This sermon was given on December 2nd, 2012, the first Sunday of Advent. The text for that Sunday was Luke 21:25-36. It’s about shooting stars and expecting something good to come into our lives this year.
Many of you know I was down at Mo Ranch for a retreat a little while ago. If you haven’t been there, Mo Ranch is a beautiful place, west of Kerrville in the Hill Country. The Guadalupe River runs right through the center of the ranch. It’s the kind of place where if you can get just a little bit away from the lights of the buildings, you can see wondrous things in the heavens above. Kind of like here, actually. On the last night of the retreat, a couple of friends and I stayed up late after dinner, talking about our lives and our churches, our hopes and frustrations.
It had gotten dark, so we decided we’d walk somewhere to enjoy the night sky. We headed down towards the river, where there’s this big green steel staircase that juts out over the hillside.. There are no lights, and it sticks out over the trees, leaving the sky open for stargazing. When we got there we were still deep in conversation. And after a couple of minutes one of my friends said, “Oh, look! A shooting star!” My other friend and I looked up, but of course it was too late. We started looking at the sky more intently and our conversation died out for a couple of minutes as we hoped for another miracle.
Eventually, though, my friend and I got back into our conversation. We got animated talking about theology, the fights in our denominations, the future of the church. We’d only been talking for a few minutes, when she said again, “Whoa! Another one!” Once again, our eyes drifted up to the sky, regretting that we’d missed it and hoping another would come. But eventually looking up like that your neck gets sore, and we were enjoying our conversation too much to let it go, so my friend and I were right back at it when she said, “Did you see that one?” We both shook our heads, “No, I missed it.”
“You need to look up!” she said. “I’ve seen three shooting stars already, and neither of you have seen a single one!”
Our passage for this first Sunday in Advent tells us to look up. Jesus is talking about the coming of the Son of Man. He tells us that nations will be distressed, that people will faint with fear, that even the very powers of the heavens will be shaken. And he gives us a warning. He tells us to be on our guard. But what’s interesting is that he doesn’t tell us to be on our guard against the shaking of the nations or the persecution that is to come. He tells us to be on our guard so that we are not worn down by the worries of our lives.
At this time of year, it can be very hard not to be at least a little preoccupied with the worries of our lives. There are cards to send, parties to host and attend, and gifts to buy. And each one comes with its own set of worries: Were everyone’s eyes open in the picture? Should I double the recipe? Will everything get shipped in time? We’re frazzled and exhausted trying to put together the perfect Christmas. We know that there is deep meaning to the season of Advent, but it slips by in a haze of tangled Christmas lights and last-minute shopping.
We want to spend time in quiet surrender, but how can we do that when there always seem to be more pressing things that need to get done? We want to stop and watch, but the world calls us to keep going faster and faster. It’s uncomfortable trying to claw your way back against the tides of commercialism and overstimulation that overwhelm us this time of year. It’s easy to get wrapped up (ha! a pun!) in all the traditions and the food and the merriment and completely lose track of what it’s all for.
And if we’re not looking up, we can miss it. We can get so focused on all the things that we have to do that we completely miss that this season isn’t about anything that we do, it’s about something that God did. Something that happened with no fanfare, in a small town in a remote corner of a long lost empire, only known about by a few people at the time, but that has huge significance for us today. God came down to earth. And this didn’t just happen once a long time ago; it’s the present reality in which we live. God comes to us over and over again in our lives, we just have to look up. The season of Advent, which begins with this Sunday and walks us all the way through Christmas Eve, is not a season that commemorates a long-past event, but a constant reminder for us to be always looking up, always watching the skies for a hint of what is to come.
Because the arrival of God in our world is not something to be missed. It is a searing light that blinds our eyes, which have become accustomed to the darkness of our world. It is a refiner’s fire that burns away our iniquity and want and purifies our hearts. The coming of the Lord brings light to a darkened world, hope to a land disillusioned by pain, love to people calloused with selfishness. It is not the kind of thing that you want to pass you by.
So in this season of Advent we’re called to watch in readiness, for the coming of God into our lives once more. Like little children nodding off while waiting for the New Year fireworks, we need that nudge, that says, “Stay awake!” something good is coming your way. Look up to the sky, because in the midst of this quiet darkness, wondrous light is about to explode into the world.
We are called today to be on our guard against our own busyness and anxiety and fear, and keep our ears pricked up for God’s entrance into our lives. We’re called to look up, even though we have so many things going on, and even though it’s uncomfortable and tiring, because something good is coming our way. We’re called to wait and watch for God to come into our lives today and every day. Like I told the children this morning, we need to invite Jesus into our lives with every breath, and push out our worries as we exhale to make room for Him to come in.
So as you approach the Advent season, I invite you to ignore your chores for a moment. Leave the pie in the oven while you step outside to look up at the stars. And as you breathe in the cold night air, pause for a minute to think about the reality of the miracle that God came to earth. The air you breathe is the same air that your Lord once breathed, the earth on which you stand is the same earth that your Savior once trod. Breathe out, and push out your worries and your fear, and breathe in and invite Him in to your life.
The third shooting star was a wake-up call for us. We rededicated ourselves to watching, waiting, for a shooting star’s light to run across the sky. Our conversation dwindled. We kept talking, we weren’t as focused or animated about our own worries and concerns. After a few minutes of this, suddenly my friend spoke up again. “There! Another one! Did you see it?”
“Yeah, yeah, I did. It was incredible”
Look up! The Lord is coming to you. Stay awake! Something good is on its way.