Esther Lutheran Church, Parkers Prairie, MNAdvent 1/December 2, 2012
For some odd reason the church always begins Advent by pondering the end of the world as we know it. Christians have this weird habit of preparing for the First Coming of Jesus by readying themselves for the Final Coming of Jesus.
And why is that?
I think it’s our way of saying: “Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Jesus didn’t come just so that we could celebrate Christmas. Jesus came so that God might make everything new….so that Sin and Death and the Devil would know that their jig is up….so that we might never have to wonder whether God will finish what God started when God took on flesh for us in the womb of Mary.
So, even though Advent is this delicious time of preparation for Christmas, today we in the church hit the fast-forward button and jump to the End of it all, the Goal toward which all things are moving, the Reason why God became flesh in the Child born of Mary.
A pastor was leading several weeks of Bible study on the Book of Revelation. In the final class session the pastor asked his class, “So what’s the point of the Book of Revelation?” One person, a young boy with Down Syndrome raised his hand. “The point of Revelation is that God wins,” the boy responded!
But it doesn’t always seem that way, does it?
Here in Luke 21, it doesn’t look like God wins. "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,” Jesus tells us, “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.”
We know what that’s like. We know how it feels when the world seems to be turned upside down, everything going haywire. Hurricane Sandy’s wrath is still being felt out East. A devastating drought is still wreaking havoc in the lower Midwest states. Our lawmakers in Washington are trying to address something called “the Fiscal Cliff.” In the Middle East—in Gaza, Egypt, Syria….the tinder is so dry that a world war could erupt any day now.
Things don’t look good for us and our world.
That sense of things is why young people especially seem to prefer dystopian, end-of-the-world novels-- like the Hunger Games trilogy. There is a palpable sense of foreboding, a gnawing feeling that the next generation will not have all the opportunities that previous generations have known.
This simply doesn’t look at all like a world that is being made new by God in Jesus Christ.
But precisely here we see how different the Christian “take” on the end-of-the-world differs from all other versions….because in the Christian version of things precisely when things seem most fearful and foreboding, God shows up, God becomes present, God goes to work to bring about God’s preferred future.
So, in our gospel lesson from Luke 21, things look terrible at first—fearsome signs in the heavens, faintness of heart among human beings, everything degenerating from bad to worse….
….but notice what does not come next. Jesus does not command his hearers to flee, to head for the hills, or to dig fallout shelters and hunker down.
No, all these signs of the end of the world as we know it lead to this startling conclusion: “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
And isn’t that just like God—to allow sin, death and devil to have their way, to bring us to our knees in humility and repentance?—all so that God might have mercy upon us, and rescue us, and refashion us and our world into the New Creation that God fully intends to usher in.
God is always doing that.
God is always wringing a Yes out of every No.
God is always taking warped, twisted lumber….flawed building materials….and fashioning out of such “damaged goods”—the New Creation.
God is always taking our worst, even suffering and dying at our hands—all so that God in Jesus Christ can burst out of the Empty Tomb to shout: “Shalom! Peace! Behold, I am making all things new!”
So this is how we begin Advent once again on December 2, 2012.
We ponder the End of the world as we know it, perceiving even in the midst of fear and foreboding, God coming through for us and for the whole world.
We take a sneak peek at God’s promised future, and we realize why God came among us in the first place, why Jesus was born in Bethlehem’s stable, why our Lord walked with us to the point of dying and rising again—because that is what God is always doing for us: taking our worst and turning it into God’s best!
The great British writer J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Christian whose faith shone through books like the Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbitt. Here’s how J.R.R. Tolkien put it: No one can estimate what is really happening at the present. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labors with vast power and perpetual success — in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.
This, my dear friends, is the confidence in which we consider all things, even the end of the world as we know it: God wins—of that we can be sure, despite all appearances to the contrary.
And it is in this same confidence that we start to grasp the rest of what our Lord Jesus tells us here in Luke 21. Because the rest of this text is about “living in the meantime,” as people waiting for God’s triumph in Jesus to be made fully known.
So we wait patiently for the signs of God’s appearing, confident that God (even in hidden ways) is fashioning a new future. As wise observers of fig trees “and all the trees” (Luke 21:29) we know that no tree springs up overnight. Buds and limbs and leaves unfold gradually, reminding us that God tells time differently than we do, that God will bring it all to pass—that God will win.
And as we wait patiently, we anchor ourselves deeply in God’s promises. We draw our daily life—not from the newspaper or the television or the Internet—but from the Good News of Jesus Christ whose words are the only words that “will not pass away” (v. 34).
….which means that we wait patiently and live expectantly in a world that is not going to stay this way forever. We discern what is real and lasting, and what is fleeting and transient. We divest ourselves of things that have no eternal future. We invest ourselves in the things of God.
That’s how to “keep Advent.” Let us pass these days—defying the logic of Black Friday sales, resisting the shop-til-you-drop mentality. Let us pass these December days leaning into God’s promised future….venturing to live now on the basis of God’s tomorrow in Jesus Christ. Let us set aside whatever dissipates our energies, whatever leaves us in a drunken stupor, whatever worries rob us of the confidence that comes from God.
And let us be alert in this holy season—alert to the groaning creation, alert to our neighbors, alert especially to the needy, alert to all the ways we can live now as if God’s promised future is already on the way.
And above all let us pray. Let us turn off our digital devices. Let us pull the plug on our TVs, our computers, our iPads and iPods and iPhones. Let us light candles. Let us seek out the silence and the shadows that allow us to perceive more deeply, more richly, what God is unfolding in our midst in Jesus Christ, the Child of Bethlehem, in whom all the promises of God find their fulfillment for you and for me and for the whole Creation.
We do this, dear friends, not because we have to, but because God invites us to wait patiently, expectantly, alertly for the New Creation God is even now bringing about through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God wins. That’s all we really need to know.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.