First Sunday in Advent - Luke 21:25-36


I always think it’s strange to start out the season of advent with apocalyptic sayings
about the end of the world.
While everyone else is listening to Christmas carols and shopping for all they’re worth,
here we are reading about the signs of the end times.
And yet, it really isn’t so strange, when we remember what Advent really means . . .

Advent is the season when we prepare for the coming of Christ
As Christmas approaches, we sing songs and read stories
which remind us of Christ’s coming to us in the past as the baby Jesus.
We also look forward, as in our gospel lessons last week and this morning,
to the day when Christ will come again.
But today’s lessons from Thessalonians and Luke ultimately point us not to the
past or future, but to our present lives.
We are invited to lives of prayer and faithfulness
as we prepare our hearts to receive Christ.

In my study this week, I came across a story called “Where love is, God is,” by Leo Tolstoy. Perhaps some of you are familiar with the story, but I had never heard it before.
I’m going to share Tolstoy’s story with you this morning –  edited for the sake of time – as a reflection on our preparation and Christ’s coming to us:

In a certain town there lived a cobbler, Martin Avdéitch by name. He had a tiny room in a basement, the one window of which looked out on to the street. Through it one could only see the feet of those who passed by, but Martin recognized the people by their boots. There was hardly a pair of boots in the neighborhood that had not been once or twice through his hands, so he often saw his own handiwork through the window.

Martin had always been a good man; but in his old age he began to think more about his soul and to draw nearer to God. One day Martin went and bought himself a copy of the Gospels in large print, and began to read. At first he meant only to read on holidays, but having once begun he found it made his heart so light that he read every day. Sometimes he was so absorbed in his reading that the oil in his lamp burnt out before he could tear himself away.

It happened one night that Martin sat up late, absorbed in his book. He was reading Luke’s gospel, the seventh chapter, and he came to the part where a rich Pharisee invited the Lord to his house; and he read how the woman who was a sinner anointed his feet and washed them with her tears. He read these words:

“Jesus said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment.”

Martin read these verses and thought, “He must have been like me, that Pharisee. He too thought only of himself – how to get a cup of tea, how to keep warm and comfortable; never a thought of his guest. Yet who was his guest? The Lord himself!
If he came to me, should I behave like that?”

Then Martin laid his head upon both his arms and, before he was aware of it, he fell asleep. “Martin!” he suddenly heard a voice, as if some one had breathed the word above his ear. He started from his sleep.

“Who’s there?” he asked. He turned round and looked at the door; no one was there. He called again. Then he heard quite distinctly: “Martin, Martin! Look out into the street tomorrow, for I shall come.” Martin rose from his chair, put out the light, and lay down to sleep.

Next morning he rose before daylight, and after saying his prayers he lit the fire and prepared his cabbage soup and buckwheat porridge. Then he lit the samovar, put on his apron, and sat down by the window to work. As he sat working Martin thought over what had happened the night before. At times it seemed to him like a dream, and at times he thought that he had really heard the voice.

So he sat by the window, looking into the street more than he worked, and whenever any one passed in unfamiliar boots he would stoop and look up, so as to see not the feet only but the face of the passer-by as well. Presently Martin recognized the shabby, old felt boots of an old soldier, called Stepánitch. Stepanitch began to clear away the snow before Martin’s window.

Martin returned to his work, yet after a dozen stitches he felt drawn to look out of the window again. He saw that Stepánitch had leaned his spade against the wall, and was either resting himself or trying to get warm.
Martin stuck his awl in its place, and rose; and putting the samovar on the table, made tea. Then he tapped the window with his fingers. Stepánitch turned and came to the window. Martin beckoned to him to come in, and went himself to open the door.

“Come in,” he said, “and warm yourself a bit. I’m sure you must be cold.”

“May God bless you!” Stepánitch answered. “My bones do ache to be sure.” He came in, first shaking off the snow, and lest he should leave marks on the floor he began wiping his feet; but as he did so he tottered and nearly fell.

“Don’t trouble to wipe your feet,” said Martin “I’ll wipe up the floor – it’s all in the day’s work. Come, friend, sit down and have some tea.”

Filling two tumblers, he passed one to his visitor. Stepánitch drank two tumblers full of tea, while Martin told him what he had been reading from the gospels. Finally, Stepánitch crossed himself, moved his tumbler away, and rose.

“Thank you, Martin Avdéitch,” he said, “you have given me food and comfort both for soul and body.”

“You’re very welcome. Come again another time. I am glad to have a guest,” said Martin

Stepánitch went away; and Martin poured out the last of the tea and drank it up. Then he sat down to his work once again. As he stitched he kept looking out of the window, waiting for Christ, and thinking about him and his doings. And his head was full of Christ’s sayings.

