Message by Pastor Pokora – November 29 – First Sunday of Advent

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Once my wife and I decided to visit my son Jon, his wife and daughters at their home in Palatine, Illinois on a Saturday morning.

Normally, we drive Interstate 80, and then turn-off onto Interstate 88 to make the trip. Unfortunately, a rainstorm passed through the area the morning we left. Truck traffic kicked up so much rainwater we could hardly see the road and missed our exit onto Interstate 88.

What were we do? We could turn back to connect with the I-88, or we thought, we could simply take a state highway running north through Geneseo to return eventually to 88. We guessed Illinois Route 82, which runs through Geneseo, might lead to 88. We were wrong. Illinois Route 82 ends somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We drove the rural roads of Henry County not knowing where we were. At one point, I thought we were lost. I did not know where we were or where we were going until finally, I saw a sign to Prophetstown. which led us back to Interstate 88. We wasted much time and saw country we had not expected to see that morning.

Life is often like our road trip. We start with good intentions, believe we know the way to our destination but then things happen, distracting and sending us in unanticipated directions. I believe something similar happens in Advent each year. We believe Advent leads us to Christ, but somewhere along the way we get distracted. The distractions begin in late October and early November, when HyVee piles Christmas candy high in the store aisles. It happens on Sunday morning, when we open the newspaper to see adds announcing Christmas sales. It happens when we turn the car radio on and hear radio stations playing Christmas music in mid-November. 

Maybe it’s like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They had every intention of following God’s command and not eating of the fruit of the tree in the center of the garden. But then along comes the serpent and he puts a bug in their ear. He tells them to ignore God and enjoy that fruit. They will be happy they did. They will be just like God. He appeals to that inner desire which draws away from God.

We know how that temptation works. Several years ago, for example, a congregation celebrated Thanksgiving one evening. After the service, our members provided three tables full of desserts. I walked into fellowship hall and told myself to resist temptation and eat just one of those delicious brownies. But then I saw other brownies with thick chocolate icing and marsh mellows along with cherry pie. I needed to count calories, but I have a sweet tooth. The temptation was too much.

Something like that happens this time of year. We intend to focus on the spiritual, but struggle to get beyond the material. We recall two parallel seasons subtly intersect with each other this time of year. There is the Advent season and the holiday season. Advent points to the coming of Christ; the holiday season welcomes Santa Claus. Advent focuses on giving to others, while the holiday season encourages self-indulgence. One season is secular and the other religious. One serves God’s purpose and the other serves us.

Even scripture has two minds about Advent. Read at our Gospel for this Sunday. Here Jesus speaks about the coming of the Son of Man, the Messiah. He says there will be signs in heaven and on earth. People will be filled with foreboding. The Son of Man will come on clouds with power and glory. The time of redemption draws near. So near Jesus says, this generation pass away until all things take place. His words will remain.

Then Jesus addresses his disciples. He says to “be on guard with your hearts weighed down with worries. Then he adds this admonition: 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.” This is certainly not a theme you will find at Target or Walmart or North Park Mall at this time of year. In fact, holiday advertising takes the opposite tact and emphasizes indulging the material with extravagance. Buy those gifts, enjoy the parties forget about tomorrow.

The emphasis today is upon receiving Jesus as God’s Son, when he comes to us. Let me share with a story with you. Many ears ago a wealthy man and his devoted young son, shared a passion for collecting art. They traveled the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and many others adorned the walls of the family estate. The widowed father looked on with satisfaction, as his only child became an experienced art collector. The day came when war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. A few short weeks, his father received a telegram that his beloved son had been killed while carrying a fellow soldier to a medic. 

On Christmas morning a knock came at the door of the old man’s home, and as he opened the door, he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hand. He introduced himself to the man by saying, “I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.” “I’m an artist,” said the soldier, “and I want to give you this.” As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of his son. Though the art critics might not consider the work of genius, the painting featured the young man’s face in striking detail and captured his personality. 

The following spring, the old man passed away. According to his will, his art collection would be auctioned. The day soon arrived, and art collectors gathered to bid on the paintings. The auction began with the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. The room was silent. “Who will open the bidding with $100?” he asked. No one spoke. Then the auctioneer announced, “We have to sell this one first. Now, who will take the son?” Finally, a friend of the old man spoke. “I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it. I will bid $100.” “The auctioneer asked. “Will anyone go higher?” No one spoke; the gavel fell. Cheers filled the room and someone asked, “Now we can get on with it!” But the auctioneer said the auction was over. Someone asked, “What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars’ worth of art here! We demand that you explain what’s going on!” The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son picture… gets it all.” 

This is the essence of Advent. Whoever receives the Son gets it all. Scripture reads: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12). The one who has the Son has it all.  Be alert and prepared to receive Christ this Advent. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.