Awaiting the Mysterious

Pastor: Nathan Hosler

Scriptures: Jeremiah 33:14-16 & Luke 21:25-36

This weekend we marked the life of my Grandpa Shenk. On Saturday, I, with my cousins and siblings, carried his coffin to the grave on a hill overlooking Lancaster County farmland and not a mile from where he lived much of his 86 years. Earl Eugene Shenk was born 1935 and I met him soon after I was born in August of 1982. He was a person of deep and practical faith.

As a grandchild I mostly piece together memories but the picture is one sincere faith and straightforward following of Jesus. While Jenn and I were in college in Chicago, he and grandma, came to visit us from Pennsylvania—for five hours. His need to get back to work at E E Shenk and Son’s, -the family business grinding and hauling company was, at least in my experience, just something he did—he worked, and with joy.

In his olive-green bathroom there was a Bible. One of those read-the-whole-Bible-in-a-year editions. I remember it as extremely worn from use. When he and grandma moved out of their farmhouse home of many decades, she noted that it needed much updating since he always wanted to give money to the church—a sign of his commitment.

In this church he had served as a deacon for 40 years and as far as I knew sat in exactly the same spot for much of that time. As a child I would go to this spot every Sunday after the service to say hi and get a mint. On November 18th we rushed to see him since we knew his time was short. As we said goodbye, my aunt told me he had been telling everyone in the hospital that he was ready to see Jesus.

Jesus. The coming baby, the coming again risen Christ. The one demonstrated—made manifest—by the cloud of witnesses—regular saints, embodying in some way the extraordinary reality of Emmanuel—God with us.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The first Sunday of the church year. We await, again, the coming of the sweet baby Jesus. The one announced by radical song of the rich being overthrown and the powerful brought low. The one, who later writers, see hinted at and described throughout the Hebrew Scriptures—what churches have often called the Old Testament.

This is the great mystery. One that theologians and preachers have sought to understand and describe for centuries. An elusive mystery but at the same to curiously straightforward and comforting. That the Almighty came close, joining in humanity and suffering and joy. That the Creator of all things experienced suffering and loss and met the needs of everyday folks with compassion and care. This makes sense. God is not far-off but intimately with us.

Jeremiah, and other prophetic and poetic books in the Hebrew scriptures stretch between events of their time and those yet to come. Writers in the New Testament and throughout church history readily interpreted these Messianically—that is, as pointing to Jesus, the Messiah.

Our passage in Jeremiah reads,

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.”

There is an expectation of renewal in that moment but the Messiah, from the line of David, will bring the ultimate renewal.

In Luke we have the other end of expectation and waiting. There was waiting and expectation for the coming of the Messiah and then, upon his departure, a waiting for the return. In the Gospel of Luke we read,

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.”

At all times in history, one could have said such signs of turmoil and disruption were evident. I won’t recount a litany of woes, but I imagine your mind jumps to any number of present realities when you hear these words.

However, Luke asserts that there will be no doubting once these arrive. This is not a call to theorize and postulate the ETA of Jesus but an exhortation to readiness. Like the buds on a fig tree (for those who know the timing of such things) it will be evident and a clear signal.

That this coming of the Christ is coming quickly requires that we be ready. No dilly. No dally (to quote a kid’s book about little bear and the coming of winter). Though this coming is of the born, grown, having ministered, crucified, risen, and ascended to heaven Christ, the theme of anticipation and waiting aligns with the season of Advent. Eager expectation. Preparation. These things mark this season.

Luke concludes, “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.”

In the book of Hebrews we read,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…”

The coming Jesus brings the Divine presence close. The great cloud of witnesses—those who have gone before and those still with us—demonstrate, show the way, embody—what it means to be with God, close to the heart of the one who brought this world to life. This wonderous world of wildebeests and glowing red maple trees.

In the book of Job, God asks the book’s namesake,

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings[
a] shouted for joy?

This great wisdom and power, mysteriously present in a coming baby. Mysteriously made manifest in the lives of Jesus followers. Regular folks filled with the Spirit. Clearly, we aren’t perfect, and neither was Grandpa Shenk nor those in the great cloud of witnesses. None-the-less, they bear witness. Luke urges us to be alert. Prayerfully alert, keeping watch for the coming Christ, the soon arriving baby Jesus. The Almighty again comes near. Amen.

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