December 2, 2018 – Advent 1 C
[Jesus said:] 25“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. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven 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 does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be 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.”
I don’t know about you, but it seems a little funny to start out Advent, in the midst of all of the holiday planning, with an apocalyptic reading. On the surface, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s a new liturgical year, so this is the first thing from Luke we’ve read in nearly 2 years, and our reading today is not one of coziness or even a proper introduction. It starts with a sense of foreboding, a sense of impending doom, and Jesus is telling his disciples to look out for it.
In reality, though, thoughts of the apocalypse have been running rampant in our culture for years. In the 80s, a book was published with 88 reasons why the world would end in 1988. When that didn’t happen, a sequel of sorts was published with 89 reasons why the world would end in 1989. We’ve seen movies like The Day After Tomorrow and shows like The Walking Dead depicting how it might happen. In 2018 alone, there have been at least 4 different instances where the end of the world is to have come. It’s gotten to the point that we’re so used to hearing about the apocalypse that it doesn’t even make the headlines anymore.
But, like so many other terms, the word “apocalypse” in the Bible has a different connotation than it does in our culture today. In Greek, the language used in the original texts of the New Testament, apocalypse does not actually have anything to do with the end of the world. In fact, it means to reveal or to disclose. The Biblical understanding of apocalypse, then, is not so much a cataclysmic wiping out of creation, but rather a revealing of God’s will and work in the world.
That might strike you as not so bad. In fact, it’s hopeful. The signs that Jesus is talking about will not be signs of the end of the world but rather a brighter future for the world. It will reveal, in plain sight, the Kingdom of God. But the thing is, these sort of apocalyptic revelations are not really all that fun. Because, many times, finding out the truth isn’t easy. We have little apocalypses in our lives all the time. They challenge the way in which we live and how we see ourselves. I’m sure we can all think of situations in which a medical diagnosis, an addiction, a mental illness, a financial update, or an exam have shown us that life can’t go back to the way things were. It isn’t as though the knowledge makes it happen, but it makes it known and once something is known, we can’t ignore them; we can’t pretend that everything is different.
These are little apocalypses, little revelations of the reality that is happening, and they fill us with a sense of grief. These little apocalypses in our lives make it feel as though life cannot go on; like the world is ending. C.S. Lewis, as he chronicled his grief over his wife’s death, stated, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” It’s no wonder that Jesus tell his disciples to stay alert and be on guard. Immediately after reading this in Luke, we find the chief priests and scribes getting ready to arrest him.
That’s what it meant for Jesus. But what does it mean for us, especially to hear these challenging, apocalyptic words here today? What would Jesus have us look out for today? We are waiting for the coming of the new Kingdom. We are waiting for a child to be born. And this child we wait for will reveal God’s love and God’s grace for the world. And, yes, I’m aware I’m speaking about Jesus as though he hasn’t already come. The reality is that Jesus came to early nearly 2000 years ago, but the impact and the revelation of God’s love through Jesus continue to reveal the coming Kingdom here today. Christ’s birth is as present now as it was then – God’s Kingdom, God’s love, and God’s inexhaustible grace are still being made known today.
When a baby is on the way, there are a lot of preparations to be made. You put a nursery together. You get clothes for them. You baby proof the house. You might take a class. But through all of that, you are on guard, you are alert, because this baby might come at any time. I remember having our bug-out bag ready, filled with all the things we’d possibly need at the hospital, sitting by the coats. We were ready. We had to be. Because a child was coming.
The child we are waiting for during Advent, the Christ Child, will reveal God’s goodness. He will reveal God’s love for the poor, the outcasts, and the broken. He will reveal that God is committed to carrying out the promises made to Abraham. He will reveal that God cares less about much money you make, what your job is, how educated you are, who your friends are, or what you’ve done, but cares far more about gathering in the lost and saving those who need a savior.
This little apocalypse of Jesus Christ reveals to us the heart of God and the signs of this impending advent are joy, justice, and hope. Keep alert, because when you see these signs, the time has come. Little by little, the time has come. We no longer need to fear the end of the world, but instead we wait expectantly. The end of creation is not coming anytime soon, but rather a rebirth, a new start, a new vision of God’s love and grace lived out in the world around us.
This baby, who ushers in this Kingdom, is coming soon. This child will gather to himself nomadic shepherds and rich visionaries from far away. He will teach people that to be the greatest, they must be the least. He will show people that God’s love calls all – the outcast and socialite, the rich and the poor, the righteous and the sinner – to the manger of God’s word. As we gather for the bread and wine of communion, we are gathering to receive what Christ has brought to us – the sacrifice of love which has shown you that you have a place in this Kingdom.
Until then, however, we will wait. We will wait for the joyful and hopeful revealing of God’s love in a cattle trough. This child will save us, has saved us, and so we wait, yet again, for his coming. Amen.