Lesson 15: An Advent Sermon Reflecting Revelation Teachings

GettysburgI preached this sermon the Sunday after one of the first major terrorist attacks in Europe. I was attempting to place this in the context of the Advent theme focusing on Jesus’ Second Coming. The sermon also incorporated the baptisms being celebrated that day.

Let’s start with an old trivial pursuit question, “What do angels say?” You should know my grandchildren knew the answer when I tried this out on them yesterday. Indeed they suggested it was such an important question that I should put it this way. (Take off glasses and use to emphasize.) What do angels say? “Do. Not. Be. Afraid.”

But enough for theatrics! Remember the Bible uses angels as messengers from God, which means they say what God wants us to hear. In Advent, we prepare for Christmas when the angels speak the words to shepherds, “Do not be afraid. The God who loves you has come among you.” On the fourth Sunday in our preparation, an angel comes to Mary announcing, “Do not be afraid. The God who loves you is coming into the world.” And today, the First Sunday in Advent we proclaim to one another, “Do not be afraid. God still rules the world, and he will come again in the same steadfast love we have always known.”

It is difficult to hear that message when we speak about Christ’s Second Coming nowadays. We are conditioned to hear a message of violence from the likes of Billy Graham who says we should be afraid, because when Jesus returns he will throw us into hell if we have not made a decision for Christ. We don’t hear the message of love, because books like Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind claim we should be afraid, very afraid, because Christ returns to torture anyone who does not believe in the Rapture.

You have to ask what happened to “Do not be afraid.”  How has a promise of love been turned into a threat of hell. Some think these guys preach an Old Testament God of violence rather than a New Testament God of love. But that is very unfair to our Jewish brothers and sisters. It is true one ancient tradition in the Old Testament pictures God as a warrior who fights alongside his people, threatening to punish, kill, or abandon them if they do not obey his commands.

But the dominant tradition pictures God, not as a warrior king, but a lover. Hosea, way back in the 8th century BC, 700 years before Christ, realized God cared about his disloyal people just as he himself cared about his adulterous wife. Even though his wife was always whoring after disreputable men, he could not abandon her. He might threaten her with “This is your last chance!” but he would always be there for her, because he loved her.

This led Hosea to realize God, too, would never abandon his unfaithful people. He pictured God shaking his head and declaring, “How can I give up Israel. I am God, not a human. I am like a husband who cannot abandon the wife he loves. I am like a Father who will always be there for the child he taught to walk and raised to his cheeks to kiss.

This tradition continued through the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah who even speak of God as a mother who will always rescues the child she carried and nursed. They, along with Hosea, picture God’s covenant with Israel as a marriage contract, not a political transaction. He will never tear up the covenant but will renew it until his people come to really know him and want to follow his law from the bottom of their hearts.

Jesus was part of that tradition. He always spoke of God as Abba, Father. He went about healing God’s broken creation and teaching, “Do not be afraid, God is a father who saves you, because he loves you.” And of course, Jesus poured God’s love into his followers’ hearts, so that they, too, lived in love.

The prophetic tradition develops a lifestyle found throughout the Bible. It begins in Genesis 4 where God is so distraught with the violence of human nature, he decides to destroy everyone in a great flood and start over with Noah. The epitome of this violence is Lamech who is described bragging to his two wives, “ If a young man slaps me on the cheek, I kill him.” In this famous myth, God finds you cannot fight violence with violence. He promises never to do that again and places a rainbow in the sky to remind everyone of this promise.

God enters into a marriage covenant with Abraham’s family, frees them from slavery in Egypt, and teaches them a new lifestyle in Moses’ Torah that is based on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If anyone slaps you on the cheek, you slap him on the cheek, but that’s all. Jesus, of course, takes it to a new level with the Church when he says if anyone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other check. Do not be afraid to be a lover; God is a father who loves all as his children. All people are your brothers and sisters. Have faith in God’s love and hope in his promise to come again in love, and you will be inspired to love in every situation. Return good for evil as you work with God to heal the world.

So where does that leave us in responding to terrorists? Some of them believe they are triggering the Last Days by killing and maiming people, while screaming, “God is great.” They publicly torture, behead, and rape innocents in the name of God. And they end their killing sprees by blowing themselves up.

The others, the domestic terrorists, believe nothing. Without purpose or direction they practice Black Friday and completely ignore Good Friday. They exalt winning at any cost, and engage in constant warfare. Finally, when violence begets violence, they invade our schools or other public paces to kill innocents and then they kill themselves.

Perhaps we should begin by noticing almost all who perform acts of terrorism are young, obviously used by adults, and misguided by adult society. We cannot allow their actions to determine what we do. The Lamechs of our society are screaming that we should be just as barbaric as their enemies, that we should bomb them into oblivion, all their men, women, and children.
We must respond at least in a civilized fashion that calls for appropriate force that respects the dignity of all people as much as possible. Many say that is not possible in our violent world. We remember that Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Jesus faced far more personal violence than any of us unless we have been in battle zones. We cannot allow our fear to lead us to adopt their ways.

As Gandhi wrote “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is really fear.” So we must go even further if we respond as the church. We must let Christ be our light that shows the way through the darkness. We must let love overcome fear, so we can respond creatively in ways that heal our broken world.

And we must baptize and teach our children, “Do not be afraid. God loves you and will care for you, and so will we.”

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  1. Kerry Walters says:

    Such a good, good message, Fritz. Thanks for sharing it!

    And I’m really looking forward to the next series on Luther!

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