First Sunday of Advent – December 2, 2018
Trinity, Worcester
Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Watch here (minute 24:22)

In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

I can’t imagine many things scarier than an Audit by the IRS. The thought of an IRS Audit horrifies me. Not because I have anything to hide or because I’ve done anything illegally, but what if a mistake has been made?  What if under the scrutinizing glare of the IRS I don’t measure up – and something is out of place?

To lessen the fear an IRS Audit might inspire, the IRS website suggests an Audit might be considered a “discussion” about one’s finances.  If selected for such a “discussion,” one might be requested to provide any number of documents as part of that discussion: receipts, bills, canceled checks, legal papers, loan agreements, logs or diaries that show dates and locations of travel for mileage reimbursement request, travel tickets, medical and dental records, theft or loss documents, employment documents, and schedule K-1’s are all documents that may be part of the Audit … the discussion.

I don’t feel any better about a “discussion” with the IRS than an “audit” by the IRS!

Now consider this thought … what if your life was selected to be audited by Jesus?  

What if Jesus chose you, and your life, for a Jesus Audit? Like the IRS to lessen the fear of such an audit … let’s call the audit a “discussion.” Imagine Jesus showing up to have a discussion with you about your life as a disciple. In that “discussion” …

  • Imagine Jesus taking a close look at your financial records … and having a discussion with you about how you spend your money …
  • Imagine Jesus looking at your computer or your web browser on your phone … and scrolling through the pictures you have on your phone … and having a discussion with you about what you are looking at and what images you are looking at … and the content you are posting on social media.
  • Imagine Jesus looking at your appointment calendar … and having a discussion with you about how you spend your time – those things you chose to do, and those things you chose not to do?

Perhaps you might prefer an IRS Audit to a Jesus Audit!

The idea of a Jesus Audit comes from my read of today’s scripture readings on this First Sunday in Advent. The gospel reading invites us to consider what it mean that Jesus could return at any moment.

Jesus invited the disciples to be ON GUARD, to BE ALERT, and to pray for strength to escape the day of the Lord’s return. Jesus warned the disciples that Christ would return, and that in that return it would matter how the disciples were living their lives. Jesus invited them to pay attention to their lives – to not be weighed down and distracted by dissipation, drunkenness, and the insignificant drama of life in which we fuss over the small and insignificant details.

Jesus instructed the disciples they were to live their lives anticipating Christ’s return …to focus their attention, their energies, and their time on living as disciples in the world in ways worthy of Jesus Christ.

In audits conducted by the IRS, the IRS is looking for proof that the financial picture reported on paper reflects the actual financial situation of real life. Are the finances really what people say the finances are?

When Jesus returns in judgment, what Jesus will be looking for is that we are who we say we are. If we say we are disciples of Jesus, if we say we are children of God and love God, do our actions in every day real life, identify us as disciples of Jesus and children of God?

Are we disciples who reflect Paul’s invitation in the second reading today to be a community of love?

In the oldest of Paul’s letters, to one of the first assembly of Christians, to a community waiting for the return of Christ,  Paul wrote:  “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”  As they waited for the return of Christ – they were to love.

Do you remember that old hymn … “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” That’s what Jesus will be looking for in his return. Are we who we saw we are? Are we disciples identified by love?

Not just loving when it’s is safe and easy, not just loving when it’s convenient and comfortable, not just loving some who are easy to love, but are we abounding in love Abounding in love for one another?  Abounding in love for all?

Lutheran professor Fred Buechner has written: Preparing for the return of Christ to come in his fullness is above all else to act in Christ’s stead as fully as we know how.  To prepare for the return of Christ is as best we can to be Christ to those who need us to be Christ to them … and to bring to them the most we have of Christ’s healing and hope because unless we bring it, it may never be brought at all.”

What Christ is looking for in his return, is that he would see himself in us, his disciples, his followers.

So, how ready are we for a Jesus Audit?

Are we abounding in love as we make decisions about the earth and its atmosphere?

Are we abounding in love as we make decisions about refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers?

Are we abounding in love as we seek to live together as one people, global humanity even amidst great political, social, religious, economic, and cultural differences?

Friends, the Good News we celebrate today is not our ability to pass the Jesus Audit. In honest and sober personal confession, and by considering the news of the day, we acknowledge the sin in our own hearts, the sin in our own church, and the pervasiveness of sin in our society that prevent us from reflecting Christ’s love to each other.

Our hope is not in our having done everything right. Our hope, instead, is the hope of the ancient prophet, Jeremiah, who prophesied the righteous branch springing forth.

Our hope is found in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Not a Christ who returns in punishment to punish our sin, but a Christ, a savior, who returns to redeem, to reconcile, and to save us from our sin. A Christ of healing, of mercy, of redemption.

Friends, it is because we fail the Jesus Audit, that in this season of Advent, and throughout the year, our special pleading is “Christ come and save us!”

As we call on this Christ, we don’t brush our sin and brokenness under the rug and deny reality. Instead, we call on Christ because of our sin, and because of our great and profound need for healing. Aware of our brokenness and need, trusting in the grace and mercy of Christ, we make our Advent prayer today,  “Stir up your power and come, Lord Christ.  By your merciful protection alert us to sin and redeem us for justice.” 

The Good News today – is that Christ hears that prayer! The Good News today, is that we do not need to wait for some future time for Christ to return. The Good News is that Christ, in the kingdom of God, is breaking in among us right now!  Like the leaves of the fig tree are signs of summer, here are signs of Christ returning:

Where the homeless are cared for, the hungry are fed, the stranger is welcomed … there is Christ breaking in among us to heal our sin!

Where forgiveness is offered, where love is extended, and where mercy reigns … there is Christ breaking in among us to save us from sin!

Where people abound in love, love for one another, and love for all … there is Christ breaking in among us to fulfill God’s will for our lives!

Here among us, Christ is breaking into our community of faith:

  • In the invitation to participate in the Interfaith Hospitality Network this week. Here is Christ calling us into loving relationship with the homeless.
  • In the invitation to participate in Tabitha Circle Bake Sale this coming Saturday in which baked goods to support the outreach ministry of Concordia Lutheran Church. Here is Christ calling us into loving relationship with the stranger.
  • In the invitation to participate in Giving Tree project in which members of this congregation buy a Christmas present for every single resident at the Lutheran Home Worcester. Here is Christ calling us into loving relationship with the elderly.

In these ways and more – here is Christ saving us from the ways of sin that shatter us, divide us, and splinter us into factions. In these ways – here is Christ renewing and restoring community! Where sin pulls community apart – Christ is present in all the ways community is stitched back together.

Friends in Christ, as we enter into this new church year … as we enter into this season of Advent … as we prepare again to celebrate Christ’s birth among us …

Let our hearts be on guard – with hearts on guard against the ways we are dissipated by the cares and concerns of the world, may we live as people of love.

Let our minds be alert – with minds alert against the ways we get so easily blown off course by drama and insignificant details, may we instead fashion ourselves  as a people of love engaging the serious issues of the day.

Let us, as disciples of Jesus, pray for the strength – that empowered by the Holy Spirit to live and love in Christ – we may abound in love in all that we do.

In these ways, as a people of love, may Christ see himself in us when he returns in glory.

Thanks be to God.