First Sunday of Advent 2016

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

November 27, 2016

John 15:18-27

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a season in which we recall the waiting for the Messiah by the people of Israel while we wait for his return.  As Christians, we long for that day when Jesus will reign and all will be at peace.  But until then, we who believe, we who follow and trust our Lord, live in a kind of a “no-man’s land.”  We’re in the world but because of our allegiance, we don’t belong to the world.  We often find ourselves at odds with the world, even hated.  But we hold fast to what God has done in Jesus Christ, and are comforted by God’s spirit. As we learn from the Psalms, “even through the valley of the shadow of death,” God is there with us.[1] That’s the essence of the passage we’re looking at today.  This Advent, I will explore passages from the Gospel of John that focus on the implications of Jesus’ coming.  Today’s reading comes from the fifteenth chapter, beginning with verse 18.  Listen!

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It happens at least every other year.  The first Sunday of Advent is also the Sunday after Thanksgiving.   It seems appropriate.  At least, in the retail world, Christmas shopping kicks off big time as Black Friday follows Thanksgiving. Some of you, I’m sure, found some great bargains while the rest of us tried to avoid the hordes of shoppers.  In our American psyche, these two holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, are linked together.

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was a foretaste of Christmas.  To start with, there was a break in school.  Of course, it was only four days long, not the two weeks we had at Christmas, but still there was a break from the routine of the classroom. There were other similarities, too.  We always gathered with family.  Sometimes we’d travel to Pinehurst to be with grandparents, other times they’d travel and be at our house.  And like Christmas, there was a big dinner.  Now unlike Christmas, we were actually hungry on Thanksgiving.  We’d spend the morning playing football or, if we were in Pinehurst, perhaps some bird hunting.  There was no candy in a stocking to snack on as there was at Christmas.  The other big difference was presents. There were no presents at Thanksgiving.  As I suggest, Thanksgiving was only a foretaste of what was to come.  But it was good, and Christmas promised to be even better.

Advent reminds us that we live in this period between the two comings.  The first coming was joyful and sad.  The joyful part, the hope of the child born in Bethlehem as witnessed by the shepherds, serves as a foretaste of the second coming.  Yet, there is a sad part, for from the beginning, there were those after Jesus as Herod feared he would be dethroned.  And we, who believe, still live in a corrupted and sinful world.  But because we belong to another world, another kingdom, we have a hope for a much better future. This dual citizenship creates tension and, at times, persecution.  Jesus makes this clear in our passage today.

This passage is a part of that long discourse in John’s Gospel in which Jesus, in the hours before his betrayal, tries to prepare his disciples for what’s ahead.  As Jesus moves closer to the cross, one of the key teachings he keeps coming back to is persecution.  As one commentator on this passage wrote, “John makes clear that the world’s hatred of the Christian is not a passing phenomenon; hate is just as much of the essence of the world as love is the essence of the Christian.”[2]  As Christians, we are counter-cultural as we must love those who hate us.[3]

Jesus begins this passage reminding us that when we are hated, that the world hated him first.  Whoever believes the Christian life is always going to be smooth and easy hasn’t spent enough time contemplating the life of Jesus.  The cross is a reminder that the ways of world are at odds with God’s kingdom.

This week, a Christian blogger I regularly read came out with ten things Christians need to do differently in the next election.  First was that we should not demonize anyone.  And if we are to call anyone evil, it should prefaced by a “we’re”, as in “we’re evil.”  After all, we should all know the evil lurking in our own hearts.  Not only should we not demonize a candidate, we shouldn’t “christen” one either. “No politician is Jesus, so no politician is the ‘Christian’ choice.”  The blogger goes on to encourage us to acknowledge ambiguity, to consider the interest of others, not to call evil good, or to suggest that someone is more likely to be saved than another.  His final advice is that we shouldn’t waste all our breath on bureaucracy. God did not create the government to carry out his purposes.  That’s the church’s role.[4]

Reading this list, I was reminded that if we are not careful, the world will use us for its purposes and we won’t be used for God’s purposes. We have been called out of the world, into God’s kingdom, where Jesus reigns.  And as long as we live in the in-between time, we live with the tensions that exist between the two kingdoms.

In verses 22, Jesus makes a statement that, on the surface, sounds as if he had not come, there wouldn’t be any sin.  That, of course, is hard to reconcile with all the sinning that went on within the Old Testament.  What he means, however, is his coming from God the Father sets up a situation that allows for the world to sin against God by his unjust execution.  And by hating him, they also hate his Father and are thereby guilty of breaking the first table of the law.[5]

Beginning in Verse 26, Jesus speaks of the Advocate that is to come, that being the Holy Spirit.  In this text we see the working of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit.  Jesus does not abandon his disciples and the church in the world, but with the Father sends the Spirit that continues to testify to God’s truth in our hearts.  And because we have received such testimony, Jesus expects us, his followers, to also testify to the world of his truth. As Jesus tells the disciples before ascending to heaven, you are to be my witnesses.[6]  We who are in but not off the world are commissioned to tell the world of God’s truth.

Ignatius of Antioch, a Christian leader in the late first century who was martyred early in the second century of the Christian era, noted that the church’s true greatness, was not when it’s persuading the world.  “True greatness is when the church is hated by the world.”[7]  This is from a man who knew firsthand the danger of being a Christian, the danger of testifying in a time of persecution. We, as believers of the child born in Bethlehem, are not to depend on the world and its powers.  As Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians, “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”[8]

Our world has been in a rebellion against God from the beginning.  Jesus came in order to save the world, but there are those so heavily invested in the ways of the world that they saw Jesus as a threat and decided to do away with him.  The descendants of those who crucified our Lord continue to see the church as a threat.  Sometimes, because we are all sinful, we may even be a part of those who oppose God’s work.  So we need to examine even our own motives.  And we must not be intimidated by the world, for we don’t belong to it.  We belong to Jesus, and we testify that he is the truth while trusting in Gods’ comforting Spirit who remains with us while we are in the world.  This we continue to do until he comes again.

Friends, think of living between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  During this in-between time, we are thankful that Jesus came and we long for his return.  That day will be a Christmas like no other, but until then Jesus hasn’t left us alone.  He has sent us an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whose remains at our side regardless of the troubles we face in the world.  Although we will face opposition, we will be comforted and there will be good times, too.  For we do not walk this path along.  God wants what is best for us and accompanies us as we make our way through this life.  Believe it; trust it; live it!  Amen.

 

©2016

[1] Psalm 23:4.

[2]Raymond Brown,  The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI   (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 695

[3] Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27.

[4] For the complete list see: http://scribblepreach.com/2016/11/17/10-resolutions-for-the-next-election/

[5] Commandments 1-4 in the Ten Commandments.  For further explanation of what I’m trying to say, see Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary  (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 2012 ), 904.

[6] Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8

[7] Ignatius of Antioch, Romans iii.3 as quoted by Brown, 686 .  Information on Ignatius of Antioch’s life from The Westminster Dictionary of Church History, Jerald C. Brauer, editor, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971), 423-423.

[8] 1 Corinthians 25.


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