Yet Even Now

Sunday, December 6, 2020
Pastor Mark Aune

Joel 2:12-13, 28-29 

If today’s reading from Joel sounds familiar it should be. It is usually heard in worship on Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent.

Today is the second Sunday in Advent. Lent and Advent are similar seasons of the church year. Themes of preparation, contemplation and repentance are present in Lent and Advent.

Yet for most of us, in a normal Advent, the days are filled to the brim with concerts, parties, family gatherings and school events; all piled on top of normal activities that most families over schedule themselves with each year.

Getting ready for Christmas is a sprint layered on top of a marathon of exhaustion with a large helping of stress added just for a good measure.

I had a friend share with me that in a normal December he was doing something almost every night of the month. When some people call December the silly season, there is some truth to it. We arrive at Christmas having drained our emotional and spiritual tanks and we’re running on empty by the time Jesus shows up in Bethlehem.

But this year is different isn’t it. You don’t need me to tell you that. Everyday we wake up to different. Perhaps you are already running on empty.

How are you coping?

How are you holding up as the darkness gets darker and much of what you look forward to in this marvelous month of December and season of Advent won’t be the same?

The prophet Joel has a word for you today. An important word.

Joel is a prophet in the post exilic period for the people of Israel. They have returned from exile in Babylon, returned to the land and the place where their house of worship once stood.

Joel is warning the people about a natural disaster that is about to come upon the people.

Under normal circumstance, when a prophet speaks a word of warning to God’s people, they would go to the temple, the house of worship to pray, offer sacrifices to God and seek God’s guidance and comfort.

But life wasn’t normal in Joel’s time. The temple was in ruins and the country was in ruins.

Then God speaks through the prophet and this is what God says;

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.

How do we return to God when we are shut out of our place of worship and prevented from coming together as the body of Christ in a manner we are accustomed to?

What does a returning to God look like for you and me in December of 2020?

The invitation is in the first three words of our reading for today; yet even now.

Yet even now; whatever your now looks like or feels like, we are invited to return to the Lord.

Yet even now; whatever your sin and your struggle, your closeness to God or your distance from God, we are invited to return to the Lord.

And notice how we are to return to God. In our Sunday best with smiles on our faces and the illusion that all is perfect in my life and in your life?

No, return to me says the Lord with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. God doesn’t care about the externals. God is interested in what is going on inside of us.

What if we were to honestly acknowledge that right now, even now, we are a grieving people, a weeping people. To just be honest about it and return to the Lord with our lament, our grief and our loss.

What if we were to set aside the need to approach God and worship with a sense of positivity and return to God with the truth about our lives.

  • The truth about our feelings,
  • our losses,
  • the struggles we are facing,
  • yes, even our sin and our broken and hurting lives.

We are told to rend our hearts and not our clothing.

This season of Advent, so different than any we have ever experienced, can truly become a time of repentance and waiting for all of us who seek to follow the one whose birth we are preparing for in a few weeks.

When God says we are to rend our hearts, God is in effect welcoming our lament and inviting us into deeper contemplation and a deeper relationship with the one who has the power to heal our hearts and make us whole again.

This Advent we could prepare spiritually for Christmas in a different way than we normally prepare.

All the external stuff, as fun and enjoyable as it is, the gift buying and giving, the concerts, the food, the gatherings that are so meaningful and fun are all things we are good at and even though we can complain about being too busy we enjoy these things and we think of them as preparation for Christmas.

Yet even now, says the Lord, especially now in 2020, return to me with all your heart.

And I wonder, what will this Advent season give to you in new ways, different ways, as you prepare for Jesus?

  • A sabbatical from the cultural craziness of the season and new ways to open your heart to God.
  • A spiritual awareness you didn’t have before, one that brings you closer to God and more in tune with how God is leading you and how God wants to use you in this world.

Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. This is the promise.

And isn’t this what we need now more than anything?

To understand and live each day in the gracious power and presence of God in our lives.

To know in the deepest reaches of our broken hearts the steadfast love of the Lord.

A love that completely and fully manifests itself in the birth of our savior. The one we wait and prepare for each day.

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.

This Advent, God is giving us a new way to prepare and we have a different sense of time.

Time to pray, to reflect, time to return to God with our whole hearts. And with this time, comes the promise of an outpouring of God’s Spirit.

Of new dreams. A new vision. One of hope. One of peace.

Come Lord Jesus come.

Bring comfort to your people, as we give our hearts to you.

Thanks be to God. Amen

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