Second Sunday of Advent Sermon
I believe this is the first time I’m preaching an Advent message…ever…in my entire life. It speaks of the type of church that I’ve been with in Los Angeles for the past 20+ years, which is to say that our church didn’t participate in many traditional practices, because such traditions were seen as outdated and rigid.
But I’m here to say that church traditions are good, especially when done with the deep and sincere meaning from which they were born. And Advent is one of those meaningful church traditions that I’m glad we observe here at MIC. And I was glad to see that a few years ago, our church in Los Angeles also started observing Advent.
Advent, as you may already know, is the waiting and preparation period of the church looking ahead to celebrating Christmas—the birth of Jesus, which represents the endowment of God’s gift of redemption and salvation to mankind.
Especially these days, in both Japan and the Western world—in both “non-Christian” and “seemingly Christian” societies—where Christmas has become commercialized, where God and Jesus have been replaced by Santa and Rudolph, and where redemption and salvation have been passed over for romance and shopping, Advent needs to be observed in the church all the more.
Because Advent, I’ll say it again, is the waiting and preparation period of the church looking ahead to celebrating Christmas—the birth of Jesus, which represents the endowment of God’s gift of redemption and salvation to mankind.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. As the church, we continue to wait and prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christmas. If all we’re doing is waiting to see what kinds of gifts we’ll get this year for Christmas, then we’ve missed “the reason for the season.” If all we’re doing is preparing our homes to make it look more festive—with lights, poinsettias, and a Christmas tree—then we’ve missed “the reason for the season.”
These things aren’t necessarily bad things, as Pastor Andrew always says. It’s a blessing to receive gifts from loved ones. It’s nice to enjoy the festive feeling we get from Christmas decorations. But it’s about proper priorities. They would be bad, if those are the highlights to our Advent season and Christmas.
Of course, we should be waiting joyfully and expectantly to celebrate Christmas. But let’s look at how we should be preparing our hearts during this Advent season. Let’s see what we can learn from the corresponding Advent Scripture for today, the second Sunday of Advent.
Passage: Luke 7:28-35
28 “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
At first glance, I didn’t know how to make sense of this passage, especially in light of how it connected to the theme of Advent. But as I read it, and reread it, it became clear that it was a “preparation of the heart” message, in keeping with what we ought to be doing in this Advent season.
1) We should be preparing an obedient heart (I like the Japanese term すなお here.)－OK,
One point we see is the difference between the sinners’ reaction and the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus’ words. It’s not so clear if we just pick up from verse 28, but in the earlier verses, we see Jesus affirming both John’s role as the prophet proclaiming the coming King and his own role as the King who has come.
To this, the sinners “acknowledged that God’s way was right.” However, the Pharisees “rejected God’s purpose for themselves.” And this hinged on whether they were baptized by John or not, because John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Meaning: the sinners admitted that they were sinful, but the Pharisees didn’t. And that made all the difference. It was a matter of the condition of the heart.
Obedience doesn’t just mean doing what you’re told to do, like a dog obeying its master. The deeper understanding behind obedience, why we obey, is that we accept the truth. An obedient heart accepts God’s truth. Also, obedience means that we humbly accept our place before God. An obedient heart accepts that God is our Lord, and we are under him.
In the passage, the truth was not only what Jesus had said regarding the roles of John and himself, but the greater inherent truth—that we are all sinners in need of salvation. An obedient heart, like the sinners, accepts the fact that we need Jesus as our Lord and Savior. But the opposite, a rebellious heart, like the Pharisees, stubbornly refuses to accept that truth.
If we’re Christian, I’m sure we’ve already settled this issue in our hearts, that we are sinners in need of our Savior. But there are many other issues of obedience still at play. An easier way to identify them might be to ask ourselves, “In what ways, in which areas of my life, is my heart still rebellious toward God and his ways?”
(connecting example 1)
Especially during this Advent season, we should be preparing an obedient heart.
2) We should be preparing a thankful heart
The other point we see is how Jesus compares the rebellious people to a bunch of children who cannot be satisfied one way or the other. In so many words, he complains that these people will find whatever reason just to argue and complain. John lived a simple and ascetic life, but they accused him of being possessed by an evil spirit. Jesus tried to be accepting of everyone, but they accused him of being morally corrupt.
People who want to find the bad in something will choose to focus on just that. People who want to complain about something will find something to complain about. The Pharisees, who were stuck in their narrow-minded ways and so dead set in their own definition of righteousness, refused to accept John and Jesus, who were doing great things in God’s name. The Pharisees complained about and attacked the great things John and Jesus were doing.
How often do we complain about what God is doing in our life? How often do we complain about what God is not doing in our life? If we’re Christian, maybe we know not to do this, because it’s become passively ingrained in us that we shouldn’t complain to God. So, as long as we don’t direct our complaints toward God, is that good enough?
What about just complaining? Do you like to complain? Do you like to pick out the one bad thing, the one wrong thing, that one thing that’s keeping things from being perfect? Call it being a pessimist, call it being a realist, call it being a perfectionist—call it whatever you want. But the reality is, if you like to complain or find yourself complaining a lot—meaning you’re hard to satisfy, hard to please, hard to make happy—you’re a complainer.
(connecting example 2)
Especially during this Advent season, we should be preparing a thankful heart.
So, how’s the condition of your heart? Advent is a church tradition meant to be a time of meaningful reflection on what it means to welcome the gift of grace and the joy of salvation, which has come into the world, which has come to us, from God through Jesus Christ.
What does this reality mean to you? To your life? To your faith? Let’s spend this Advent season thinking about that, and earnestly preparing our hearts to be obedient and thankful.