Many wonder if we are living in the final days of God’s Creation, and reading the news may encourage that belief. The truth is, we don’t know and Jesus doesn’t seem to concerned about it. He is concerned about how we wait.
First Sunday of Advent (Year C) – November 29, 2015 – Luke 21:25-36
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Is This the End? – Pastor Evan Davis
130 shot and bombed in Paris, more than 20 killed in Mali, a Russian airliner from Egypt brought down with 224 on board, all these murdered by terrorists who believe their religion demands the death of other people. We feel that. It makes us afraid. But we can only imagine the fear the people of Syria feel when over 200,000 have died in the Syrian Civil War, and countless thousands more in Iraq and Yemen. It’s forced millions to leave their homes in these countries, many thousands of them seeking refuge, seeking peace and a stable life in Europe or our own United States. We wonder whether we put ourselves at risk in offering them that peace and opportunity.
A shooter kills 2 civilians and a police officer at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, motive still unclear.
In Chicago and Minneapolis, like in Ferguson and Charleston and New York before, people are wondering whether black lives matter to everyone, when peaceful protestors are shot in the streets.
The people of our nation, and maybe even all of us gathered here for worship this morning, find ourselves understanding all these scary stories differently – we believe different accounts, different sets of facts, different explanations of why things are the way they are and, of course, different proposed solutions. People on the left and the right listen to different media voices, talk mostly only with people who agree with them, and cannot believe the people on the other side can possibly think what they think. What is this world coming to? I’ve heard that despair from good people I love on both sides.
People will faint from fear and forboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Maybe we’re those people. Maybe that’s how you feel. I’m sorry if you’ve already done some Christmas shopping this weekend and you’re ready for baby Jesus, meek and mild! This is your annual Advent surprise – we are not only waiting for Christ to be born in Bethlehem, but also for Christ, the Son of Man, to come again with power and great glory.
You may be wondering if you are living in the final days of this world. Plenty of other Christians are wondering the same thing, and plenty have in every generation – including the disciples. On the one hand, Jesus says “truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” The first generation of Christians really believed they had but a few years to wait until Christ would return (just read Paul’s letters). On the other hand, in Mark and Matthew Jesus is recorded as saying “but of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”1 So Jesus doesn’t encourage too much guessing about the exact date (nevertheless, many try…).
But, you know, no matter how bad things may look to us, life is certainly much better for most people than it was 50 years ago. Just ask people of color, who still face an enduring prejudice, but at least discrimination is no longer the law of the land. Just ask countless millions in China and India who are rising out of poverty. Just ask any European who will, no doubt, take today’s struggles with terrorism over the world wars fought by their grandfathers.
Jesus is more interested in how his followers wait for the end, whenever it comes, than predicting its date. He speaks these words in Jerusalem, by the temple, just before he is arrested. Jesus knows he is about to leave them, and he wants them to be prepared for the future that awaits. It must have been tempting to believe that those who were “in Christ” would be exempt from the suffering of this world, that they would enjoy access to divine power and privilege and use it to drive suffering and chaos from their lives. But Jesus is on his way to the cross, and he wants his disciples to know that they will face crosses of their own. That the world will continue to face death, warfare, hatred, disaster, disease. He wants them to be prepared to endure. But even more importantly, he wants them to know that there will be a day when all this comes to its end. When the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory and everything that is will pass away, giving way to the kingdom of God. And Jesus promises them – when these things begin to take place, you don’t have to run and hide, you don’t have to plead, you don’t have to prove yourself….rather, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
Advent is a time of hopeful waiting, confident alertness, watching for our redemption which draws nearer every week, with every new candle, with every day of our lives. It’s important to remember that the Jesus for whom we wait is the same Jesus who has already come to us as the baby in the Bethlehem, the same Jesus who loves you and has made a promise to you in your Baptism which can never and will never be broken. It’s the same Jesus we’re waiting for, and the same resurrection, the same kingdom of God he promises! You who bear his cross have nothing to fear in his return. Things will be different in the kingdom, they may be scary from our perspective now, the first will be last and the last will be first, but you will be in this same Jesus’ loving arms.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. In a world that brings a new surprise every day, many of them unwelcome, in a world in which nothing is truly permanent, there’s one person whose promises you can trust. The beauty is that Christ the beginning and end of our story. He has already come and he will come again. We’re just living in the meantime.2
When things looked utterly hopeless during the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., reassured his people saying “I’ve been to the mountaintop.” Well, you and I have been to the mountaintop. We know the ending of the story. We know that when lo, he comes with clouds descending, like we’re gonna sing today, the proper response is Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Lift up your heads! Our redemption is drawing near.
It’s drawing near even as the terrible headlines keep coming. So knowing our redemption is on its way, watching for the leaves to sprout, for the light to fill the darkness, we are called to alertness, to watching and waiting for its signs, in the meantime. Because our redemption draws near, we as God’s people can choose to act upon hope and love rather than fear, and welcome those refugees fleeing the same madmen who attack our people. Because our redemption draws near, we can take hold of our mission to be the Church, we can take risks to deepen our faith and reach out in love. Because our redemption draws near, we can take the time to truly listen to one another, no matter where we get our news, no matter our belief on one issue or another, we can respect one another and honor each other’s wisdom and experience, seeking the kingdom together, here, in the meantime, until the final Advent of Christ. Amen.
1Mark 13:32, Matthew 24:36.
2David Lose’s blog is titled “In the Meantime…” and he frequently uses the phrase to refer to the “in-between” or “already but not yet” time in which we live. Nevertheless, I think he would agree the phrase can belong to the whole Church to be used to describe the Christian life waiting for the final Advent of Christ.