Sunday, December 2, 2018

Redemption in Real Time: Luke 21:25-36 - First Sunday of Advent

[Jesus said:] 25“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. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34“For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

miracle on main st. by Drew Snyder on Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0

Fall may be my favorite season of the year, but my favorite season of the church year is Advent.

I love everything about the season: the lights, the music, the anticipation, the hope, the color blue…

The only trouble is that it doesn’t last very long. Twenty-three days is all we’ll get this year—and much is going to happen in that time.

For many, Advent time will be consumed by shopping, decorating, snow shoveling and snow delays.

For many, Advent time will bring pain. Painful memories may resurface. You’re facing your first Christmas without a loved one; without a job; without a safe place to call home. This particular Advent time may be coinciding with the worst time of your life. This is true for the thousands of refugees stranded at our Southern border; the people in California who’ve lost their homes in the wildfire; or people spending their first Christmas in a nursing home or in prison; parents telling their children there’ll be no presents this year.

We are not far off from what Jesus describes in today’s Gospel: we’re seeing signs in the sun, moon, and stars… There is distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and waves. People are fainting from fear and foreboding at what is coming upon the world.

Perhaps Jesus is about to appear and put an end to all of this—and may it be soon! But even if he does not, now is not the time to be discouraged…

When God took on flesh in Jesus Christ, God was literally bending the arc of time towards God’s own self. Time marches on—and it marches towards Christ. Jesus is the one who was, and is, and is to come. The God who took on human flesh has been active in creation since its beginning. God’s faithfulness is recorded in Scriptures and celebrated in the remembrance of all that God has been doing in your life and in the saints who’ve gone before you. These signs in the heavens and the earth not only foretell his coming, but they are signposts revealing where Jesus is. Distance has become nearness. Ancient promises are being fulfilled. Redemption is happening in real time. In this Advent time…

So what does this mean for your Advent time?

Jesus warns you to “be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” There is no other time of year when you are presented with more stuff to draw you away from the nearness of God than at Christmas. Just consider the impermanence of all that we fuss over. We decorate and then undecorate. We put up and take down. We buy things, enjoy them, and throw them away. We gladly assume all of the pressure to do everything in our power to make the season bright.  And why? Because you’ll be a bad parent if you don’t give your family the perfect Christmas? Because a happy holiday will cure the pain and pressures of daily life? Because the perfect gift will make you happy?

Jesus cannot and will not be found in presents and pageantries—because these aren’t the reasons why he was born. He will, however, be present in the pain. He is born where people hunger and bread and belonging. He lives where death does its worst. Christmas happens were human brokenness meets God’s graciousness.

Advent time is all about standing up and raising your heads to welcome the one who breaks upon your time. Things that come and go are giving way to the eternal. Greed and hate; chaos and death are all passing away—because they cannot coexist with God. They have a definite ending—and the last thing Jesus wants is for you to meet your end with them. Jesus wants you to greet his coming not as a threat but as a delightful surprise.

Jesus is coming into the worries of your life. He will either banish away the things that cause you worry—or, God will answer your worry with amazing grace. He will take your worry and transform it into hope. Either way, your worries will have a definite end.

Jesus will invite you to the birthplaces of his presence. These aren’t found in department stores, gift certificates, or dreams of a white Christmas. The birthplaces are where God’s children are helpless and vulnerable, just like the baby Jesus. He will be found where people fainting with fear and foreboding. Just the same, he is there where radical love and self-sacrifice destroy death and evil, just as we see it at the cross. Salvation begins where forgiveness brings reconciliation; where companionship ends loneliness; where love and charity eradicate hunger. Resurrection dawns from on high like winter gives way to springtime.

Advent time is the time to be where the action is—and welcome in God’s future in your time.  It’s the time when Jesus becomes the Lord of your hours and days. It’s the time when eternity breaks in and refuses to go away. So stand up and raise your heads: your prayers are being answered. Your worries will end. Christ will wipe away the tears from your faces. Salvation is come. There, among the least of these who are members of God’s family; where life and love banish darkness and death—lasting peace and joy is found.

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