The text for this sermon is Jeremiah 33:14 and 15, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I have made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  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.  Pastor Jim Kniseley prepared this sermon for the first Sunday in Advent, December 3, 2006.


Dear Friends in Christ,


The word “maranatha” appears in the next to the last sentence of the entire Bible.  It is a Greek word that means, “come Lord Jesus.”  Today, on this first Sunday in the church calendar, on the first Sunday in Advent, “maranatha” beautifully sums up the entire message of our worship.  Come Lord Jesus!


Our faith community recognizes the coming of Jesus in three ways:  We know that Jesus came the first time as the baby born in Bethlehem as the fulfillment of God’s promises.  We believe that Jesus will come again some day at the end of time to usher in his eternal kingdom.  And, we believe that Jesus comes to us today in the preaching and teaching of his Word, and in the sacraments given to his Church.


Talking about the Second Coming of Jesus and the Day of Judgment often brings a sense of dread and fear into the hearts of people.  In early America, Cotton Mather delivered a sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  Some preachers today are continuing their own version of that dreaded sermon.  Today let’s try to understand why a focus on God’s grace will give us a perspective on the future that I believe Jesus wants us to have.


On Friday evening I was at home working on this sermon.  It was about 6:00 and I was sitting at the computer.  All of a sudden the electricity cut off and I was plunged into darkness.  I was  alone in the house except for Bailey, our dog.  And Bailey gets frightened of the dark.  I knew that the closest light was the battery-powered lantern in our bedroom, at the other end of the hallway.  So here’s what I did (and it seems to be an illustration for how God used the prophets in the Bible):  I used my voice to calm Bailey.  “I’m coming, Bailey.  Walking down the hallway.  Slowly.  Feeling the walls and heading toward the bedroom.  Don’t be afraid, I’m coming.”  Eventually I did get to the bedroom and found the lantern and was so relieved to have it turn on.  Bailey was even happier.  And so we hung out together.  I knew that eventually electricity would be restored and we would have lots of light.  Two hours later it happened.


The words to the song we sang as we lit the first candle on the advent wreath today say it well: Light one candle for Messiah: let the light banish the darkness.  He shall bring salvation to Israel, God fulfills the promise.

President John Kennedy often used this story during his 1960 presidential campaign.  It is the story of Colonel Davenport, the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives.  On May 19th, 1780, the sky of Hartford darkened ominously, and some of the representatives, glancing out the windows, feared the end was at hand.  Quelling a clamor for immediate adjournment, Davenport rose and said, “The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not.  If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment.  If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.  Therefore, I wish that candles be brought.”  Rather than fearing what is to come, we are to be faithful till Christ returns.  Instead of fearing the dark, we’re to be lights as we watch and wait.


Yesterday’s Free-Lance Star had an interesting full-page article in the religion section, entitled, “Faiths differ on who ends up in hell.”  Did you read it?


They interviewed officials from Southern Baptists and Catholics and United Methodists and Presbyterians and Church of God in Christ and Nondenominationals.  But typical of this area, no word from any Lutherans.  It reminds us that we are in virgin territory for Lutherans and our message of grace.  Just maybe that is one of the reasons God planted Resurrection Lutheran Church here in this part of his world!


Southern Baptists teach that “there is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.”  The article speculated about a man living on a deserted island and what would happen to him in eternity.  The conclusion was that he would go to hell.  That is why Baptists strive to take their message to all the “lost” of this world.


This article helps me understand that we have some understandings that are shared by us Lutherans with other denominations in our area.  This article simply referred to them but I harvested them as valuable nuggets in the recognition of God’s graciousness:  Pentecostals believe that the Holy Spirit can bypass human activity and grant a vision to anyone.  Most Presbyterians today reject their Calvinist background that God chose only a certain number to be saved and everyone else would go to hell.  Today most Presbyterians believe that salvation comes through God’s grace and there are no limits on God’s salvation.  United Methodists teach that none of us can make any doctrinal or rational decision about who has been touched by God’s grace.  Finally, Catholics certainly teach that Catholics will be saved, but the official catechism states that God can do what God wants.  God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.






If we had been interviewed for that article, this is some of what they might have heard…


Our salvation depends completely on Jesus Christ and what he did on our behalf.  His death on the cross has reconciled us and everyone on earth to God the Father.  We are now counted as righteous before God not because of anything we do or say, but wholly because of who Jesus is.  When God looks at our sinfulness, he sees only Jesus and his righteousness.


To talk of people going to hell as if we know who that will be is foreign to our understanding of our place and knowledge.  God will save whomever God wants to save.  When I confess that God has saved me, a lost and condemned sinner, I can only marvel.  Whom else can he not save?  Faith is precisely the awareness that God’s accepting love reaches out to all sinners, even to me. 


I like this question and answer that comes from the elca website under “frequently asked questions”:  Will all people be saved?  “We do not know the answer.  That is stored up in the mystery of God’s own future.  All God has let us know in advance is that he will judge the world according to the measure of his grace and love made known in Jesus Christ.”


So, on this first Sunday in Advent, we light one candle for Messiah, we prepare our hearts and minds to meet the gracious Jesus at the end of our life, and we receive Jesus even today as he comes to us in the preaching and teach and sacraments of entrusted to the Church.


Maranatha.  Come Lord Jesus!