finally.....the Pharaoh himself in all his splendor.
Advent means coming...something off in the distance coming into view, coming into clarity, coming closer and closer, so you finally can see it. And there is an excitement, a sense of adventure to it all.
Advent and adventure are closely tied together. That is why they are part of the same word.
You see, the word advent isn’t primarily or essentially a ‘churchy word referring to the four Sundays of Advent or the four Advent Candles or the Christmas season. These are all true, but just a little short in scope.
The word “coming” in the Bible means, among other things, coming into focus....coming into sight.... Like the boats or the entourage of an ancient king, off in the horizon, coming closer into view.
Here at Rockburn, the autumn has been spent discussing the Old Testament. Our Old Testament reading today comes from the prophet, Jeremiah.
Jeremiah grew up during the reign of King Josiah when Judah was at peace and when king, priests and people were engaged in a revitalization of Moses’ faith and worship.
Jeremiah was uniquely situated to speak bold words of hope because of both his proximity to the events in Jerusalem and his status as something of an outsider. He lived two miles from Jerusalem in Anathoth and was, therefore, not a power structure "insider." Yet, standing apart, he did not lack awareness of the nation's situation. As the son of a priest, his lifelong apprenticeship meant he had knowledge of both politics and faith.
The prophet made enemies among his own people during his long career. His prophecies were laden with doom filled images and visions of suffering and strife for his people. Today's passage is from one of the points where he's imprisoned in Jerusalem, which itself is under siege. Yet, in these passages, Jeremiah has a hopeful message.
As Advent begins this year, we immediately hear God's assertion: "I will fulfill the promise I made... I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up... Jerusalem will live in safety."
Jeremiah speaks about assurance. He gives us a message that we need in order to absorb what will follow throughout Advent. Don’t forget, many of the images and stories during the season are filled with forboding: Luke’s Gospel warns us of “signs in the sun, moon and stars. On earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” He tells of people “fainting in terror” at things that are coming. Jeremiah himself speaks of famine, death and terror that would be visited upon the world.
Indeed, this promise of a “Righteous Branch” was spoken to address a very dire situation. The armies of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, were advancing on Jerusalem. The streets of Jerusalem would soon be filled with the corpses of her people (33:4-5), and Jeremiah himself was imprisoned by King Zedekiah.
The worst had not yet happened, but it was inevitable. Any reasonable person could see that the city was doomed. Jeremiah's many prophecies of judgment – the same prophecies that had landed him in prison- were coming true. Yet now, in the midst of catastrophe, the prophet finally spoke words of promise!
What vision does the reading give us today? On the one hand, it says that God's word is about something very serious. On the other hand, we are to hear this seriousness from the position of ultimate security. We begin the new church year with the extremes of fear and stability set before us.
Jeremiah lived during a time of great insecurity for the Hebrew people: The powerful Assyrian nation threatened to overrun them. Look at a map of the region in that period and you will see little Judah squeezed between the huge nation of the Assyrians to the north and the Egyptians to the west and south. During Jeremiah's life, the rulers of Judah had to deal with whether to make alliance with Egypt to avoid destruction from the north.
What does a prophet do when threats arise? In the answer to that question lies the power of this reading. A prophet does not turn to the easy answer. Jeremiah's prophetic voice bypassed most conventional answers to the threat against his people and pointed to a future solution in which the Lord's own righteousness would reside with the people: "I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David.... to execute justice... in the land."
"The days are surely coming..." he said.
We might hear in Jeremiah's speech the cadences of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who thundered to the nation marching in 1963 for civil rights: "I may not get there with you... but I have seen the Promised Land..." The days are surely coming.
Jeremiah is one of the great prophets of the Old Testament: And a prophet is someone who holds out a vision for us to cling to even, and especially, when we cannot grasp it’s meaning: Often, when we are in the midst of a situation, we have difficulty looking beyond it. The way to the future can dissolve into panic over the present. The horizon shrinks to concern for our sheer survival. This is sometimes when ends and means get confused.
What does a nation do when threatened? Remember what the United States did after that horrible September, 2001. Remember the fear of that time. Some people have argued that the U.S. embraced the restrictions of liberty in the name of immediate security and freedom. True or not, it’s easy to see how quickly one can lose sight of the big picture and longer goals in the midst of tragedy, chaos and despair.
In Jeremiah's time the forces arrayed against stability and security were also formidable: the Assyrian power was at its height, a great threat to the people of Israel. Jeremiah spoke the word of the Lord under three different rulers of Judah, warning against listening to the wrong voices. And, in the end, his warnings went unheeded. When he was about 35 years old and seasoned as a prophet, Assyria was finally defeated by a coalition of peoples including the Babylonians. But this did not usher in a peaceful time for Judah; everyone, including Jeremiah himself, was exiled to Egypt.
In our reading, Jeremiah’s words, “join together the resolve of heaven and the future of the earth."
The strength of his proclamation regarding the coming of the “righteous Branch” lies in the fact that these words speak from the perspective of ultimate power about a savior, come to earth in flesh.
And his statement is the heart of what stands against all the destruction and failure: God's promise to bring rescue and safety.
