(A sermon based on Isaiah 64:1-9 & Mark 13:24-37 for the First Sunday of Advent 2011)
This first Sunday of Advent is for the Church the first day of the New Year; it being the first day of the New Year, it is appropriate that we spend a little time looking ahead. And so our Mark text encourages us to look forward to the time when Jesus Christ, the crucified and resurrected and ascended Messiah, will come again.
You might be thinking, “Now, hold on there—this is the time of year when we look forward to Christmas; we haven’t even gotten to the birth of Jesus, much less his death, resurrection, and ascension. How can we be talking about his second coming?” The answer is that the Season of Advent is about all of the comings of Jesus—his first coming to the manger of Bethlehem (to the commemoration of which we look forward but which has after all already happened), his second coming at the close of the age to which today’s text points, and his coming to us in our lives here and now. We celebrate his first coming, we anticipate his second coming, and we live in the fellowship with him that results from his present comings to us.
One thing that Jesus said will take place when he comes again is that “he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (v. 27). That is, all the people of God, no matter who they are and no matter where they are, will be gathered together to be together—with Jesus and with each other—forever. All the children of God, all the brothers and sisters of Jesus—all of our brothers and sisters—will be gathered together to be together.
Where will we be gathered? We’ll be gathered home, of course, because home is where the family belongs. What will we do there? We’ll do whatever our Lord wants us to do, of course, because we’ll finally get this discipleship and obedience business right.
We need to remember, though, that we are in a very real sense already gathered home. Jesus told a parable to make the point that we should always be ready for him to return; in that parable he used the image of a man who goes away from his home and leaves his servants in charge. “Therefore, keep awake,” Jesus said, “for you do not know when the master of the house will come…or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (vv. 35-37).
Jesus came here all those years ago to make his home with humanity; he then went away and told us to be ready for his coming. Jesus has come to us to make his home with us through the Holy Spirit right here and right now and we need to be on the watch for his coming.
How do we stay watchful and ready? By staying in close communion with him, by living the kind of life he did, by being obedient to the Father like he was, by giving ourselves up like he did, and by loving like he did.
We’d all like to see God intervene in a big and obvious way and one day God will do just that when Jesus comes back. But let’s not lose sight of small and subtle ways that God intervenes right now—and let’s not lose sight of the ways God does that through us.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that one day, when Jesus returns, we’ll be gathered home.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that on this day, because Jesus has already come and still comes to us, we are already gathered home.
This Thanksgiving was a homecoming of sorts for me. I was invited to deliver the pregame devotion for the Lamar County Trojans, the football team of my high school alma mater, on the day after Thanksgiving. My class, the Class of 1976, was the first class to graduate from the school after it moved to its present location in the fall of 1975. While I graduated with my class in 1976, I never attended school in that building because I left to after my junior year to go to college. So I kept thinking as I walked through the buildings, “This is my home; I don’t belong here.”
That’s kind of the way it is for us as Christians. This earth is our home; God has placed us here and God in Christ through the Holy Spirit makes God’s home with us right here and right now. Ultimately speaking, though, we don’t belong here. And one day Jesus will return to take us where do we finally and for all time belong.
But still, let’s not forget that in a very real way, we are already home…