Before the Dawn”
Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Here is a phrase that most ministers
will not make: “I LOVE it when the first Sunday of Advent follows three days
We know that a certain number of our
congregation travelled to be with family … or get away from family … for the
holiday and did not get in town in time for church.
A certain number of you ended up in
jail because of your Black Friday shopping antics.
Whether you spent Thanksgiving at
home, or away … or in jail … the season of Advent begins in a tryptophan fog.
Everyone is full of their leftovers. Did you enjoy your , stuffing waffles, turkey
pancakes, and your gravy-infused coffee this morning?
Of course, the Gospel less this
morning is certainly one that could shock us out of our tryptophan haze. What a
light and breezy little passage to read this morning as we gather on this
holiday weekend. This passage does not exactly scream, “Happy holidays!!”
The words that we just heard from
Luke’s Gospel sound familiar. We just heard a very similar warning in Mark’s
Gospel a couple of weeks ago. Luke used the same sort of word pictures to
create a powerful mental image. However, as powerful as it may be for us, it
was a much more powerful image for the first century listener. To truly
understand the full impact of Luke’s words, we have to read and listen to these
words from their perspective, because it is very different from our own.
I will be quite honest … it is never
easy to make this pivot. We just gathered with family for a wonderful holiday
meal. Your families may have discussed their Christmas plans as you sat around
the table. You may have already strung lights at your house, or even put up and
decorated your Christmas trees. And then we talk about THIS as we begin the
season of Advent.
But we must remember what this is
all about. Advent is about waiting, anticipation, preparation. This message was
not originally for us, it was for them, the people of Israel. They had not
heard the Voice of God for six hundred years. The prophets had been silent.
Until Jesus came. He was the next Great Prophet. And as it turns out, he was
the final prophet. The people had been waiting and praying for generations! And
now … or then … they heard the words of
Jesus. The One who is the Word of God Incarnate spoke the Truth that they had
hoped and prayed for.
The words that Jesus spoke were
words of hope and encouragement. For those First Century hearts and ears, they
were the fulfillment of the prophecy in the Book of Daniel:
“In my vision at night I looked, and
there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of
heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given
authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every
language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will
not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
words that Jesus offered spoke directly to the hopes and dreams of the people. The
signs in the sun, moon and stars might be taken literally. They often are by
people in our age. But those words could easily mean that the great nations of
the earth would go through great convulsions, times of great trial and
upheaval. Great nations like Rome that occupied their country would crumble and
Coming of the Son of Man would be understood by those first listeners of the
fulfillment of the prophecy. It was the promise that God’s true people would be
vindicated after suffering at the hands of the “beasts” … pagan nations that
had oppressed them. Generation after generation of God’s people had suffered
conquest, defeat and oppression. But their vindication was at hand!
passage is NOT about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It IS about the
vindication of Jesus and the rescue of his people from the system that had
oppressed them for generations. Hallelujah!
course, for the modern reader, the destruction of Jerusalem is just a blip in
ancient history. For many people it may be history that has been forgotten, if
they even knew it at all. Some may recall the persecution of the early
followers of Jesus. They may remember something about the Coliseum in Rome. However,
as we gather here this morning, we are well aware of the fact that we continue
to live in a world that rejects Jesus’ summons to live in peace.
is why the message this morning, the message that Jesus offered is so
important. We must have patience.
gave those first listeners hope. He said that the vindication would occur
within that generation. No doubt the people started doing their math or ticking
off the days on their “Advent” calendars. One week … two weeks … one year … two
years … one decade … two decades …
people had waited anxiously for their vindication. They had hoped and prayed
for generations. How much longer would they have to wait? Things had been
difficult on and off. They had waited and prayed and waited some more. And they
were still waiting … year after year.
about it from our perspective. Think about how impatient we have become as we
have endured almost two years of the COVID pandemic. We have lived in
uncertainty and continue to live in that uncomfortable place as the virus
surges again and again. We are having trouble imagining when this will end, and
we can return to “normal.”
imagine the Children of God waiting and waiting for YEARS … for generations.
Consider what this promise meant to them. The freedom that we desire from our
COVID captivity really cannot hold a candle to the freedom for which they
longed, hoped, and prayed.
tensions around their world had been rising. Revolutionary movements rose and
fell. The Temple was still in “business” with their money-changing and
sacrifices. Some people wanted the relative stability of the “peace” of Rome,
while others desired their freedom. The new converts to the Way of Christ under
the ministry of Paul were coming under fire because they were allowed to
worship without following the old Law of Moses.
is easy to see how those first followers of Jesus would become weary. Their
lives dragged on day by day, week by week. Where was the Messiah? When would
the vindication come?!
word “generation” can reflect our general understanding, a period of about
thirty years. Or the word can refer to an indeterminate period of time that is
characterized by a particular quality such as suffering, witnessing or waiting.
This passage this morning places us in a period of time between the destruction
of Jerusalem and that day when the Son of Man will come for all the people of
We still do not know. It is not as if the coming of the Kingdom of God will be
foretold by a pop-up timer like we have on our Thanksgiving turkeys. We have to
do it the old-fashioned way … work, wait and watch.
the words of Jesus have been used against his followers for generations. His
promise that these things would occur during the “present generation” have
become the basis for attack and criticism by non-believers. “Where is your God?
Where is your Jesus? Huh? I thought that he was coming. I guess that your faith
is misguided. I guess those words are just meaningless mumbo-jumbo. Lies, lies,
lies. Just an opiate for the masses.”
still hear those attacks today. We still get attacked because we maintain our
faith in God. We still get attacked because we maintain our faith in the
Kingdom of God that is becoming and still to come. We still get attacked by
those whose evidence against God is all of the horrible things that have
happened and continue to happen in the world.
say that Christianity is outdated, disproved, boring and irrelevant. They cite
all of the horrible things that have been done in the name of the church, and
in the name of Christianity. They cite the charlatans and false prophets that
Jesus warned about … the warning that we heard in Mark’s Gospel account.
sadly, their criticisms are not all wrong. The Christian Church is guilty of
many of the things that they claim. But many of their attacks are unwarranted,
unfounded and untrue, based upon ignorance and misinterpretation. In some ways,
our “cities” are still surrounded by attacking armies. There are still “beasts”
that seek to do us harm.
the message of Jesus remains the same … be patient. Be faithful. Continue our
there will be times when we are exhausted mentally, spiritually, physically and
emotionally. But we must not give in. Rather, we should be renewed in Hope.
year we light this candle. Every year we celebrate the light that breaks
through the darkness.
Kingdom will come! Amen.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072