It is the promise that holds us, because it is the only antidote to the very easy and very dangerous possibility of slipping into blame and violence when we, as ourselves or as a nation, are in trouble. It is exactly when our problems are most murky and complex, when the future seems most bleak, that we should turn to the word of the Lord for vision.
The old hymn “Oh Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee”, says:
He comes to judge the nations,
A terror to His foes,
A Light of consolations
And blessed Hope to those
Who love the Lord's appearing.
O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth Thy beams so cheering,
And guide us safely home.
Here is the image of that righteous Branch, coming this season: Coming this Advent.
And the word “coming”, in the Bible, primarily refers, to the coming of God into our lives.
That God is forever coming down into our little worlds in which we live.
That God is forever coming to save us and help us.
And we’re all familiar with the greatest story ever told: God’s coming to earth as a baby... the coming of God from the far distances of heaven.....God, far, far out into the horizons of time and history.... God coming closer and closer to the Earth and then becoming clearer and clearer: Finally arriving in flesh as the Christ child.
We celebrate the testaments telling us that God did not remain in the infinite distance of heaven but came down here to earth, near to your life and mine. Through the stories and the histories, we can clearly see the Presence of God in the face of Jesus: The “righteous Branch”, with rescue, safety, and shelter for all.
There is an excitement, anticipation, and an adventure to it all.
But in between the coming of God as the baby Jesus and the coming of God in all his glory at the end of history, God also comes to us daily. That God of today, of here and now, is so very important in every single thing: Every grand act and piece of minutae in our lives.
The Grace we offer at mealtime: How many of you say this prayer, or one like it? “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.” We join hands with our loved ones around the table and we ask God to come and be our guest with us at our meal. And God does come, to be our guest, with every kind word and bit of love around the table.
There’s an old song and prayer: “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart Lord Jesus.”
Have you ever sung or prayed that song? Asking God, the Lord Jesus, to come into your heart today and stay there. We need His Spirit to come upon us and remain on us....not just for a few minutes or a few days, not just for the bad times, not just for the tough times, not just for today, but for always. Come in today. Come in to stay.
When our mother, father or a loved one dies, we ask God’s chariot to come and take them home to heaven. When we get ready to die, if we are able, we ask for God’s chariot to come and take us home to be with Him. The old song says “…the chariot’s a coming and I don’t want to be left behind.”
I love the quotation from Peter Pan: "Death is going to be an awfully big adventure." If you think that this life is and has been an adventure, just wait for all the wonders, all the advents yet to come.
God coming to us..... Coming at his birth, coming at the end of history and coming into our daily lives, is very important:
Do you what the last prayer in the Bible is? It is the second to the last line of the book of Revelation. Revelation, chapter 22: verse 20. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Amen. So be it. Let it happen. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”
This is our insistent, our persistent, our consistent prayer:
“Come Lord Jesus. Please come. Come with your love. Come with your compassion. Come with your wisdom and strength. We need you to come.”
So I’ve said, and you’ve all probably realized that his message is all about Advent, and specifically the word “come”.
OK, trivia time: You almost certainly don’t know this, I know I sure didn’t, but the word itself, "come" occurs 1462 times in the Bible: I found this tidbit on the internet, so you know it has to be true.
1462 times: I tried to count them myself, in the interest of veracity, but I came up a little short. I found twelve of them…. And then figured the computer was probably right about the other 1450.
A lot of these references refer to God's coming to us; but a great bunch of them also refer to US coming to God.
We are invited to come to God’s mountain.
We are invited to come to God’s peace.
We are invited to come to that place in our lives where we convert our warring swords, our warring words, our warring dispositions….. into plowshares, into peace, into the possibility of walking in the light.
To come to Christ and be his disciple means to deny yourself and focus on the needs of others. Not on your own needs but the needs of your neighbor.
When you come to Christ, you pray each morning: "Lord God, use my life in any way that you want today. Bring people to me or I to them who need your love." When you say this prayer and mean it, life becomes a big adventure. God sends all kinds of different people and different situations to us.
This way of living is a great adventure. When we come to God, it is an advent, and again, the word advent means adventure.
It is an adventure to pray and talk with God every day and give your life to the Him in prayer.
It is an adventure to read God’s Word and find out what God’s Word actually says.
It is an adventure to sit quietly and listen to your wife or children or grandchildren, and learn who they are and what they feel and what they are thinking.
It is an adventure to focus on someone else rather than your own life. It is an adventure to learn about them.
It is an adventure to go to visit a church in Haiti or work in downtown Montreal at a mission or to volunteer for a local charity or raise money for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
It is always an adventure. You don’t know what God is going to put in front of us. It is always an adventure when we come to God. Life is not boring, not senile, not sleepy.
So remember, when we come to God, we’re on a great adventure. We never know who God will bring to us today, who God will bring right in front of our eyes and our ears and our love to take care of. We never know what purpose God has for our lives today. It is always an adventure to come to God.
The day is coming.
Our prayer is always the same: Come by here, Lord Jesus.
What adventures. What advents. What possibilities.
“The day is coming”…… Please, please, come by here.