First Sunday in Advent (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, November 28, 2010
This Advent we’re going to be focusing on the psalms appointed for each Sunday, looking to see how the psalms, the hymn book of the Old Testament, how these psalms prepare us for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
Of course, Advent is more than just about waiting to celebrate Christmas. Advent is also a season that reminds us that we’re waiting for Christ to return again, waiting for Him to return and bring us to eternal life with Him. Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and so Advent prepares us to celebrate when Jesus came the first time, arrived at Christmas—His first Advent. But Advent is also about waiting and watching for that Second Advent, waiting for Christ to return to bring this world to an end and bring us to the new world, the eternal life, a promise we have because of what Jesus did on the cross, a promise of living forever with God because our sins are forgiven.
With all of that in mind, we could decide that Psalm 122 is a good psalm for Advent because of verse 1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’” It’s a verse to encourage people to go to church, and Advent certainly is a time of encouraging people to come back to church if they’ve been away, it’s a time to be in church and prepare for Christ returning, a time to be in church not just for Christmas but also a part of your weekly routine. Advent is a time to renew your commitment to church, and so maybe that’s why Psalm 122 is chosen: “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
But then that would mean the original meaning of the psalm was just about going to the temple, was just about going to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the feasts. And that doesn’t seem quite right, because if you look at Psalm 122, it does talk about Jerusalem, the focus is on being in Jerusalem, but there seems to be something more going on. The psalm identifies Jerusalem with joy, justice, peace, and security. That’s more than a city can offer.
Joy, justice, peace, and security. We’re not just talking about the city of Jerusalem. This psalm is talking about what it means to come to God, what it means to have faith in God. This psalm is pointing to Jerusalem as a symbol for coming to God. Joy, justice, peace, and security, those are things that we can only truly find in God.
So if Psalm 122 isn’t just talking about going to Jerusalem, if Psalm 122 is really talking about having faith in the true God, then when it comes to our lives, Psalm 122 isn’t just about going to church in Advent. It’s about faith in Jesus. It’s about finding joy, justice, peace, and security in Jesus. It’s about having faith in Jesus as we wait for Second Advent. When the psalm says that we have joy when people say, “Let us go to the house of the Lord,” we’re talking about something deeper. We’re talking about what it means to have faith in God, to go to God in faith, to have a relationship with Him. So it’s more than saying, “Let’s go to church.” It’s saying, “Let’s go to God in faith.” It’s saying, “Let’s go to the eternal house of the Lord.” “Let’s go to the Kingdom of God.”
That’s the promise that comes to you. That’s the promise we celebrate every day, but we especially can see this in Advent. We celebrate the promise of the eternal house of the Lord in Advent, in knowing that there’s a Second Advent. We celebrate that because Jesus came the first time, so then we’ll go with Him when He comes a second time. We celebrate that there’s forgiveness and mercy for us at the Last Day. We celebrate that we do not need to be afraid of the Last Day. We can rejoice in the Last Day, rejoice that Christ is coming to take us to be with Him forever.
That’s the promise that comes to you, and that’s the promise that we can hear in the words of Psalm 122. More than being about the earthly Jerusalem, it’s a hymn of rejoicing about the heavenly Jerusalem. It’s a hymn of rejoicing about the true joy, justice, peace, and security we will have in the New Jerusalem.
This seems good and right to me, because I’m not interested in people coming to Bethel Lutheran Church. I’m not interested in growing the congregation.
You heard me right. I, your pastor, am not that interested in growing Bethel Lutheran Church. I’m not that interested in growing the congregation.
I’m not interested in that as much as I am interested in Kingdom Growth, more people becoming part of the Kingdom of God, more people having faith in Jesus. I want people to be in the New Jerusalem, the new world, the life after death that they can only have if they have faith in Jesus.
I know, it’s a whole different way to think. We’re kinda programmed to think it terms of how we can grow our congregation, get our congregation to be bigger, and honestly, I do think about that, too.
But what I see in Psalm 122, what I see in Advent is that this shouldn’t be our primary goal. Our primary goal can’t be getting people into Bethel Lutheran Church. Our primary goal has to be seeing that people hear about Jesus, hear about how to be in His Kingdom. Our primary goal is telling people that they can have that joy, justice, peace, and security in Jesus Christ.
