I never like when the stores make the choice to replace their Halloween decorations with Christmas ones. I want do not want to miss Thanksgiving. I love the time around the table with family and the moments to offer our heartfelt thanks to God for all that He has done in our lives. But, the second the Thanksgiving meal is done I am ready to shift wholeheartedly to Christmas mode. The Christmas tree is decorated the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. Our tree is a living testimony of places and experiences that Beth, the kids, and I have shared together. Each ornament is special. Each one tells a story. Oh and the music. I love Christmas music. As soon as the Thanksgiving meal has passed my car is set to the non-stop Christmas music station. I love to hear the old songs – and the new ones – over and over and over again. When I am all alone in the car I will sing along loud and proud. I love the build –up toward Christmas day – each day, each hour, each minute, each second growing closer and closer. I am like a kid – I can hardly wait until Christmas! It is time to sing and celebrate, time to put out the manger scene, and to remember the gift of the babe in a manger – the grace gift of God – Jesus.
As we come into this season it is important that we remember the people of God who during each Passover feast would remember the stories of Moses and God carrying them out of Egypt. They also remembered the prophets of old that told them that a messiah was coming for them. They waited for the coming Messiah. They waited for the movement of God. They waited for with a divine hope. They waited for redemption. They waited with eager anticipation. I remember and while what I wait for is different, I can understand what they must have been feeling. The sense of expectation I feel at Christmas reminds me that we are an “already” and “not yet” people. We are the people of Christmas and Easter and the people who await God’s next grand act. “We remember the hope that the prophets had as they waited in expectation for a Messiah - longing for a Savior to bring peace and hope to a broken world. As we remember Israel's longing for a Savior, our hearts are turned toward our own longing to know and experience the miracle of God's gift once again. ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’”[i]
The Romans 8:18-25 spoke with power to a people besieged on every side, wondering if the promise of Jesus’ return was true. Tom Nash read the passage earlier in our service and we listened as the word he spoke painted the picture of a people much like us, waiting in eager expectation. Our passage begins; 19 For the creation (and Paul means the whole of creation – everything that God created) waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
It is an amazing picture – the whole of creation waiting in eager expectation. Mary Hinkle Shore is an Associate Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary St. Paul, M. I love the way she captures the heart of what it means to all of creation to wait with eager expectation. The "eager expectation" Paul refers to in 8:19 is literally the act of craning the neck to get a better look at what is coming down the road. It is the upturned face of the farmer watching the sky before starting up the combine for harvest. It is the leaning forward of a woman on a train platform as she awaits a loved one's arrival. [ii] Look again; what creation is waiting on is for the children of God to be revealed. The picture is that the fate and future of all of creation is inextricably tied to God’s work among his children. Paul’s sees redemption as something so great in scale in changes everything it touches. All of creation will be changed when the people live as the redeemed children of God.
Paul was writing to a church under siege from every direction. They had claimed the faith in Christ and but found themselves frustrated and in bondage in the culture that despised them. It would have been easy for them to give up. But Paul wanted them to hear that the promise of the power of redemption was more than a future hope and promise – it was also to be their reality. God wanted to work in them and through them as instruments of liberation, of redemption, and grace. If I was speaking for Paul I might have him say something like, “Hey, I know things are really tough now, but God is going to work through you even now, but your future with God and the unveiling of God’s glory is beyond your wildest imagination. He did not want them to get so lost in the promise of tomorrow that they missed the word that they were the people of “already!”
The suffering these early believers experienced is mirrored in creation who is burdened down and in decay. But when the winds of redemption blow the bondage of sin is shattered and not only will the people find a divine hope and future, the whole of creation over will also reflect the nature of redemption and God’s intention in creation. This is the new heaven and new earth Revelation kind of language of hope where God redemptive act is so huge and so encompassing that everything is touched by His glory. I know that these are good easy words to say, but when you look around it is clear that creation still waits, still longs for God’s glory to be unleashed.
Paul is not painting the picture of a religious fantasy, he knows the pain the church is feeling and can see the pain all of creation reflects. He continues; 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.24 For in this hope we were saved. Paul sees that all of creation is waiting with us, groaning with us. He tells the church in Rome – and by extension tells us that we are the first fruits of this promise. We come to the Christmas story already knowing about the babe in the manger and can hear the witness of the angels singing on the hillside to a group of common shepherd echoing in our ears. We know that the babe is Jesus, the very Son of God. We know that Jesus will love and lead, teach and heal, live and die and rise again that we might be saved. We embrace Galatians 3:26 where we hear, So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. We are the first fruits of God’s redemptive work. The Kingdom of God has begun in us. We are the people of “already.”
But Advent reminds us that we are also the people of “not yet.” We groan inwardly and creation groans with us with the expectation of like of that of childbirth – the pain of the now will give way to a joy beyond words. The groaning will give way to unspeakable glory. We wait for God’s final grand act of redemption. We wait for the return of Jesus and the dawn of the forever Kingdom of God. Our passage reminds us; But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they “already” have? 25 But if we hope for what we do “not yet” have, we wait for it patiently. We are the people that live between the resurrection and the return, God’s children waiting on our moment to be at God’s side. The promise of the coming Kingdom is about so much more than streets of gold and mansion in glory; it is about a being and living in the presence of God. So we wait with eager anticipation – living in the now through God – waiting on the tomorrow with God.
So what does all of this mean for us this morning as we move into the Advent season? In the verses that follow our focal passage Paul speaks again; 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
As the people of “already” we should come to this Advent season filled with eager anticipation, remembering again God’s great gift of the Christ child – God’s great way for redemption – God’s grand act to fulfill the promises through prophets of old of a Messiah, a savior for the world. We should come to this Advent season filled with hope and hearts aflame to live out our lives as the children of God. This Spirit is at work in our weakness and God is at work in all things. This is a call to action. We are called to proclaim God’s gospel story and to fulfill God’s Great Commission. We are to live out our part of the Kingdom of God on earth so that everyone and all of creation sees God’s grace and God’s glory on display. This is part of why we highlight our missional engagement in this and other Advent services. The Commons is filled with images and opportunities of our engagement in God’s great Kingdom work. We serve our community and seek to touch the world with the good news of Jesus Christ because we are a part of the living Kingdom of God in the now.
But we also come to this Advent season as the people of “not yet.” Just as the early people of God waited with eager expectation we must stick our necks out as far as we can to see what is coming. We, the children of God wait for the forever Kingdom of God – a forever with God – when God’s redemption and God’s way will define eternity. It is time to remember. It is time to act. It is time to wait with eager anticipation. God is at work and His glory is and will forever be on display.
[i] From Hope Arriving by Word Music.
[ii] Accessed through textweek.com. Available online at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=7/17/2011&tab=3 on 11/30/12.