Advent Midweek 2

Scripture Texts: 2 Kings 4:38-41; Isaiah 40:1-11.

On Sunday, we heard the words of Malachi and realized that the reign of God would bring trial by fire. The good news was that we will be refined by that fire so that we can reflect God’s image in us and enter into the place prepared for us. So, we need to prepare for the coming day of the Lord by examining ourselves.

Today, as we reflect back on that message and anticipate what is to come in the second half of Advent, we hear first this story from Elisha’s ministry in 2 Kings. As we anticipate the birth of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry, we notice a parallel between Elisha’s miracles and the even greater deeds Jesus will perform.

The story begins with Elisha providing food for the company of prophets, but there is a problem: his servant placed a poisonous gourd into the stew. There was death in the pot. This situation was but a minor inconvenience for Elisha, who tosses some flour into the pot, miraculously removing the death it contained.

Certainly, it is good that Elisha has saved his guests from death and provided them food. But I think there’s something deeper going on under the surface. Throughout Elisha’s ministry, the people of God were constantly tempted to follow Baal rather than serving the Lord. Baal worship was like the poisonous gourd, it would corrupt the whole pot of Israel. But God, through the prophet, would purify the people and remove the sin of idolatry from them.

God, through Elisha, purifies the people so that they may experience life in the covenant. They can truly “taste and see that the Lord is good!”

As Isaiah tells us, out of purification comes hope. A voice cries out “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!” God is coming as King to feed the flock and gather the lambs.

The Lord’s messenger is coming to announce the coming reign of God that will once and for all remove death from the pot. The Lord’s messenger is coming to prepare the way. Join us on Sunday as we hear what he has to say.

Second Sunday of Advent: Prepare

Scripture Texts: Psalm 126; Malachi 3:1-4; Matthew 24:36-44

Last week, we began the process of waiting for the Lord. We recognized together the difficulty of waiting. Like children anticipating the presents of Christmas, we are giddy with excitement. Our humanity makes waiting difficult, but we know that the day of the Lord is drawing near. We’ve seen the power Jesus has over sin and death and we are assured that Christ is coming back to make all things new.

As we look out onto an unjust world, we expect Jesus to come in final victory as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We await the day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. We see the darkness of evil surrounding us and we try to fight back with the light of love, but we cannot do it alone. We see the unjust accumulation of wealth to the detriment of those who are struggling to make ends meet and we expect that the scales of justice will be balanced in the day of the Lord. We wait for the day when the righteous will prosper and the wicked will receive their “just deserts.”

The day of the Lord is surely coming!

But I have some bad news: The day of the Lord IS coming!

Malachi—the messenger of God—says “who can endure the coming of the Lord’s messenger, the one who holds you to the covenant in which you delight?” Likewise, Amos says “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! That day will be darkness and not light.”

The day of the Lord, the moment when God brings final justice, is a day in some measure to be feared. Why? Because Everything is revealed in the end. We know of the power of investigative journalism and legions of lawyers to get to the truth: many people are not who they appear to be. When the skeleton in their closet is revealed, they shield their faces with their hands as the bright lights of cameras flash before their eyes.

So it will be in the day of the Lord: the deeds and misdeeds of all will be on display. God’s justice and righteousness will be poured out in full measure.

The answer to Malachi’s rhetorical question, “who can endure the day of the Lord’s coming,” is clear: No one.

As Jesus tells us in Matthew 24, no one will have time to prepare for the day of the Lord in the last moments before its coming. No one can procrastinate in preparing for the Lord’s coming. No one knows the day or the hour except the Father.

The end will be like the flood of Noah. One moment there will be carousing and celebration. People will be living their life as if they had all the time in the world, like the had the rest of their lives to look forward to. But on that day, like the day Noah entered the ark, people will vanish and be taken away.

If someone knew the day or the hour, people would have stayed awake. They would have prepared for the end. They might have done something differently. But no one knows when the day will come in darkness. Therefore, we must be awake whenever it comes.

No one knows what will happen tomorrow or next week. Don’t be surprised therefore if that day comes.

