First Reading = 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.
Welcome to Advent, and our new sermon series! As I was praying about what God wanted us to focus on as we prepare ourselves for Christmas this year, I kept coming back to my memories of opening Christmas presents when I was a young boy.
I remember coming upstairs on Christmas morning, peeking around the corner to try to scout out the boxes before we were technically allowed to wake my parents. I remember organizing the boxes so each person had their own pile. And I remember what present I opened first. The biggest box! My boys both do the same thing now.
The presumption is that the best gift is in the biggest box. But usually that’s not true with God. The Christmas story is about a small baby. His parents were small people who would have otherwise gone unnoticed by anyone outside Nazareth. Nazareth itself was a tumbleweed town – too tiny to be noticed. The Christmas story starts with small acts of faithfulness, not grand gestures. And today we’re looking at how God moves on the smallest of days.
We will often find God by looking in the smallest places, the smallest moments, the smallest people, the smallest box.
Sermon Text = Luke 21:25-36
25“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.”
The Smallest Days
Well we decided to go on a hike one day. It was a momentous day, but the person hiking with me didn’t know it. We hiked through the towering trees for a while. It was momentous, but the person hiking with me didn’t know it. We hiked over to the tall sand dunes. It was momentous, but the person hiking with me didn’t know it. We crested the dunes and approached the shores of Lake Michigan. It was momentous, but the person hiking with me didn’t know it.
As I went down on one knee and pulled out a ring, Becca finally knew this was a momentous day. And when I asked, “Will you marry me?” she replied, “No!” <pause> “I mean, yes!” I assume the first “no” was surprise, but the pause was long enough for me to miss a heartbeat or two.
A lot of times we don’t know when the momentous days are going to arrive. When Becca was pregnant with Charlie, I had scheduled a meeting to get my church staff ready to cover for me whenever she went into labor. I had everything planned out and ready for them. I scheduled it for our regular discipleship staff meeting with four weeks to spare before the due date. But then Charlie was born four weeks early – on the day I had scheduled to get everyone ready for my absence.
In our text today, Jesus is talking about a momentous day. He tells his disciples to be on their guard, to be alert at all times, that it will come unexpectedly. In other words, you can’t wait for the momentous day, because you don’t know when it’s going to occur. If a soldier is on guard duty, 99.9% of the time it’s going to be boring. But if they’re not alert all the time, they might miss the very import moment.
So Jesus is telling us that if we look for God on the small days, that unknown momentous day will take care of itself. If we are faithful on a random Tuesday, we’ll be ready to faithful when it matters most.
You don’t have to wait around for God to send the archangel Gabriel with a flaming sword and earth-shattering voice. You don’t have to wait around for God to shine forth from heaven and rumble the epic wisdom you need for your life. You don’t have to wait around for God to show up. He’s already here in the small days and the small moments.
The Smallest Blessings
And Jesus highlights that there will be signs in things that we see every day. The sun. The moon. The stars. The sea. The waves. The trees. The seasons. These are pretty common things. I once saw a cartoon imaging what it would be like if every newscaster suddenly forgot about the day-night cycle. “We’re getting reports that the darkness has spread as far West as Texas. Let’s go live to our reporter in Houston.” “It’s been 30 minutes since the sun vanished…”
Unless you’ve forgotten about the day-night cycle, you’re not surprised when the sun sets and rises. You’re not surprised when the moon comes out. In fact, we can predict it. The sun will formally set tonight around 4:36pm. Now you won’t be surprised.
The point is – it’s an everyday thing. The sun is an everyday thing. The moon is an everyday thing. The stars are an everyday thing. The sea and the waves are everyday things. The seasons are everyday things. They’re not newsworthy unless something weird happens – like setting the record for longest time between snows, just to pick something completely hypothetical and random. Oh wait, that just happened.
So I believe Jesus is telling us to find God in the everyday things. Find God in the smallest moments on the smallest days – the random Tuesdays – because God is reliably there.
Here’s another way to think about this. You probably haven’t seen fire-sword wielding Gabriel, right? But there are thousands of small blessings you have seen and might even see more today. God doesn’t always show up in a blaze of glory to fix the big problem we’re focused on. But he’s right there in small moments throughout the day.
I firmly believe that God sometimes changes circumstances – we call those miracles. But God is in the business of changing people every day. Your big picture circumstances might not change miraculously, but God is ready and willing to change you and other people.
So what are some of the small, everyday blessings? Where can you notice the loving hand of God in small things in your life? We’re not limited to big, momentous things. We’re looking in the smallest box under the tree.
I’m grateful for a good book to read. It’s a blessing when I enjoy a hearty laugh – although it does make me cough these days. I’m grateful for good people at church and especially grateful for their compassionate prayers. I can look back and notice all kinds of things that could have gone so much worse than they did. I’ve been grateful to be able to enjoy the outdoors so much during November. And I’ve been blessed many times with insights while reading the Bible.
These are small things. These are the small boxes under the tree. But there are a lot of them.
I actually think it would be helpful to write down some of these smaller blessings. So grab a pen or pencil from the pew rack, or grab your phone if you prefer digital. Let’s write down some of these smaller blessings. I’m going to give you some prompts, and if some small blessing, some small glimpse of God, some small gift comes to mind, write it down. Ready?
I’ve seen God in nature when…
I’ve seen God in my friends or family when…
I’ve seen God while serving others when…
I’ve seen God in my church when…
I’ve seen God in my work or school when…
I’ve seen God when no one else was around when…
I’ve seen God when I was driving when…
Sisters and brothers, there are so many small boxes under the tree. There are so many small moments on the small days when God was present and active and blessing you. You don’t always know when the momentous day will come, but those small moments are there reliably and consistently and abundantly. Find God in the smallest days this Advent. Amen.