Looking back through the archives of seventeen years of this journal, we were struck that we have not to this point had an issue directly themed around the art of preaching. So here in our fourth issue of 2012 we’re getting down to basics. A theologian (Robert Saler), a Bible scholar (Sarah Henrich), a preaching professor (Craig Satterlee), our regular columnists (Frank Senn and Ben Dueholm, tackling matters liturgical-historical and contextual), and, most importantly, seven intrepid preachers from around the synod have come together to provide a well-rounded portrait of what it means to proclaim Jesus Christ not on “any given Sunday,” but specifically on the First Sunday of Advent in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary.
For this exercise, we intentionally chose a Sunday that has both a high degree of challenge for preachers and low degree of attention — or attendance — by parishioners, who are often returning from Thanksgiving travels and/or already shifting, or being forcibly shifted, into 24-7 Christmas mode. Happily (less so for Christ the King), 2012 gives us our earliest possible Thanksgiving holiday, with our liturgical new year’s day landing in December. That means preachers in this synod and beyond have a rare opportunity to surprise and disrupt and refocus the hearts of their hearers with the news that Christ is coming, is coming soon — and not as a baby. We are not, after all, moving in circles. We believe in the End, and also the things before the End.
Here are the assigned texts (NRSV) for Advent 1C:1
14The 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. 15In 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. 16In 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.”
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
25[Jesus said,] “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. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be 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.”
Preaching Christ’s Advent
How can we speak honestly and hopefully about the coming of the Son of Man to people already full of fears and longings? Is Christ’s advent an individual reality or a cosmic one? Far off or, in some ways, realized? Does it connect with or extend from our present experience or is it totally external and “other?” Will the Day break upon us apart from our cooperation or somehow include it? Is this just what we’ve been waiting to hear, or does the hearing re-form us into a people who, with fear and trembling, know how to wait?
These are some of the questions you will find taken up in the articles and sermons that follow. We want to express our deep gratitude especially to our seven preachers who answered the invitation to share sermon manuscripts for this exercise: Kim Beckmann, Melissa Bills, Antonio Cabello, Erik Christensen, Jon Dumpys, Michael D. Fick, and Julie Eileen Ryan. Knowing that their labors on behalf of the gospel would be publicly, if lovingly, scrutinized by LSTC preaching professor Craig Satterlee, they nonetheless have shared their work for the common good of readers and all those getting ready to preach on these texts. Together these pastors bear witness that indeed, as Dr. Satterlee titles his piece, “There’s Good News in Metro Chicago on the First Sunday in Advent!”
By all means, we hope you will add your own voice to the conversation. You don’t have to teach homiletics for a living to be qualified to chime in. Where do you hear good news in these articles and sermon manuscripts? What are you expecting to hear or preach as we begin the Advent season? We welcome your comments and responses.
The assigned Psalm is Psalm 25:1-10. To keep things simple, we have mostly sidelined the Psalm text from our sermon conversation, although Rob Saler makes reference to it at one point in his piece.