December 3,   2000
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Jeremiah 33:14-16

          14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness." (NRSV)

Luke 21:25-36

          25 "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

          29 Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

          34 "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." (NRSV)

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Last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday,  the last Sunday of the Christian year.  As you know, this is the first Sunday in Advent the beginning of the Christian year.    We begin at the beginning, with the celebration of Jesus’ birth.   A new arrival,  a new beginning,   a new hope,  for all of us.  So,  you might ask,  Where are all of the nice stories about the baby in the manager and the angels with the shepherds.  Why do we have to suffer scripture readings about the end of time and the days when Judah will be saved?


I want to speak simply to you today – because there is nothing plain or simple about our scripture readings this morning. They are perplexing, but they are filled with good news.


 There are two levels on which each these passages can be read and understood. We can read them with a personal eye and also a more global focus.  And we all have a responsibility to enter into both readings.


I want to begin with the personal reading. Jesus cautions us to be on guard against living with hearts that are weighed down with dissipation and the worries of the day.  Yet,  here we are - living with our hearts weighed down with worries and needs.  We live with excesses.  We have no good way to live simply – especially this time of the year.  Our lives are influenced by the demands of a society that sees Christmas as less of a religious holiday and more of an economic – social holiday.


There are continual pressures on us.

It will only be with our help that the economy will climb upwards again.  It is our job to spend,  spend, spend. 


Our children – both young and old – imagine that they need material pleasures to make their lives full and fun-filled.


We fear that we need to satisfy each of those who depend on us this holiday season.  


We are continually , searching – for a way to live a life that is satisfying – looking in every nook and cranny of our world for peace and satisfaction.


And then, We wonder where the excitement that used to come with Christmas has gone.   Where is the anticipation,  where is the sense of expectation where is the hope?. 


We need an ending,  just like the Jews that Jeremiah addresses.  They had been in exile in Babylon for so many years that their vision of something better had been extinguished.   Jeremiah promises   God is with them,  they will be saved and the people will live in safety.  Their exile will end – they will be liberated.


We need to be liberated from our dulled and weighed down hearts. We need an end to brokenness and shattered expectations.  We need an end to materialistic lives and frantic living.,  an end to guilt and sin.  Here is the good news.


A new beginning is possible,  On this first Sunday of Advent we are reminded that something better is yet to come.  God’s grace is here with us – it surrounds us.  It lights up our lives,  it offers us guidance when we are lost,  it presents new possibilities for wholeness.  God’s grace delivers us from a life that is filled with anxiety or guilt. 


Be alert Jesus says,  pay attention.   I know that your vision of the future is darkened by your past and even the present.  But,   pay attention.  The signs of my presence with you are being presented to you – just as you notice the coming of the summer by the first leaves of spring,  you can notice my coming in the events of your life.  But,  you must pay attention.  You must expect something new to come,  you must be ready for a change.  Look around you,   Anticipate something wonderful is coming.


I have always been convinced that this sense of hope and new beginnings must enter our hearts before we can understand a more global reading of this passage.  But, it is like the chicken and the egg.      For others of us,  we might need to begin doing something to help others before we will be able to witness the grace of God and let it transform our hearts.


We are the ones,  who have been offered redemption and new life through Jesus Christ.  So we are the ones who are called to help liberate those who live under the same threat of persecution as the early Christians.  God calls us to help mend the creation.  


When Old Testament prophets spoke of justice and righteousness they were referring to fair and equitable relationships among all people.  They were referring to impartial law courts and protection for the weak when threatened by the strong.  They were talking about liberation from foreign domination,  being free from fear of invasion.  They were talking about a world where people lived side by side, peacefully - without prejudice or contempt for each other. 


That is a different world than we live in –   the kingdom of God – but it is a place that we will recognize when we see it,  a place that will offer everyone salvation and safety.


That is our call to action this Christmas season… to help to liberate God’s people.  To bring into view the kingdom of God.


That is why as a church we give you the opportunity to participate in the Santa Fund gift drive of New Milford.  We can help the Sr. high Youth Group fill stockings for the Women’s Club for children in our community.  We can buy alternative Christmas gifts – or an ornament from the Charitree to support Habitat for Humanity or we can purchase gifts from the Serrv Table.  All of these are offered so that we can answer the call to help mend the creation.


You know,  we don’t approach Christmas without an understanding of the salvation that was offered to us in the resurrection.  The birth of our savior is not going to take us by surprise.  But like the early Christians – we are still living during the between times.   We are not living with Jesus in our midst.   And Jesus has not yet returned.  So we must be alert at all times.  And we count on all of our senses to reveal God’s presence to us – and it is that revelation that sets us free.  That is the revelation that gives us a new vision of what our lives and the world can be like.  That revelation will transform your heart and our world.


As we come to this table this morning I invite you to open your heart and your eyes and your ears – all of your senses to the presence of the Christ who came as a babe,  to liberate all of us – from the darkness of dull hearts – to offer a new beginning – one of salvation – transformation, anticipation,  excitement.  As my grand-daughter asked over and over again last week-end as she looked at our neighbors house all decked out in lights… “now is it Christmas?”


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