Jesus gives us warnings and strength for our journey of faith, exactly what we need to survive and thrive as Christ in the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The First Sunday of Advent, year C
Texts: Luke 21:25-36; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“On the earth [there will be] distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”
Ever increasing numbers of hurricanes, with ever deepening intensity, with ever greater destruction. Tsunamis and earthquakes seemingly all the time. More than nations are distressed and confused, Jesus. Elsewhere Jesus warns of rising evil, of humanity doing wickedness, of persecution and wars at the end of things, and we see this now. We look at the “signs,” as Jesus calls them, and think the end must be close.
But here’s what’s really confusing. Virtually every generation of Christians since Jesus uttered these words has seen the same things, faced the same anxiety, come to the same conclusions. In 30 years of preaching on these texts, I’ve often spoken of how these frightening times seem upon us, and yet, we’re still here. Virtually every generation has been sick at heart over the state of the world, and wondered about Jesus’ words.
His parable of the fig tree doesn’t help much, either. We can tell with trees, that when buds form, leaves are coming, when the leaves turn color, winter is coming. But we can’t read the “signs” Jesus talks about with anything other than confusion and anxiety. We have no idea what to interpret from these events. It’s more than we can do just to deal with the problems themselves, let alone read future truth in them.
So, if every time looks like the end times, maybe we need to change our approach to these words.
If for 2,000 years we’ve proved we can’t make sense of the “signs,” let’s move deeper into Jesus’ words, and find the one piece of clarity Jesus gives: what to do in the midst of them.
Consider this: if you’re going out on a journey into an unknown land, with unknown risks, and unknown problems, would you rather go out knowing nothing, having no supplies, or go out with words of warning and encouragement, equipped to survive?
When a parent sends their child out as a young adult for the first time, whether to college or a new life, or just on their first journey separate from the family, lots of advice is given. Packing lists are checked, warnings about possible dangers are named, support is given. “Don’t pick up hitchhikers; if your car breaks down, call this number; did you pack underwear?”
That’s what Jesus does today. Ignore the predictions, and hear the tremendous gift of what Jesus actually says. “It’s going to be tough out there,” he says. “You’re going to see things, experience things that are going to terrify you. Don’t be surprised or confused by that. And here’s what to do as you travel, how you’ll survive.”
If every time looks like the end times, “Be on guard so your hearts are not weighed down,” Jesus says.
First: guard that your hearts aren’t weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness. Dissipation means staggering, dizziness, and headache caused by drunkenness. As you journey in a fearful world, Jesus says, don’t deaden yourself with wasteful, empty living, dulling your senses with anything that does what drunkenness does. Your heart needs to face reality with all its wits and intelligence and skills. Whatever it is you consume to distract or deaden or dull yourself, chemicals, entertainment, acquisition of things, whatever – consuming these will cost you.
Also: guard that your hearts aren’t weighed down with anxiety over your daily life, he says. Anxiety can lead to the deadening, dulling choice. But Jesus also doesn’t want you to go the opposite direction and let the worries and anxieties of the world overwhelm you.
If your heart is weighed down by what you’re doing to avoid reality or by your obsession with reality, it will draw you deeper and deeper down. Then as things get harder, you’ll sink under the weight. These things – avoiding and obsessing – are like making quicksand for yourself, Jesus says. They make you paralyzed, unable to move or live.
And since every time looks like the end times, “pray for strength to escape all these things,” Jesus says.
This is the second part of Jesus’ gift: there is help on this perilous journey. Rachel recently got a flat tire and asked me to teach her how to change it on her own, so she’d know how if it happened again. That’s what Christ promises here: help and assistance for how we might live as Christ in the world when we’re out there and it feels like we’re alone. And Paul gives shape to this help.
First, Paul says today, Christ will increase your love for one another and for all, make it abundant, overflowing. On your journey, Christ will expand your heart in love for the others in your community, and even in love for all – all! Your heart will gush with love, the opposite of being weighed down, which will make the path of danger also one with joy and blessing.
And then, Paul says, Christ will strengthen your heart in holiness as you await the coming of Christ. Now that it’s filled with love for each other and all, Christ will shape your heart in holiness, that you live as Christ, for Christ, in the world. You’ll receive the skills, gifts, tools necessary to walk Christ’s path, even in the valleys of shadow.
Last, Paul writes to a community. Jesus creates a community. We have each other, and together we watch the sings in the world, practice our skills, and support each other as Christ on the road.
There’s no point in anticipating Christ’s second coming at the end of time if we miss Christ’s coming in us now to live in the world we actually have.
This is Jesus’ third gift today. When we see the world like this, Jesus says, that’s when we know God’s reign is near. Maybe we’re not meant to think of that in terms of time. Rather as God’s reign as Jesus proclaims it, God’s rule and presence in our hearts and lives. At the worst of the world, that’s when we know most that God is with us. Now. Here. On the journey.
Maybe the world will end today. Maybe it won’t end for a thousand years. It doesn’t matter. You know your path, you know what to expect now, and you know Who goes with you and blesses you with all you need.
So go and be Christ’s coming in this world. It desperately needs it.
In the name of Jesus. Amen