We like to believe that when we read what Jesus says in the Bible, it is God’s truth. In fact, we sometimes put so much emphasis on what Jesus says in the Bible that some versions have all of Jesus’ words highlighted or printed in a bold red colour so that we are instantly aware of Jesus speaking. Most times it works out alright: we can make the proper extrapolation of what it is that Jesus is saying and what it is that we should be doing.
And then there are weeks like this week where Jesus says something and our reaction goes along the lines of: “Wait a minute…”
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. (Luke 21:32)
The very first followers of Christ honestly believed that after Jesus ascended into Heaven, he would simply turn around and come back with all his Holy Buddies and bring about the end of the world.
That’s at least the sense that I got from last week’s reading in Mark. And then we get today’s reading from Luke, and in Luke’s time there was the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and war and turmoil and great upheaval – all signs of Jesus impeding arrival, right?
And then days turned to weeks, and months, and years, and generations, and here we are.
So what gives?
I don’t think there’s really a clear answer here. But there are some thoughts about the reading and about this season of Advent that I would like to share with you.
I do believe strongly and live my life in the understanding that there will come a time when God will fulfill the promises that God made about the renewal of all things, and that Jesus will come again, will dwell among us as a people, and will preside over the judgement of the world. That is an Advent of a future that I really do believe in.
I also believe that we are currently living during an apocalypse time: there are signs all around us of the pain and anger and hurt and suffering of the world. We are surrounded by international levels of distress. Globally, every part of the world is heaving in some kind of turmoil. In fact, I think this universe is riddled with far too much anxiousness and pain — as were all the generations before us, right up to the time Jesus left the earth. And frankly, even before Jesus walked the dusty Jerusalem roadways — humanity has known distress. Jesus knows it as 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. (Luke 21:25-26)
And all that doom and gloom could easily swallow us up into a veritable pit of despair.
In fact, our gospel reading cautions against that very happening. Jesus said:
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. (Luke 21:34-35a)
In other words, pay attention to how your heart and mind are processing all the bad news in the world so that you do not get bogged down in the muck and mire, so that you do not seek ways to avoid and escape from the worries of life through means that capture your attention so utterly that you become oblivious to that in-breaking God in the world.
Because instead of crumbling to pieces, fainting from fear, or seeking to escape from the sheer weight of it all and tumbling madly into that pit of despair – the big sign at the end of this apocalyptic journey is not nothingness, it’s Jesus. Our hearts and minds need to be tuned in to God. Our eyes, that are so attentive to all the pain in the world, will turn to see Jesus – will turn to see such love and peace. Jesus said:
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. (Luke 21:27-28)
You know? There are unmistakeable signs. There are fragments of God everywhere around us. We simply have to tune in, raise our heads, look up, and pay attention. And Jesus tells us that it’s going to be subtle but oh, so, BIG.
Then He told them a parable: Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:29-31)
People in Canada can get behind this image, especially on the Prairies. Those little green shoots and buds breaking out on the branches of the cold, seemingly dead trees all around us. And don’t we get excited about them?! Spring is coming which heralds the promise of warmer days and sunshine and all sorts of reasons to be outside in God’s creation. When the winter has been long and dark and cold, and the days start to get lighter and lighter, we all look to trees around us for the sign of promise.
Well, we are at the beginning of a season that is meant to carry that level of anticipation and excitement for us. It is a time of waiting for those unmistakeable signals of the arrival of the Christ-child, and a time for us to practice looking for those signs of God’s in-breaking of the future promise to all the people, to all of creation.
The first Sunday of Advent is about hope. Where do we find hope in the midst of this Gospel reading? Jesus said:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Luke 21:33)
This is the new liturgical year! We have made it through one year, and we prepare for the next. This day offers us hope that the reign of God will be experienced in its fullness. This advent season offers us an opportunity to do some hopeful soul searching, as well as helping us prepare with hope for what is to come. And we can do it in hope because we live in the knowledge that God will not pass away. God’s words will not pass away. The truth and light and love and peace in the world will not pass away and is a constant that we can rely on.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness. (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
We live in hope and expectation of the coming of the one called Immanuel – God with Us. And until that future day arrives, we have the tiny bursting blooms of promise that herald something BIG, the segments of light in some of the bleakest and darkest corners of the world, and the ever in-breaking words of Jesus to help us to tune in to the fragments of God that show up in each of our everydays. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray,
We await the fulfilment of your promises.
Help us to find a space of mindfulness that raises us up to really see you at work in the world around us. Encourage us to avoid the temptation to sedate our anxieties in times of trouble or the temptation to become numb to our fears. Help us to acknowledges the work we can do in anticipation of your arrival as we bear your light through our presence and actions in the world around us.
In hope we pray: Come Immanuel.