Luke 21:25-36 (New Revised Standard Version)
“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. 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.” 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. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be 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.”
It’s that time of year again… Though I’ll admit that each year it seems to begin earlier and earlier… Sometimes I forget that in between Halloween and Christmas there is another holiday. But now we’ve finally reached December and perhaps that holiday music they play on the radio feels a little more seasonally appropriate. You might know one of those songs which were written in 1950. Silver Bells, composed and written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, was released during October. It’s a Christmas classic, one that you often hear in shopping malls during the holiday season. Silver Bells is one of those songs that puts you in the Christmas mood:
City sidewalks, busy sidewalks /
Dressed in holiday style /
In the air, there’s a feeling of Christmas.
Our scripture reading for this morning, however, sings a different tune, one of shaking ground and roaring seas. It’s quite distressing when compared to the lyrics of Silver Bells, which might make us stop and wonder why this passage is included as a reading for the Season of Advent. Isn’t Advent, the time that builds up to Christmas, supposed to be serene and peaceful? Well yes and no. On this first Sunday of Advent, we remember hope… the hope that God gives us, the confidence that carries us forward, but hopes that also comes at a price.
The people sitting in the crowds around Jesus must have had also been wondering what Jesus was talking about… And while there is no doubt in my mind that there were folks who were dumbfounded by Jesus’ words, I am just as sure that there were also people who also found comfort in what Jesus was saying. But to understand the comfort, the hope, that people found in what Jesus had to say I think we have to take a look at what was going on during the time that Jesus would have been preaching.
Jesus was preaching to an audience who were subjugated citizens, people who were living in a country that was conquered by a foreign power. The Roman Empire stretched to the known ends of the earth, and it seemed as though nothing could overcome their influence. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be a person who was living under the reign of a foreign power that was so oppressive. So if I heard Jesus’ words I might be caught off guard at first, but I would listen to the words of hope, the voice of Jesus saying, “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and stand before the Son of Man.”
There are people today who would hear these words of Jesus and resonate with them… They would resonate with them because they may still be living under the thumb of an oppressive nation or power… I think about the indigenous people who have come before us, I think about those whom we are bombarding with tear gas, I think about those who are killed for the color of their skin and their sexuality and all I can hear is the voice of-of Jesus who says “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and stand before the Son of Man.”
To those who are oppressed, to us who are called stand up for the oppressed, these words of Jesus this morning should instill a sense of godly fear, awe, and hope. It should instill a sense of dread that we still have much work to do in this world and we have left much of it untouched… It should instill a sense of awe that we have the privilege to be caretakers and stewards of this world and hope in the knowledge that while God gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow, that hope cannot be obtained by ourselves no matter how hard we try.
If you’re still caught up on the roaring seas, shaking the ground, and people fainting, I admit that it can be hard to find the hope that exists within this passage. The beautiful part of this passage, in my opinion, is that Jesus acknowledges that there are trials, there are hardships, in this life that we have to overcome, but they are not overcome alone. The hope in the passage, the hope that carries forward, the hope that we are seeking out during the Season of Advent is reliant on whether or not we are willing to be participants in the heaven building work that God calls us to do.
In Korea, there are two key elements you need to understand, these two things I think are appropriate for how we approach this first Sunday of Advent, which focuses on hope… First, you have han, and the second you have jeong. Han is used to describe hardships, but hardships that run so deep they impact entire communities and groups of people. Jeong, is a term that is used to express love, kinship, hope. Jeong is the relationships we have with one another. Jeong is being able to find pleasure and joy in not just the significant life events, but also the mundane things that life has to offer. Jeong is when we find that there is hope in the community that we are continually building together.
The hope that Jesus is talking about in this morning’s passage is really only hopeful to those who have heard the message are already participating in that heaven building work. Sure the world will shake, and the seas will roar, but if you are steadfast, if you are alert and have been preparing the way of the Lord, then you have nothing to fear. There is still time for us to go to our neighbors, strangers, enemies, those whom we have forgotten to care for and protect, those who transform us by showing us how expansive God’s world can be. There is time for us to go and welcome them, to let them in, to let them know there is still plenty of room in God’s story redemptive love. There is time because God waits with the hope that we will one day be made whole, God waits with hope…
God waits, knowing that there are people whom we have left in the shadows, that there are people who we pushed out of our communities, and that there are those who were never invited to the table in the first place. God waits for the day with hope where we will no longer claim to belong to any nation, any state, or any group of people, but claim to be citizens in the kingdom of God. God waits for the day when we can stand with all our brothers and sisters in a way that reflects the love, the peace, and the justice of God. God waits with hope remembering the promises that were made to us, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Perhaps then on that day, we may find the peaceful setting of Silver Bells to ring a little truer than it did before…
We find ourselves starting another season of Advent, another season of waiting with hope. But we aren’t the only ones who are waiting. God is waiting as well, waiting for us to go out into the world to share this story of unimaginable love and hope and to care for those whom we have not always cared for in the past. This Advent may we use the time we have to tell those around us the story of God’s love. The story of this great love where God stands on the side of the oppressed and asks us to confront the trials of this world with hope boldly. The story where the only thing that does pass away, that does die, is the oppressive and darkened Empire of the days of old. Because it’s all about the people, God is waiting for all the children of the world to come. If it takes a day or another thousand years, God can wait. Because that is how important we are in the eyes of God.
So be alert, be ready, because we are not sure when Christ will come again… Be alert, be prepared, not in a state of fear, but of hope. Because if we are participating in heaven building work of God, then we may find that the hope we gain in this divine work overcomes the darkness of this world. It overcomes the darkness just as the expected Christ-child overcame darkness with hope when he was first born in Bethlehem. So how will you dare to hope this Season of Advent? How will you overcome the darkness of the world with hope? How will you add your light to the collective light of all who seek, work, and strive for the hope that calms roaring seas and shaking ground? Amen.