That was the motivation in the urgency of Paul’s message to the churches in the New Testament. And that was the motivation for John Wesley’s insistence that everyone had a role to play in proclaiming the message of reconciliation with God through repentance of sin.

Wesley said: “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.”

The day of the Lord is coming. The kingdom of God is at hand. We need to be prepared. We need to act as if things are going to be shaken up around here. We all need to fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God. We need to remember that we will be the recipients of God’s justice—for our good or our ill.

Of course, the prophet’s message is not completely devoid of good news. It may take a little more than a cursory glance for us to find it, but it’s there.

The messenger from God tells us: God will refine us of our impurities.

The holiness of God will not destroy us as a flame consumes a sheet of paper. Rather, Malachi tells us that we are precious. We are like silver or gold—there is so much goodness and potential within the dirty ore that is taken from the ground.

God’s holiness is a refining fire, it’s a detergent that can remove the impurities and reveal the precious mineral that has been there all along. God’s refining fire will remove our impurities so that we will once again shine with the image of God. We will reflect our creator in all that we do, rather than being consumed by darkness.

The day of the Lord is darkness. It’s a purifying fire. But through the trial, God’s image will be revealed within us.

The refining fire God has chosen is the disarming love of Jesus. The love that challenges, convicts, and forgives. The love that leads us into action. The love that came down as a baby in a manger into a dark and broken world. Through Jesus, son of God, we are purified and restored so that we can enter into the presence of the most high God.

And so, in this Advent season, God is calling us to examine ourselves.

In these remaining weeks before Christmas and our celebration of the coming of Christ, consider: what would Jesus remove from your life so that it could be called “very good”?

What would the cleansing, perfecting fire of God’s love remove from you? Who would you treat differently? How would you give of yourself differently? What violence, lust, idolatry, sloth, or greed would you remove from your life? What love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control would you show instead?

What would you do differently today if the Son of Man was coming tomorrow? Until the flood of Noah, everything carried on as usual. But after the flood, only Noah and his family were left.

God is calling us in these weeks of eager expectation to prepare ourselves so that we can give ourselves and our lives as offerings to the God the most high.

The waiting we do in advent is active. Be alert! Be prepared! The day of the Lord is coming near! Thanks to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, our redemption in Christ, and the love of our Father, we can endure whatever may come. Amen.

First Sunday of Advent: Expect

Scripture Texts: Psalm 33; Jeremiah 33:10-16; Luke 21:5-19

Advent is not just preparation for Christmas. Advent is something more.

At one level, we are preparing to celebrate Christ’s coming at Christmas. But we’re also waiting for Christ to bring the kingdom of God in its fullness. We’re waiting for the day of the Lord to come, the day when the things spoken of in Revelation—a new heaven and a new earth where every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We wait in the midst of an imperfect world, where God’s kingdom has broken through but is not yet visible everywhere.

We all know of the depravity or fallenness of humanity, and we know of the pain of sickness and death that is part of our life on earth. Certainly, Christ has given us hope so that we can endure these things — but we will still endure these things. Until Christ comes in final victory we wait for the Lord and patiently work for God’s kingdom.

In this time of Advent, we look back to the stories of our scripture that speak of God’s eternal plan.

But we know humanity is seduced by sin and we are terrible at waiting.

We all know that children, as they wait for Christmas, are full of so much excitement and expectation for their presents that they start snooping. They want to know what is coming and they don’t want to wait for it.

Like children waiting for Christmas, we are restless in expectation for the coming of the kingdom of God. Perhaps some of our excitement has worn off, but we still cry out to God: Why don’t you intervene! We know what you said you were going to do—Why wait Take us into the house of the Lord.

We don’t have to go very far in scripture to find an example of how human depravity inhibits our ability to wait.

After the people were rescued from slavery in Egypt, Moses went up the mountain to receive the tablets containing the ten commandments. Evidently, Moses spent a lot of time on top of that mountain. The Israelites were waiting… and waiting… and waiting… like children annoyed with their parents for taking too much time on a shopping trip. Resistance to waiting is a natural human response.

