Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season of the Christian year that precedes Christmas Day. The appointed scriptures for the first Sunday of Advent, however, do not focus on the promised birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. Instead, the appointed scriptures for the beginning day of Advent focus on the promised return of Jesus. Today, while we may wish to remember the Christmas story of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks and angels singing about the birth of Jesus, we are confronted with a prophetic message about the future that is really a story about the importance of living with faith in the present

To appreciate the scripture readings for the first Sunday of Advent, it is important to understand the role of watchmen or sentinels who were responsible for protecting towns and military installations from surprise enemy attacks and other potential dangers. The Hebrew word for watchmen or “sentinel” is derived from the Hebrew verb meaning to “look out or about, spy, keep watch” properly “to lean forward”, i.e. “to peer into the distance”; by implication, “to observe, await:—behold, espy, look up (well), wait for, (keep the) watch(-man)”.

Ancient Israelite cities often stationed watchmen on high walls or in watchtowers so they could keep watch and warn the townspeople of impending threats by blowing three short blasts on a horn.

The Bible tells of God appointing prophets to be spiritual watchmen over God’s people. Ezekiel 33:7 records God’s appointment of the prophet Ezekiel as a watchman, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me” … The prophets’ job as watchmen was to encourage God’s people to live faithfully and to warn them of the perils involved if they wandered away from the Lord by doing evil.

It is through the prophetic role of accountable faith that we hear today’s scripture lesson from the 62nd chapter of Isaiah about watchmen who will never be silent as they are posted on the walls of the restored city of Jerusalem as recorded in Isaiah 62:6: “Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night they shall never be silent.”

Matthew 24:36-44 tells of Jesus alerting his disciples about the reality of everyday life for persons who were subject to Roman authority: a reality where two persons will be in the field and one will be taken and one will be left and two women will be grinding meal together, and one will be taken and one will be left. Through the role of prophetic faith in this reading from Matthew, we hear Jesus as a watchman or sentinel talking about living with faith in the expected challenges of his time.

We also hear Jesus talking about living with faith in the unexpected as he leaned into the future and told his disciples about living with faith when a new reality will be experienced in an unexpected day and hour that will be defined by new realities that only God knows will occur. It is in this promise of a yet-to-be-realized future that Jesus stands as a watchman or sentinel calling his followers to live with faith being realized in the present.
Throughout the history of the Christian faith, there have been persons who have identified themselves as possessing special knowledge about Jesus’ promised return that is found in Matthew 24. Tens of thousands of Americans were persuaded by Baptist preacher William Miller that Christ would return Oct. 22, 1844, which didn’t happen. Many went away dejected, but others regrouped and formed the Seventh-day Adventist Church to preach about the coming Christ — with no specific date in mind.

A century and a half later, Christian radio host Harold Camping attracted a following with his insistence that the world would end May 21, 2011, and then Oct. 21, 2011. Some people gave up jobs, abandoned homes and made no plans for continued existence after those dates and found themselves bitter, lost and embarrassed.

A 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center reported that nearly half of American Christians expected Jesus to return in the next 40 years with 27 percent saying “definitely” and 20 percent saying “probably.”

On this first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2022, the appointed scripture from Matthew 24 is about the promise of Jesus’ presence in both the expected realities of life and in the unexpected realities of life. Today is about Jesus’ followers standing as watchmen and sentinels of God’s kingdom as we proclaim our faith in Jesus in spite of the unresolved realities of the present.

T. Denise Anderson writes that a few years ago she set out to knit a baby blanket as an Advent prayer practice. She reports that knitting is incredibly meditative and allows her to pray with focus and clarity. Knitting a baby blanket seemed appropriate as the church awaits the arrival of the “newborn king.” In reflecting on her experience, she reports, “I wish I could say I finished the blanket in time for Christmas. I did not. However, even that seems appropriate, as so much remains unresolved for Jesus’ community at his birth. Their political occupation continued, and even Jesus’ birth story reflects the impositions placed upon his family by the Roman Empire. God’s inbreaking happens under serious duress — but it happens nonetheless.”

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Fellow watchmen and sentinels, it is time to stand at our post as we look for the presence of God in the Advent journey that is ahead.


by Pastor Marc Brown
November 27, 2022

Accompanying Scriptures: Isaiah 62:1-12, Matthew 24:36-44

Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for November 27, 2022

Scripture Lesson  Isaiah 62:1-12, Matthew 24:36-44

The Good News      “Watching”

Music                          “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” Hymn #211



Closing Music      “In the Bleak Midwinter” arr. Mark Hayes

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