Happy New Year!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Happy new year! In the U.S. civil calendar, the new year starts on January 1. In the Chinese lunar calendar, the new year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. But the church’s new year starts on the first Sunday of Advent, which just happens to be today. The basic meaning of the English word advent is “coming.” In Christian terms, it refers more specifically to the Two Comings of the Messiah. The first is the coming of the Messiah some 2000 years ago in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The second is the anticipated coming of the Messiah on the Day of Judgment. And in one way or another, all of today’s readings deal with the Coming of the Lord.

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The Old Testament reading from that gloomy Gus, Jeremiah, is like a ray of light breaking through the clouds on a dark and dismal day in the Sunset District. Jeremiah is renowned for his oracles of doom, yet here we find him giving us a word of hope. He predicts that a descendant of King David will one day rule over the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah and bring peace, and the people of God will once again know justice and righteousness. This is, of course, a classic Messianic prophecy. And Christians find its fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. We believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, prophesied by the prophets of old. And yet, in all truth, even after his coming to us, God’s people are still waiting for his righteous rule. Jerusalem does not yet live in safety; the world does not yet experience thepeace of the Lord. And so we Christians await a Second Coming, when the Messiah will come again in power and glory to bring justice and righteous, not just to the Jews, but to the whole world.

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Jumping ahead in time some 700 years, we have the Gospel according to Luke, telling us what must happen before that Second Coming. We are told in no uncertain terms that it’s going to get worse before it gets better—much worse! The heavens and the earth will herald this time of distress. Nature itself will reflect the rebellion against God found on earth. For example, earthquakes in Alaska, hurricanes in Florida, wildfires in California, famine in Yemen…that sort of stuff.

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In the face of this catastrophe, Jesus promises salvation. The Messiah, the Son of Man prophesied by Daniel, will return to this plane of reality to set things right. And when he comes, there will be no doubt about it, for he will return from the heavenly realm with power and great glory. Jesus assures his disciples that they, and we, have nothing to fear, for the crescendo of disorder and violence in this world is but a sign that our redemption is drawing near. And so here we are 2000 years later, living in that prophesied Last Age, waiting for our redemption to finally arrive, for the Messiah to return again, for the Kingdom of God to come in its fullness.

And like the psalmist, we ask, “How long, O Lord, how long?” A few Christian groups have desperately tried to answer that very question, to determine the exact day and hour of Jesus’ return. They read every word of the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation looking for hidden clues. But this quest is unnecessary, and ultimately unhelpful. What is necessary, what is helpful, is to live each day as if it were the great Day of Christ’s Return, the day in which the world will be judged. You see, we are supposed to live now as if the Kingdom were already here. We are supposed to love one another now in the same way that God’s people will love one another when the Messiah rules over the Kingdom of God.

How do we do this? Well, according to Jesus, the first order of business is to be alert, to be watchful, to be on guard, lest the worries and anxieties of this life turn us from the path of righteousness. It is all too easy to give in to fear and to be crippled by worry. It is all too easy to make our own security our number one priority, rather that God’s will. Next, we are told that we should pray without ceasing, at all times and in all places. In particular, we should pray for the strength to survive the spiritual trials of this Last Age.

Then, in First Thessalonians, St. Paul reminds us that we are meant to abound in love, both as individuals and as a community. And we are meant to remain holy and blameless—a tall order indeed! In fact the order is so tall that there is no doubt that we will fail from time to time. Living as if in the Kingdom of God when we actually find ourselves in a tumultuous and violent world is not easy. Fortunately, when we fail to love, when we fail to be holy and blameless, we have only to repent and turn back to the Lord in order to be forgiven. God is always willing to forgive us and to give us the grace we need to persevere, if we but ask.

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In this season of Advent, as we look back at the First Coming of the Messiah and as we eagerly look forward to his Second Coming, let us not give in to despair, but rather hold on to the assurance that God will prevail, that God’s Kingdom will come…at some day, at some hour, when the world least expects it. As for me, I hope it comes quite soon! With this in mind, as we pray the Lord’s Prayer later in this service, let us give particular emphasis to the words “thy kingdom come.”

© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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