“So When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”⁠1

They gathered up all of their gold rings and melted them down and poured it into a mold.

They broke the very law of God before they even received it.

Like people at the base of the mountain, we’re impatient because God needs to do something, anything to bring us out of the pit of systemic evil that we’re in. And to find out what’s going on, we need to go a bit further in Scripture. The prophet Jeremiah tells us why things aren’t going well.

In one word: greed and injustice.

Look at the judgment oracles of Jeremiah. First from Chapter 5:

“Search the squares of Jerusalem and see if you can find one person who acts justly and seeks truth. How can I pardon them? They have forsaken me and sworn by those who are no gods. Their iniquities have turned you away and your sins have deprived you of good.

Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery;

therefore they have become great and rich,

28 they have grown fat and sleek.

They know no limits in deeds of wickedness;

they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper,

and they do not defend the rights of the needy.

29 Shall I not punish them for these things? says the Lord,”⁠2

Likewise, Jeremiah 6:6 says that God will need to act because there is nothing but oppression in Jerusalem.

This oppression takes many forms, but one of its principle forms is the unjust accumulation of wealth. The Lord says in Jeremiah 17: “Like the partridge hatching what it did not lay, so are all who amass wealth unjustly; in mid-life it will leave them, and at their end they will prove to be fools.”

These words of God still hold true. Humanity is fallen. Some do things out of concern for others, but most do not. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve probably been both the victim and the perpetrator of the injustices Jeremiah speaks of.

All this brings us to Jeremiah 33. Those who have been oppressed will experience relief and those who have been oppressing others will experience hardship.

The land that has been neglected in the exile will once again provide pasture for shepherds who will guide their flocks. The days are surely coming! The promises of God will be fulfilled and a righteous branch will spring up for David, executing justice and righteousness in a land that was full of injustice and suffering. In those days, Jerusalem will live in safety.

We may be tempted to lose hope, as we read the oracles of judgment earlier in Jeremiah—we may be convinced that nothing will change. The human condition will rule forever… But that’s not what Scripture teaches us. A righteous branch will rise up. Safety and security will return. The oppression of the rich and powerful who profit off the work of others will cease and the poor, the working class, will have fields to tend to and a harvest to reap.

But still… we’re waiting, waiting, waiting.

Fast forward 600 years or so… and Jesus begins to prophecy about the largest symbol of economic inequality of his day: The Temple. Adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God — but it was really the privileged who we profiting off of the poor. Just think of the widow who gave all that she had in the temple. The money was being mismanaged. It wasn’t going to helping the community of God, it was filling the coffers of the rich.

Jesus knew that the temple would not endure as long as many expected. In a few decades, it would be destroyed in a war. Things were about to get very bad. It was already difficult for the common people, but there were going to be trials and tribulations for those who followed Christ as they were persecuted and further oppressed.

Jesus’ students wanted to know when will this take place? What do we need to look for?

He warns them: There will be persecutions. wars and insurrections will take place. Nation will rise up against nation. There will be earthquakes famines and plagues. But these are signs that the end is not yet here. (Like the first century church, we see these signs and know that the kingdom is not yet fully here)

Their instruction from Jesus is to wait… endure these things. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” And as they endure, Jesus will give them works to speak, testifying of what God is in the process of doing. Before it happens, make up your minds. Choose this day who you will serve.

But if you chose to follow the king of kings, Lord of Lord, the prince of peace, the everlasting God — testify to what God has done and to what God is doing.

As you endure the hardships and the growing pains of being in this imperfect world of violence and economic oppression: testify with the words of God.

What is that testimony? It’s the story we’ve been given. Stretching from Genesis to Revelation. But keep in mind especially those words of Jeremiah 33:

The days are coming when God will fulfill the promise that was made to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, to Moses, and to all of us: a righteous branch will spring up bringing justice and righteousness. There will be peace—shalom, the kind not experienced since the seventh day of creation. All who follow will live in safety. The Lord is our righteousness.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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1 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ex 32:1.

2 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Je 5:27–29.