Remember: Psalm 122 is not about going up to the temple; it’s about faith in God. And our message isn’t just about coming to Bethel Lutheran Church; it’s about faith in Jesus, being a part of the Kingdom of God.
It’s a whole different way of thinking. It’s Advent thinking. It’s rejoicing to be in the house of the Lord—and really we mean, it’s rejoicing to be in the Kingdom of God.
Do you know what I mean? Our first priority isn’t Bethel Lutheran. Our first priority is that people are in the Kingdom of God. That’s why we support missionaries including Heather Wickstrom who will be going to Greece. That’s why we support our District and Synod, the missions that happen through the District and Synod. None of those things helps Bethel Lutheran Church get bigger. But we do them because we’re most interested in making sure that people get to know Jesus, and if there are some missionaries out there spreading the Word of God, well, we come along and support them in their work.
Do you know what I mean? We’re interested in Kingdom Growth, not Church Growth. We’re interested in people coming to the eternal Jerusalem, coming to the eternal house of the Lord, more than we’re interested in having them come to Bethel Lutheran Church on Grand Avenue. That’s why as much as I want you to invite friends to church, and inviting friends to church may be one of the best ways to introduce someone to the faith, and in the process, your friends may get to know Jesus, as much as I will keep encouraging you to invite friends to church, your primary goal should be helping your friends find a place to worship Jesus. Not everyone will find that Bethel is going to be their place of worship, but we certainly want our friends to know Jesus, to be involved somewhere in their faith, to be someplace where they are hearing the Word of God on a regular basis. That’s Advent thinking; that’s being focused on the Kingdom.
That’s why when people stop coming to Bethel or when visitors don’t keep coming to Bethel, we’re disappointed, but our biggest concern is whether those people are worshipping elsewhere. Our concern has to be on their eternal spiritual life—and not just their temporary spiritual life, whether they are at our congregation or not. We want to know that those people who are not coming to Bethel are involved in a church somewhere, are still in the faith, still have the promise of eternal life.
It’s a whole different way to think; it’s Advent thinking. It’s rejoicing to be in the house of the Lord—and really we mean, it’s rejoicing to be in the Kingdom of God.
Because let me be direct for a moment: as Christians, we want other people to also have faith in Jesus. That’s the bottom line. No matter what other things we might do as Christians and as a congregation, the bottom line is that we want people to believe in Jesus so that they too can go up to the eternal house of the Lord, so that they can have true joy, justice, peace, and security in Jesus.
That bottom line affects how I read Psalm 122, so that I don’t just see it as being about going to Jerusalem. It’s about going to the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city.
That bottom line, wanting others to believe in Jesus, that bottom line affects how I see Advent. Advent isn’t just about preparing to celebrate Christmas; Advent is a reminder that the clock is ticking, the time is coming closer, that Jesus is going to return, that people who don’t have faith in Jesus will go to hell, that there are people around us who don’t have true joy, justice, peace, and security in their lives.
That’s what I mean by Advent thinking. That’s what it means to be more concerned about Kingdom Growth than Church Growth. That’s what it means to be read Psalm 122 through the eyes of Advent, through the eyes of faith.
And Advent thinking begins with rejoicing in what you have in Christ, rejoicing that you have been invited to the New Jerusalem, rejoicing that you will go to the eternal house of the Lord, rejoicing that you have true joy, justice, peace, and security in Jesus.
Advent thinking, Kingdom Growth thinking means rejoicing in what you have and then remembering that you want others to have that same thing, that you want others to have that hope of eternal life, too. It means remembering that Christ is going to come back, that Christ will return, there’s a Second Advent, and you want the people around you to go to the eternal house of the Lord, too.
And Advent thinking, Kingdom Growth thinking begins with remembering that bottom line, remembering that you want people to have life after death, remembering that you have the promise of life after death, remembering that you have true joy, justice, peace, and security in Jesus. Advent thinking starts with remembering what you have, and then seeing how God calls on us to share this with the world, share this with the people around us.
So go and invite someone to church. Go and tell them the joy you have when you go to church. But more than that, go and invite someone to go to the eternal house of the Lord, invite someone into the Kingdom of God, invite someone to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, invite someone to know true joy, justice, peace, and security in Jesus. And when they come with you, or when they go somewhere to worship, sing Psalm 122 together, rejoice together that you have the New Jerusalem through Jesus Christ.