Adv 1 Dec 2 2018

LESSONS: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Luke 21:25-36

  1. Dan likes to watch the old “Ghostbusters” movies, so I’m all-too familiar with the line in “Ghostbusters 2” where a nervous woman tells Bill Murray that “the end of the world will be on February 14th in the year 2016.” Valentine’s Day. Bummer.

But 30 years ago, 2016 seemed a long way off. Then they said that, according to the Mayan Calendar, it would end on December 21st 2012. There was a movie called “2012” that depicted all the horrible things that would happen.

Remember Y2K? Horrible things were supposed to happen at midnight on New Year’s Day in the year 2000–computers failing, electricity blackouts, hundreds of airplanes smashing into each other, riots in the streets, and so on.

The good news, of course, is that none of that happened. But the bad news is that plenty of other actual bad stuff has been happening. On Friday morning, Anchorage, Alaska got hit by a big earthquake. Earthquakes always shake up people, no pun intended. In 1755, a great earthquake killed thousands in Portugal, and our own John Wesley thought it was a sign of The End.

Then there are the wildfires in California. The one that incinerated the town of Paradise was exceptionally grisly. People had little or no warning. The death toll is now over 100, and they expect to find more remains in the rubble. The photos in the news made the place look like Hell on Earth, and more than a little apocalyptic.

And what Mother Nature doesn’t think of, people do. Last month, a bunch of old folks in Pittsburgh did what you’re doing now: They went to worship, and came out dead, after some domestic terrorist went in and shot up their synagogue. They’re going after the Jews again: Who’s next? Is our entire social order breaking down?

The headlines might help us understand what Jesus is saying in our gospel today. In verses 25 and 26, 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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

The people of the ancient world didn’t have cable TV news, but they paid much closer attention to the night sky than we do. There weren’t any streetlights to obscure the view, and it wasn’t like they could sit around the house at night and watch TV or play on the computer. The sky was the most exciting thing going on.

So people watched the sun and moon and stars for signs of what might be coming. People in the holy land also watched the Mediterranean. If the ocean was stirred up, it could signify an earthquake or volcano—“the power of the heavens will be shaken,” Jesus says. The whole sky might seem to be falling apart.

But then Jesus does something amazing: He turns the whole thing on its head. In verses 27 and 28, he says, “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,” he says, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Stand up and raise your heads, Jesus says. Don’t cower and hide. Don’t hole up in a cave with your all your assault rifles and survival gear. God is control. The sky itself can seem to be falling apart, but the power of God will be there to raise us up.

I remember back in 2012, as we got closer to that December 21st date, some preachers tried to capitalize on our fears. They said, Yes, the end is coming! And now, every time there’s some terrorist attack—especially if it’s in the Holy Land—and especially if they can tack on a few earthquakes, there it is again: The end is near! The end is near!

Jesus said that he himself doesn’t know the day or the hour, but that’s never stopped some preachers from claiming to decode obscure scriptures. They’re always trying to scare us into joining their churches and saying their magic words.

But Jesus says something quite different. Don’t worry about the end, he says. Even if weird stuff happens, God is still in control. The Son of Man will redeem his people. And that’s the faith that gives us freedom to live to the full in the present. Look at that last section, beginning with verse 34. Jesus says—

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. … Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength… to stand before the Son of Man.”

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down,” Jesus says. Don’t let yourself get buried under all the garbage that piles up in our lives. Don’t be so trapped by your worries and cares that you miss the Son of Man when he enters your life.

When does that happen? I believe that we meet the Son of Man every day. I believe that every day, we see Jesus. That’s what Jesus himself said in Matthew 25. When you take care of the hungry and thirsty, take care of the needy, welcome foreigners, care for the sick and visit those trapped in the various prisons of life, Jesus says that you did it for him. That’s when you see Jesus.

But you can’t care for others if you’re all caught up in your fears. That’s why Jesus blows it all away—Even if you see the sky itself falling apart, don’t worry. God is still in control. God will redeem his people. So forget what might happen to you, and focus instead on what is happening now to the people standing right in front of you—the people who are actually Jesus himself standing before you.

This is the Promise of Hope for this Advent season. Our Old Testament lesson is all about hope. “The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “when I will fulfill the promise I made” to my people. A righteous Branch will spring up for David. That’s a reference to Jesus—Jesus Christ, the Son of David. “He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” “In those days,” the Lord says, Judah “will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.”

That’s hope. Jesus Christ has come to open the doors for justice and righteousness, salvation and safety. There will be justice. If you think life has cheated you, the scales will be set right. Fairness, the justice of God himself, will have the last word. There will be righteousness. Goodness will win. Crime does not pay. The people who cheat and push you aside will not come out ahead. God’s people will be saved. God’s people will find security and safety.

Advent is a time of hope. Hope is a valuable thing. Hope is the thing you need to be yourself, to be free. Every time we turn around today, someone’s trying to scare us. I’m not talking just about natural disasters.

Today, the fearmongers are flooding the airwaves 24/7. The fearmongers make it sound as though this nation and civilization itself is on the brink of collapse. They make it sound like we’re under attack from every direction, and about to be overrun—and the only solution is to do things their way. You see, if I can scare you, I can control you. Fear is the enemy of freedom. Fearmongers don’t want you to think for yourself or act for yourself, because then they can’t control you.

In our private lives, the greatest fearmongers are the worry-warts. Why do you think people tell you all their worries? It’s because they want you to join in. They want you to worry with them, because then they can take you over. They can control your life, and make you live according to their wishes.

Yes, the economy is uncertain. It always is. 2018 isn’t any different. As far as I can tell, the Sioux City economy has been shaky for the last 60 years. Yes, there are terrorists running around out there. Yes, there are earthquakes, and comets and gamma rays and supervolcanoes, and everything else.

But Jesus Christ is our sure and certain hope. Jesus didn’t come here to suffer and die only so that he could disappear again and leave us hanging. “Stand up and raise your heads,” he says. Hear that word of Jeremiah: There will be justice and righteousness in the land. God’s people will be safe and secure.

Let that promise of hope guide you today, to get out there and live the right way, and do the right thing–for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.