Advent, the time of expectation, prayer and thanksgiving
The following sermon was preached by S. Michael Birra, LSTC Senior M.Div. student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, December 7, 2006.
Ps.25: 1-9; Jer.33: 14-16; 1The. 3:9-13; Lk. 21: 25-36
People of God, would you please rise and pray with me. Take a few moments and think about your own life journey.
O God, I know where I came from. These people of yours also know where they came from. O God more than we know ourselves, you know us. You know us from the day we were conceived in the womb of our mothers. You know us from the day of our baptism. Since then to the present day of our lives you are with us. Your protection, guidance, mercy are always with us and follow us wherever we go. And so we are here to hear from you, to know you more, to worship you, to honor you and give you thanks for what you have done in each of our lives. In Christ's name Amen!
In America, it is common for clergy to move from one congregation to another. Most clergy preach their "Farewell Sermon" on one Sunday and preach their start-up sermon in the new congregation on the following Sunday. In five days I will leave this LSTC community which I have considered my home, seminary, monastery, community, and church for the last four years. Even though I am preaching on Thursday, this is my farewell sermon, although, I have a great expectation that one day I will preach my start-up sermon in a new congregation one which I don't know yet. This is Advent!
As many of you know, Advent is usually a time of expectation. But today, I want to emphasize that Advent is not only a time of expectation, but also a time of prayer and thanksgiving.
The season of Advent is the time of expectation, prayer and thanksgiving.
I think every living creature is expectant. I believe that all of you who are gathered around here, regardless of who you are, have some kinds of expectation in your own life journey. For some of you, your expectation might be fulfilled; some of you are still expecting the fulfillment of your expectation. We all expect good things to come from God. Therefore, we all gather here to worship, pray and give thanks to God expecting and trusting that our future is in God's hand. God is good!
Here at LSTC, the students and the LSTC community have common expectations the students' accomplishment of all the requirements, graduation and ordination in order to carry out the ministry that God has called us to do in God's world. Very soon the LSTC president, James Kenneth Echol's will hand us our diplomas upon our achievements and say, "Go in peace" and serve God and God's people, just like the priest in Media, Jethero the Cushite said to Moses.
Now my expectation is to fly back to Florida to be with my family who are also greatly expecting my arrival and I will wait for my first call. Amen! Halleluiah!
My success today did not happen without God's protection, guidance and providence. My family, my home church, the community of LSTC and other people who I don't even know personally are part of this success. I am honored to say thank you to all of them and to you the LSTC community at this time.
The reading of the scripture for today made me rethink my past life experience and my successes of today. About eighteen years ago my expectation did not look like today's. My expectation fell between death and life. My prayer was also different. It went like this, "O God if it is your will save me, save us and if not remember us in your everlasting home." That was when the civil war broke out in Somalia. In the middle of the night we saw a fire of bullets in the sky through the windows. The sound of weapons was also deafening in our ears. Our noses also smelled dust from the falling of weapons. My wife and her friend placed themselves under the table and I put mattress on top of the table as if I could protect them from the coming of bullets from the roof. That world and time of suffering was totally different for us. For us, it is just like the world we just heard in the Gospel of Luke.
We escaped from the communist government persecution in Ethiopia and faced another challenge. When our lives were threatened by enemies both in our country and even after we escaped, we had no choice except to consistent pray to God for protection, safety, guidance, and redemption.
David's prayers for protection, guidance, and redemption that says, "O God protect me, let my enemies not defeat me 25: 1-3, 15-22; pilot me, in the right path Vv.4-5, 8-10 and pardon me from the sins of my youth (vv.6-7, 11)was part of our prayers. Remember, David was the promised and the anointed person for his leadership role. But here he is praying for protection from his enemies. Knowing our promises, anointing and call for ministry, we too might face some kind of distress or challenge in our lives. We hope it doesn't happen, but if it does happen we have the God of promises to pray to for protection.
God protected David from his enemies and even made another promise with him saying,
"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." (Jer. 33: 14-16)
God fulfilled these promises and so we are here today.
Indeed the LORD is our righteousness. God who is faithful protected me, my wife and our unborn baby who is now going to graduate from Hillsborough high school in May while her Dad also graduates from LSTC. Our prayers express our thankfulness for what God has done in our lives! The prayers and thanksgiving Mary's, Zechariah's, and Simon's such as:
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…and the Mighty One has done great things for me (Lk.1:47-49) "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them from their distress (Lk.1.67-70) and "Master…my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the precedence of all peoples a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Lk. 2:30-32)
evokes my memory and my wife's memory, for we have seen the protection of God in our lives.
It is this redemptive God who comes down to us as a baby and draws us together from different nations, cultures and tongues as the children of God to share what God has done in our lives for His glory.
Brothers and sisters, when we look at our world of today we might frustrated and lose hope because of what we see and hear such as: global warming, racism, terrorism, conflict, war, hunger, sickness that becomes our enemies one or the other way. Even more, the apocalyptic message we just heard in the gospel of Luke reminds us what the world and the situation of humanity will look like prior to the coming of the Son of Man. Messages of fear, disappointment and lost hope are not fun for us, but we do experience them in our lives. In the midst of this situation, God does not leave us without hope and expectation of our redemption.
Advent is a time of expectation, prayer and thanksgiving. We know we all are expecting good things, but sometimes the unexpected thing could happen. As I shared our lives experience with you, we never expected the horrible situation we went through. But we experienced the presence of God our redeemer in the midst of our journey. Remember when situations that indicated in the gospel of Luke will happen, or something shakes your life that the unfailing promise of God is with you. The good news is that we know that our redemption is drawing near, just as it said, "Get up and raise your heads" your redemption is drawing near. We will see the coming of the Son of Man in a cloud. For us not to be ashamed or blamed, our love must grow and overflow and reach out to others; our faith must be strong; our life must be holy, so we will have courage to stand before the Son of Man.
Please get up. Hold the hands of the person next to you firmly. Look up and say to one another, my brother, my sister our redemption is drawing near.