Saturday, December 1, 2012

First Sunday in Advent: Hope and the End of the World

Luke 21:25-36  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.  26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.  28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."  29 Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees;  30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.  31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.  32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.  33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  34 "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,  35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.  36 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."

The race to Christmas has begun.  So much to do – cards to send, gifts to buy, cookies to bake, trees to decorate, holiday concerts to attend, parties to host or to go to, the list goes on endlessly it seems.  The stores jump right from Halloween to Christmas, carols start playing before Thanksgiving.  The perfect family Christmas is the goal – like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation's perfect Griswold Christmas.
And then you come to church, and it’s like someone slammed on the brakes.  We’re not rushing to Christmas here.  No, we’re waiting and preparing.  It’s Advent.  And we’re not preparing for Christmas, although we will decorate the church, and sing carols, and the kids will practice for the Christmas program.

In Advent, we’re preparing for Jesus’ to come.

Not as a baby – he’s already done that.

We’re preparing for Jesus to come again.

And that’s why we start Advent with this strange story about the earth in turmoil, and the foundations of heaven shaken and people fainting from the fear of it all.

In Advent, we begin with the end.  We begin with telling the story of how it will be – how the Son of Man will come in glory on the clouds, how God will redeem all of creation, making all things new, how death and sin and evil and pain and suffering will be once and forever defeated.

Knowing how the story ends gives us hope.  We trust that in the times of turmoil of life, when everything seems to be crashing down around us, that God is in charge, that God is working all things to God’s purpose and to the good of those who love and trust in God.

So, Jesus paints this frightening picture of a world turning upside down and then says, “Don’t be weighed down, and bent over and trapped by the worries of this life.  Stand tall, raise your head and look around for the signs of God’s kingdom breaking in on this world.  God is near, bringing salvation.  Pray and watch.  Watch and pray.   God is faithful.”

And that’s what Advent is really about. Waiting and watching, praying and looking for the signs of God’s faithfulness in our own time. 

As we wait, we tell stories of how it is – where we see the signs of hope in our own times.

Did you see this week’s picture of Lawrence DiPrimo, the NYPD officer, who saw a homeless man in Times Square who had no shoes?  When he saw the man, he went out and bought a brand new pair of boots, and socks to go with them, and gave them to the man.  If that wasn’t enough, he knelt down, and put the boots on the homeless man’s feet. 

We hear stories like that during the Christmas season all the time.  People who drop off food to a hungry family, or pay someone’s utility bills, or give a coat to a person who has none. 

I read about Lawrence DiPrimo, and I thought of Jesus stooping to wash his disciples’ feet.  I hear stories about people working in soup kitchens or giving a coat to someone who doesn’t have one, and I hear echoes of Jesus teaching that “when you did this to the least of these, you did it to me.”

Remember when we studied the book of James this fall, and James wrote: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change[i].”  Those stories – those are signs of God breaking into our world, of the kingdom coming near.

In the stories we tell of how it is, where we see God’s kingdom coming, God’s will being done, we hear echoes of how it was.

And that brings us to the beginning.  To the story of God coming down to us, becoming one of us, being born in human flesh is when hope was birthed into the world. 

To the world, Christmas is an end, and the Christmas season is an interlude where people dream of how it could be, where they let themselves hope for peace and love and joy, if just for a moment. 

For us, Christmas is just the beginning.  In Advent, we watch for the places where God breaks into our world, as we wait for Jesus to come again and make all things new. 

[i] James 1:17

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