Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“723,794 Days or So and Waiting”
First Sunday of Advent (November 27, 2016)
Psalm 122; Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 36-44
Two Sundays ago, I wanted to be in church more than I can ever remember in my entire life. Really! I eagerly anticipated singing with you, lifting up our prayers together, and gathering at the Lord’s table.
Today isn’t too different. I love Advent. I got all antsy last night as I thought about being with you this morning, singing the Advents hymns I adore and chanting Psalm 122. I feel like I could have written the words to today’s Psalm, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”
Since arriving here, I have come to relish our Psalm singing. I can’t wait to hear how our choir interprets their verses—each remarkably different, each breathtakingly magnificent—and how Donald Meineke highlights our Psalm with his magical organ accompaniments.
Saint Paul writes: “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”
Coming to the Lord’s house and singing Psalms and Advent hymns wakes us up to God’s presence. The church has other Advent techniques to awaken us as well, the color blue for instance. If you are an early riser, you know the sky is deep blue just before sunrise. Advent blue reminds us that God’s son will soon dawn. It is so easy to grow downcast as the days grow darker. After eleven years in California, I had forgotten how dark it gets here—and how early! We need light, especially Christ the light of the world.
In the face of such deep darkness, the church also lights candles. We light them on the Advent wreath, one after another. We will create Advent wreaths in the parish hall today so you can mark time for Christ’s coming in your home.
The green Advent wreath reminds us that, even as the Central Park trees have become barren, life prevails in this cold winter. The pine scent wafting in the air even prompts us through smell to await Christ’s coming.
Though it is dark outside, we come to the Lord’s house with great anticipation, yearning for Christ’s return among us. We commit ourselves financially to Holy Trinity so that this neighborhood will not lose hope. Our 2017 pledging has already grown more than 7% from last year’s total and, God willing, quite a few of you will join the excitement today, using the pledge card in your bulletin and making a financial commitment for the coming year. We have so much reason to hope! Your pledge is one Advent candle you bear so that the forlorn among us will not grow discouraged. We are here at the corner of 65th and Central Park West, reminding people of Jesus’ promise: “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Waiting can be grueling. Some grow impatient as if their broken dreams are like shattered precious china. Imagine what it must have been like for the earliest Christians who came forty years after Jesus had been crucified. They had heard Jesus and his closest followers announce that he would come again maybe even in their lifetime. They believed this good news. And yet, as each year passed, they wondered: had Jesus sold them a bill of goods? Their cherished Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed; their brothers and sisters were being tortured and executed. “Christ, are you coming or not?” they pleaded.
Is it any different for you? It may be worse! By my inaccurate calculation, 723,794 days or so have gone by since Jesus left this earth…and still no Jesus. Like little children impatiently awaiting Santa’s arrival, you anticipate Jesus’ coming…or have you grown too cynical to wait?
Maybe your precious temple has not been destroyed and maybe your loved ones have not been fed to the lions for their faith, but you so want Jesus to return in your life. You desperately want someone to take note of you and to say, “I love you”; you crave a meaningful job that will finally give you some measure of satisfaction and address some of the world’s deepest needs; you want to stop your excessive drinking, this time for good. There are countless nights when you frantically wonder and pitifully wail, “Jesus, are you coming again or should I look for someone else?”
For such unrelenting restlessness, this place exists. It is why we just courageously prayed, together, “Stir up you power, Lord Christ and come.” It is why in a matter of moments we will confess “Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” some of us weakly as others more confidently urge us on. It is why we will shout with one voice, even as some falter: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
The Advent church, at our best, navigates the terrifying shadows together, telling one another a story or two the best we are able that Christ will not forsake us and that he will come again. The Advent church draws close to a dear friend in the hospital who is fearful of what the coming night will bring and so needs a story of hope. Such a church gathers with a neighbor around a dining room table at two in the morning in the face of a cruel betrayal and promises the sun will rise again. This Advent church sings the Alleluia story at a freshly dug grave as everyone returns to their cars and the grieving spouse’s world has turned upside down. We tell the story that Christ will come again, here, now, in a way, pray God, that all will hear. So, let us sing to one another and tell the old, old story that Christ will come again.
Yes, indeed, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”