a Sermon for Advent 1C
Text: Luke 21:25-36
Each of us has come across someone who thinks the world is going to end soon. We had Harold Camping predict the world would end, twice. He was wrong. Many believe we have 19 more days thanks to one interpretation of the Mayan Calendar. And there are the TV blowhards like John Hagee that have made a whole lot of money telling people of our impending doom thanks to GOD’s displeasure.
Years ago I stumbled across a site that assigned points to certain current events to determine how close to the End Times we are at any moment.
We know that most of this is ridiculous. Part of us knows that, like the coming of the bridegroom, we don’t know the hour of Jesus’s arriving so speculating is simply that. But that means we have to believe that Jesus would return. And part of us isn’t so sure we believe it would happen this way.
I can’t speak for everyone, but the coming of the Kingdom of God as Jesus describes it here, doesn’t really sound like something I want to participate in. And it certainly doesn’t square with what we normally associate with Jesus’s description of GOD’s dream for humanity. The lion laying down with the lamb, for instance. People sharing incredible, generous love with one another.
And we might be tempted, as humanity always has, to read the current state of things into these calamities. That we are perpetually in the midst of not just an earthly crisis, but a heavenly one.
Spoiling for a Fight
The line in the text that pricks up my ears, however, is Jesus’s first statement. If we back off the apocalyptic, end times talk for a minute, we can hear an interesting statement about Jesus’s line of thinking. He says:
“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.”
It says that the signs are going to be in the sky but we’ll be confused by the water. GOD will have us look up, but we will be arguing about what is below. This isn’t a sign of the apocalypse; this is everyday life for us! GOD offers to help us and we can’t hear it for all of our fighting and wrong-headedness.
But Jesus does play on our confusion about Jesus’s coming again and the unsettling utter transformation of the world, speaking of a future moment in which mass confusion and missed signs will leave most of us confused and frightened. And in the midst of this great re-raveling of the world, Jesus will be there. And in that moment, we are to stand up and face what is coming.
Sounds like a good plan and all, but I’m not sure how we’re supposed to be so calm. When our own problems make us feel as if the sky is indeed falling already.
Standing Against the Wind
The context of this reading is right after Jesus has foretold the destruction of the Temple. If you remember, we had that reading from Mark two weeks ago. Luke has a very similar parallel. So Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple, then Jerusalem, and then the coming of the Son of Humanity. And for how frightening we have made this passage out of our confusion, it is far less scary then what came before it: the armies that were to surround Jerusalem and destroy it; the mothers unable to care for their children. That was terrifying. Like those distressed nations, we’re “confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”
The recurring theme in Jesus’s talk about the coming Kingdom from the Kingdom’s point of view is to say that we are to prepare for it because we aren’t going to know it is coming. Our job, however, is to draw it closer. Not in trying to instigate wars or cause confusion, but in being Kingdom people here.
Notice we are twice invited to stand up in the midst of this confusion and trouble. Jesus doesn’t say this because we are to be full of ourselves or demonstrate bravery for the sake of bravery. It is because we are to be prepared for the better world that is to come and that we are to embrace it.
In short, that the posture demonstrating one’s love for GOD’s dream for humanity is that we stand ready for it. That, as everyone else is afraid and clutching their babies, we know that GOD will not destroy us; that we are to face this time, with our heads up, to see the signs where GOD puts them: up above us: where we aren’t.
There is plenty around us that could get us down. There is plenty that lead us to think the sky is falling. But this passage reminds us of who we are to be, regardless of the storm. Maybe a little like Andy Dufresne.
Red, Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption describes Andy, Tim Robbin’s character this way:
I could see why some of the boys took him for snobby. He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place. Yeah, I think it would be fair to say…I liked Andy from the start.
Andy was dealing with his own craziness: in losing his wife, being wrongly convicted of her murder, and being sent to prison for life. This is his apocalypse. And through most of it, Andy strolls.
This text is the reminder Jesus gives us as we start another year. He invites us to stand against the storm, but the truth is that we stand up regardless of the weather. We stand up for ourselves and we stand up for others. We stand in the wind and in the sun. We stand whether or not we are ready for what GOD has for us. Because there’s no way we can be ready when we’re on our butts…or our knees.