12/2/2018 First Sunday of Advent The text is Luke 21:25-36.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here we are, at the beginning of Advent, the beginning of a new church year. None of us knows what will happen in the year ahead. That’s part of the joy and frustration of human life. We don’t know what the future will hold, even though as people of faith, we know the promises of God made flesh in the birth of Jesus Christ.
But today, as we begin the season of Advent, we are at the apex…we can look at the past and see how God’s presence has helped us through those moments when we were caught up in fear, pain or anxiety; we stand in the present for we can do no other; and we look to the future knowing that Advent is a season of change, of letting go, and of looking ahead to that which is not yet clear or known. “There will be signs,” Jesus said…signs that will open our eyes in new ways and take us down new paths. “There will be signs,” Jesus said…and while the signs may not be what we hope, the signs will point us to the coming of Christ.
In thinking about the signs and the future, both imminent and far off, a sermon by Michael K. Marsh (excerpted and adapted) struck a chord with me. He wrote: When I was a child one of the signs I always looked forward to was my Advent calendar. Every year about this time my sister and I were given a new Advent calendar. It was usually a beautiful picture that had a bunch of little numbered doors, one for each day of Advent. Each day we would open a little door on the calendar. Behind the door was a Bible verse, part of the Christmas story, or a churchy picture. One year there were chocolates. Each door we opened was a sign Christmas was getting closer. We were counting down the days. That’s what Advent was about.
I liked Advent. I liked the way the house looked, the music my parents played, the bowls of snacks set out for guests. Advent was a time of expectation, anticipation, and excitement. Yes, it meant Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, but it also meant grandparents, presents, and Santa Claus. I looked forward to the future one day at a time.
Then something happened. Somewhere along the way life got really real and Advent changed. Advent was no longer just the season before Christmas, a countdown. Instead it began to describe the reality of my life and world. The gospel texts about the destruction of the temple, war, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and betrayals (Luke 21:1-19) took on new and often very personal meanings. Advent became a season of change, letting go, and looking to a future that was not yet clear or known. I’m not exactly sure when it began or how it happened but I know it did. All the signs were there.
- It might have been that night I sat alone in my office, with the lights off, looking out on the bay, tears running down my face, wondering how my life got to that point. I had everything I wanted and wanted nothing I had. I had done all the right things and yet everything felt wrong.
- It might have been the pain and brokenness in my first marriage, the guilt and regrets, the dreams that were replaced by a list of could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve.
- It might have been the day our son died, a world ended, and lives were lost, his, Cyndy’s, and mine.
- It might have been reading the headlines and feeling like my prayers are unable to keep up with the pain and the needs of the world.
- It might have been one too many pictures of another drowned Syrian refugee.
- It might have been listening to the news of the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and knowing there will be yet another vigil and moment of silence brought about by violence.
- It might have been waking up with the world each morning of the past week and wondering, What’s next? Where will it happen? When will it take place?
I sometimes wish Advent was as simple and easy as opening a little door on the calendar, eating a piece of chocolate, and knowing that Christmas is one day closer. But it’s not. You and I both know the world is not that simple and life is not that easy. Maybe that’s why we need to hear the gospel for this day that seems to describe the end of the world and the signs that will accompany that ending. This is not just a story about Jesus and his disciples. This is your story and my story. We experience it in our lives. We see it in our world. And today the Church declares it to be the good news of Jesus Christ.
“There will be signs,” Jesus said. More than ever our world needs to see the signs. The longer I live, the more I see and experience, the more I realize how necessary those signs are. I want to be reminded that the signs are there. Jesus said that if we look we’ll see the signs everywhere; in the sun, the moon, the stars; in the distress among earth’s nations; and in the roaring of the sea and its waves. They’re everywhere and they are not hard to spot. They are, however, too easily and quickly misunderstood and misused.
“There will be signs” are words of hope and reassurance but far too often they are heard as words of warning and threat. And when they are, the signs are used to predict a future of impending doom and loss. They become indicators that the world will end and you better shape up or God is going to get you. Our misunderstanding of the signs pushes us further into the darkness and deeper into our fear. Our misuse of the signs blinds us to the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory.
“There will be signs” are not Jesus’ words of warning and threats. Jesus does not ask us to predict the future. He never says these are the signs that the end of the world has come. Instead, he says that when we see the signs we are to stand up, raise our heads, and know that help is on the way; our redemption, our healing, our Savior have drawn near.
The signs are not a reason to hang our heads in despair or shrink from life. That we can see the signs in our lives and in our world means that the circumstances we face and the events that happen contain and reveal the promise of Christ’s coming. The signs are our hope and reassurance that God has not abandoned us, that God notices us; that God cares, comes to, and participates in our life’s circumstances.”
So even though the Advent seasons of our lives can be long, difficult, and painful, we never face those seasons alone. For, there are always signs of hope and reassurance, signs that point to the one who is coming.
May you find peace this Advent season, not in the hustle and bustle of shopping and cooking and sending out cards, but in the signs of Jesus’ coming into the world. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.