Two soldiers went by: one in government boots, and the other in boots of his own; then the master of a neighboring house, in shining galoshes; then a baker carrying a basket. All these passed on. Then a woman came up in worsted stockings and peasant-made shoes. She passed the window, but stopped by the wall. Martin glanced up at her through the window, and saw that she was a stranger, poorly dressed, and with a baby in her arms. The woman had only summer clothes on, and hardly anything to wrap her baby in.

Martin rose, and going out of the door and up the steps he called to her, “My dear, I say, my dear!” The woman heard, and turned round.

“Why do you stand out there with the baby in the cold? Come inside. You can wrap him better in a warm place. Come this way.”

The woman was surprised to see an old man in an apron, with spectacles on his nose, calling to her, but she followed him. They went down the steps, and the old man led her to a seat by the fire. “Sit down and eat, dear,” he told her, as he poured some cabbage soup into a basin and placed it and some bread in front of her.

As she ate, the woman told her story. “I am a soldier’s wife. They sent my husband somewhere, far away, eight months ago, and I have heard nothing of him since. I lost my place as a cook when my baby was born, and for three months I have been struggling, unable to find work.
Now I have found a job with a tradesman’s wife, but it doesn’t begin until next week. Fortunately our landlady has pity on us, and lets us lodge free, else I don’t know what we should do.”

Martin sighed. “Haven’t you any warmer clothing?” he asked.

“How could I get warmer clothing?” said she. “Why I pawned my last shawl for sixpence yesterday.”

Martin got up. He went and looked among some things that were hanging on the wall, and brought back an old cloak. “Here,” he said, “though it’s a worn-out old thing, it will do to wrap him up in.”

The woman looked at the cloak, then at the old man, and taking it, burst into tears. “The Lord bless you, friend. Surely it must have been Christ who made you look out of your window and take pity on me, else the child would have frozen!”

Martin smiled and said, “It is quite true; it was he made me do it. It was no mere chance made me look out. Take this as well, for Christ’s sake,” and he gave her sixpence to get her shawl out of pawn. The woman crossed herself, and Martin did the same, and then he saw her out.

For the rest of the day, Martin worked and watched. Finally he could not see to pass the bristle through the holes in the leather. So he trimmed his lamp, hung it up, and set about putting his work tools away. Then he took the gospels from the shelf. He meant to open them at the place he had marked the day before, but the book opened at another place. As Martin opened it, his yesterday’s dream came back to his mind, and no sooner had he thought of it than he seemed to hear footsteps, as though someone were moving behind him. Martin turned round, and it seemed to him as if people were standing in the dark corner, but he could not make out who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear: “Martin, Martin, don’t you know me?”

“Who is it?” muttered Martin.

“It is I,” said the voice. And out of the dark corner stepped Stepánitch, who smiled and vanished.

“It is I,” said the voice again. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms. The woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished.

And Martin’s soul grew glad. He crossed himself, put on his spectacles, and began reading the gospel just where it had opened; and at the top of the page he read:

“I was hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” And at the bottom of the page he read: “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.”

And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the Savior had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.

Through scripture and prayer, Martin Avdéitch becomes more aware of how Christ lived,
and how Christ would have him live.
His awareness and love for those around him grows –
just as Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians
that he prayed for them to “increase and abound in love.”

Jesus exhorted his listeners to stay alert at all times to the possibilities of his coming –
as Martin Avdéitch was alert
He warns them not to be distracted by the worries of the day,
nor by drunkenness – which can take many forms besides alcohol.
The constant noise around us and the many forms of entertainment we use
to occupy our minds can also be seen as a kind of drunkenness –
which is why the season of advent invites us to slow, and listen, and wait.
Christ wants us to remain alert.
Christ asks us to prepare ourselves – not only for the end times some time in the future,
but with an awareness of what it means for Christ to come into our lives here and now

Christ comes to us in the words of scripture.
Christ comes to us in the people we know, and in the strangers we meet.
Christ hears us when we pray.
Christ may come in dreams, visions, stories, songs  . . .
and we know also that Christ is among us each week as we gather to worship,
and Christ comes to us in the bread and wine of the communion meal.

O Come, O come, Immanuel! – God with us –
Christ coming into our lives every day and in many different ways.
Be alert at all times for Christ’s coming!


Lutheran Church of the Servant, Santa Fe, NM                                   November 26, 2006
The gingerbread house in the photo was made for a fundraising event for WINGS in the NW suburbs of Chicago.

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