+ A sermon for the First Sunday of Advent (Year C) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on December 2, 2018 +
Text: Luke 21:25-36
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
While the world around us has quickly moved from Thanksgiving into full Christmas mode, this is how Jesus begins our already countercultural season of Advent.
No trees, no carols, no hot chocolate, no warm fuzzy feelings.
Instead he gives us messages of absolute catastrophe, of what may sound like the end—maybe even the end of the world. It may seem an odd choice as we begin our journey to Bethlehem’s manger, to the new thing God is doing in our midst.
And especially as we embark in this season of waiting, we may hear Jesus’ words differently.
Because with Advent, we’re not only preparing for Christmas, for Jesus’ birth among us, but we are waiting and preparing for Christ’s coming in glory.
And for a long time, Christians have taken Jesus at his word here and have been watching for these signs, these omens, that will portent Christ’s second coming.
And if that’s what we’re looking for, we know it won’t take long to see these types of signs.
Just watching the news will give a plethora of signs that seem to fit the bill.
We see pictures of fear in the eyes of asylum seekers as they flee from tear gas attacks.
We hear reports of civil war and famine in Syria and Yemen, of massive wildfires in California, and the unending string of mass shootings across our country.
We can almost watch the earth passing away and the roaring of advancing seas through the devastation of climate change.
The foreboding of what is coming upon the world seems to suggest that we may be in the time that Jesus meant, that maybe, just maybe this is the time when Christ will come in glory and make all things right.
His words just seem so timely, so suited for our context to tell us that the time is almost here.
But at the same time, I wonder if these words are any more or less relevant to us today than they were to the people to whom Jesus first spoke them—a people living under the weight of a foreign empire, yearning for salvation on the eve of a rebellion that will destroy the center of their religious and civic life.
Or if they are any more or less relevant than they were to those living in the Middle Ages with all its challenges and the Black Death.
Or in times of war or genocide or natural disaster.
It just seems like there are so many instances in human history that fir these signs and we still haven’t seen Christ’s coming in glory.
Now to be clear, I’m not saying that Jesus’ words are irrelevant today, because they’re not.
And I’m not saying that he’s not speaking to our situation here and now, because he is.
I think that is the power of these words—that they are not speaking of a particular time or circumstances.
I don’t think Jesus is predicting the future or trying to give us clues about a specific set of events that will tell us he is returning.
I think Jesus is giving us an everlasting promise, one that is evergreen, good for all seasons.
I think that Jesus is telling us that no matter the tumult that is happening around us, no matter the fear that is coming upon this world, no matter what, he is with us.
And he is telling us that he will always be with us.
That even if heaven and earth pass away, his words, his promise, will endure forever.
And it’s in his presence and his promise that we can take heart, that we can courageously raise our heads with confidence and assurance, because our God stands with and among us.
And not only that, there’s a paradoxical understanding that Jesus invites us into, because it’s when we could be so easily gripped by fear or overtaken by foreboding, it’s when we are in places of despair and longing that we can be assured that our redemption, our Lord is near.
It’s the times that could so easily make us feel isolated and abandoned from our God that we are assured of God’s presence with us. It’s when we see how weary and worn this world is now that we are invited into the hope of God’s new and perfect reality breaking into our own.
And this is where we can look for signs—for the new sprouts of a fig leaf, as Jesus says, because the it’s signs of hope we can witness that do portent this in-breaking of God’s coming among us.
That remind us that God is indeed with us and will never leave us.
That this promise will never pass away.
These sprouts, these glimmers of hope, remind us that something bigger is coming, that the sprout will grow into a leaf that will feed and nourish the tree.
That even in the depths of winter, spring is on its way.
That even in our broken world, God’s reign is near.
And these little shoots remind us that we are not helpless in a world mired in tumult and fear.
Because while we still wait for Jesus’ complete redemption, we can, and we are called, to join with him in bringing hope and Christ’s redeeming love to the world around us.
Because if we’re only looking to the future, to the promised day that is yet to come, if we spend our Advent, our lives, only waiting for what is yet to come, we neglect our responsibility for the here and now.
We ignore the ways Christ is among us now, just as he promised.
If we only look ahead, we forget our call to follow Christ in our world today, to partner with him in his transformational work.
Not because we can change the world on our own, but because we can trust in Jesus’ words that he already has, that he is with us, that we can partner with him in bringing hope and making a difference in a world that so desperately needs it.
Two days ago, my hometown in Alaska was rocked by its largest earthquake in half a century.
And while I wasn’t there, I know there was a lot of fear and trembling as Anchorage was shaken by this 7.0 seismic event for over a minute and all the subsequent aftershocks.
Thankfully, there was no serious injuries or deaths, but the entire city and much of the state was anxious and afraid.
And there was a lot of fear for those of us who were waiting far way for news about our loved ones.
And in the hours of waiting for updates, it was hard not to feel isolated and helpless.
But I quickly received text after text and call after call from fellow Alaskans and from other friends who heard the news, checking to make sure my family and I were ok.
And almost as soon as the shaking stopped, I started hearing reports of how people were helping others.
How teachers and school administrators calmed their students and evacuated them safely.
How people opened their homes to others who were stranded and couldn’t get to their own houses.
How neighbors and even strangers took time to help clean up each other’s homes after the devastation.
After the earth was literally shaking and structures swaying and destruction all around, it would be so easy to be weighed down by a sense of fear and hopelessness.
But instead, I saw people reaching out and helping each other, checking in with each other, caring for each other, rebuilding their community.
Instead, I saw a little leaf sprout shooting up, breaking through amid the disaster.
My friends, when the earth is shaking, when the things we cling to seem to be coming apart at the seams, when it can be so easy to be weighed down in despair, we have a promise from our savior: “Though the world may be shifting, though things may seem chaotic, Christ’s words will never pass away.”
We have something steadfast to cling to, a promise and a hope that cannot fade, an assurance that our God will never abandon us.
In this season of waiting, we may look for signs in the stars, or in the news, or in the fear that surrounds us—something to tell us that Christ is coming.
We may wait for a little baby born in our midst again, we may wait impatiently for Christ’s second coming to finally right the world, we may earnestly pray, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come! Come now and save us, fix this world into your image.”
But if we wait for these things alone, if we only look ahead to witness Christ’s miraculous birth or triumphant return, we may miss where Christ is coming among us right now, in the midst of these stars, in this news cycle, in this fear.
And Christ is telling us that we don’t have to cower in fear, we don’t have to bide our time until some distant day, but today, here and now, every day, we should raise our heads, be emboldened by Christ’s presence, and rejoice because our redemption is here, our savior is here, our God is here with us.
We live into this most paradoxical of seasons—a season of anticipation and celebration, a season of yearning and action, a season of preparation for our world, our community, our hearts.
We live in this season waiting for something that has already happened, something that hasn’t happened yet, and something that is constantly happening all around us, that we can take part in.
Even in this season of waiting, we can recognize that Christ is fully present here among, us in our lives, in our world.
Because Jesus is reminding us that Advent is more than waiting, it’s a time for us to take notice of what is happening now and see that it is here that God did and will and has found a home among us—here among the confusion of the nations, among the roaring of the seas, among the fear and the foreboding that is shaking the world—this is where our God has come among us to be with us, to give us hope, and to remind us that we are never alone.
To remind us that even when evil seems to be prevailing, God is still at work.
To remind us that this is where God has taken root in our world and where the tender leaves of God’s new reign are shooting forth.
So lift up your heads, see the hope and promise we have in our God, because our redemption is here.