The first Sunday in Advent took place on November 29th, and it was highlighted by our Hanging of the Greens morning service. As safely and as carefully as possible, we shared a worship experience that honored our church members, past and present, by decorating our chrismon tree and placing our poinsettias near the altar, pulpit, choir loft and platform. Now the sanctuary is dressed in the traditional Christmas colors of red and green and, as we often hear at this time of year, "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas", particularly at United Baptist.
Additionally, we cannot ignore the solitary, purple candle that we light on the first Sunday in Advent--the candle of Hope. How appropriate that the first flickering candlelight of Advent rises from a candle intent on helping place our faith in the God of the present and the future. After all, Christmas is not just a celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, it is also about the imminent return of Immanuel, "God with us", our Jesus Christ; this imminent return is defined by the theological term, "Parousia" (the return of Christ, arrival, presence, official visit, Second Coming). During Advent we celebrate the first arrival of God's Son through the virgin Mary and we continue to anticipate the second and final return of God's Son at the Lord's appropriate hour. This "Parousia" is what Advent is all about--an anticipated return, a welcomed presence, a faith-filled hope. Advent is that holy time when we wait, expectantly, for God to show up in Christ at any moment.
Christ has come. He is arriving. And he will come back again one day.
There can be no greater time in our world history to celebrate the Christian season of Advent than now. We must remember that the Parousia has tremendous import for how we respond to this pandemic. We are inundated with medical numbers about hospitalizations, COVID-19 cases, and testing kits. We hear continual reports from news outlets, medical organizations and political pundits sharing their thoughts, opinions and projections about the lifespan of this virus. When will the pandemic come to an end? When will we sense some "normalcy" (whatever that means) again? How will we make it through another year as we approach more unknowns?
Advent is the calm assurance that our hope is placed--not in a vaccine, or in an economy, or in a politcal system--but in a Savior, the God who arrived over two thousand years ago and promises to return and reign with his reknown in eternal glory. Advent is a season of hope, peace, joy and love. It is a season of expectancy, and it is a season of worship. It is a time to personally reflect on where perhaps we've misplaced our hope and instead respond faithfully to the truth of Christ's words in John 14:1-6, NRSV:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Like Thomas, our hearts can easily get filled with doubts, uncertainties and anxieties. Yet, the Lord Jesus, full of grace and truth, taught us that he is diligently at work, preparing dwelling places for his own. We wait in the season of Advent, expectantly and observantly, by looking for the Parousia (Christ's final return) and remaining actively involved in the loving service of others' lives. We are not called to be lazy (2 Thess. 3:6-13); instead, we are called to work in humility and mercy on behalf of the oppressed, the hurting, the poor, the hungry and the weak. We actively wait, knowing that God appeared once in Christ and that God will appear again in Christ at the Second Coming (Parousia).
But Christ is arriving now. Jesus is with us--now.
Yes, it's true--Jesus is returning, coming again and again, in the merciful moments of grace-filled acts of love among us. Jesus is arriving, presently, in the patience we show to our fellow brother or sister, in the joy we share in worship, in the goodness we speak through our words, and in the kindness we offer a stranger. Yes, Jesus arrived once, and will arrive again, but we must never miss his advent among us when we gather together to seek the Lord's glory and praise and honor. Remember, whenever two or three are gathered in his name, he is present with us (Matt. 18:20).
In essence, the Parousia is now. Christ is arriving in our midst, now. Jesus is showing up as we reach others in lovingkindness--now.
Therefore, beloved, I pray that we let the reality of the Parousia overcome our fears and anxieties about the pandemic. A virus cannot keep Christmas from arriving, it already arrived! COVID-19 is incapable of stopping the Second Coming of Christ. Remember, Jesus told us he is coming back to deliver us to our heavenly home! So while we must continue to safely distance, and wear our masks, and wash our hands and utilize hand sanitizer, Jesus is still among us...arriving in our daily lives, over and over and over again. The Parousia cannot be thwarted by the pandemic.
And one day, when Christ arrives his last and final time, there will be no need for sickness, worries, concerns or death. The cross took care of those temptations and distractions and placed the victorious focus on Jesus, our King of kings and Lord of lords, our Healer, our Hope, and our only Vaccine against sin forever.
Advent is here. The candle of Hope is lit. And thanks be to God, COVID-19 cannot ever, ever extinguish its flame.
So let us light the candles of hope, peace, joy and love in our hearts and let them burn brightly for all to see. This is Advent, and our God is arriving to us, even as I write these words. And that's a truth to spread far and wide. Moreover, please take this message......
......and make it go viral. Amen.
Merry Christmas--Immanuel is born, he is alive, he is returning--he is with us forever! Love to you all in ourSavior, Jesus Christ!
Choosing to embody the truth of the Parousia over the pandemic,
><> Pastor Will <><