Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
The days are surely coming when struggling with texts about the heavens and earth shaking, the sun going dark and stars losing their light cannot be avoided.
Even as the Christmas lights go up in stores and on homes, we who worship Jesus must talk about the foreboding darkness found in apocalyptic texts appointed for Advent. People will faint from fear, Luke tells us.
What, really, is the point of this genre of biblical literature? What should these texts describing the end of all things evoke in people of faith? Should we faint with fear or raise our heads awaiting the redemption that is near? Luke’s Gospel (along with the others) instructs us to be awake, be alert, be on guard. Our stance not one of fear, but attentive watchfulness, heightened awareness, prepared readiness to see and meet the Lord.
A cursory read of Jeremiah and 1 Thessalonians and Luke for this first Sunday of Advent left me scratching my head, as eschatological passages often do. Roaring seas, nations confused, the Son of Man coming in a cloud. Powers of heaven and earth will be shaken. Pray to have the strength to escape these things. I kept coming back to the question: Why do contemporary Christians need to hear these stories?
I read again with that very question in mind. No, with an even more specific question in mind: Why do I need to hear these stories?
Through that lens a few things emerged. First from Jeremiah. The days that surely are coming when God will fulfill the promise. A righteous branch will spring up for David. Justice and righteousness will be executed in the land. Judah will be saved, Jerusalem will live in safety. As if in bold the words righteousness, justice and safety sprang from the page of my study Bible.
Then 1 Thessalonians, that oldest book in the New Testament, so pastoral and practical. How can we thank God enough for you, for the joy we feel because of you? We pray earnestly to see you face to face. May God direct you, may you increase and abound in love, strengthen your hearts in holiness, so that you may be blameless before God and when Christ comes. Gratitude and joy, love and holiness. Bonds of Christian community recognized as precious and life giving. No fear or foreboding here, only hope for reunion with God and one another.
Finally, Luke in three parts this week: the detailing of signs of Jesus’ return, the parable of the fig tree and the exhortation to be watchful for the Son of Man’s coming. What do I need to hear here? What do those in the midst of our tumultuous world or personal confusion need to hear? That redemption draws near. That new life is coming — can’t you see the leaves beginning to emerge from that oh-so-dead-looking fig tree? That righteous branch is growing. God’s glorious, just rule that brings salvation and safety is on the horizon. Do not lose heart, do not get lost in distractions, do not numb yourselves or believe the falsehood that this is a mean and nasty world. All that God created and called good will not be abandoned.
What do I need to hear from Jeremiah, Paul and the Gospel of Luke? I need a word of hope. I need faith, that assurance of things not yet seen. I need to hear of justice and safety, love and joy, new life and the nearness of God to bolster my faith. I do not hear fear and foreboding, so much as a longing for reunion between God and all creation. Upon closer reading, these texts engender not trembling in the face of destruction, but excitement at promise of glorious new life in restored, reconciled community.
Jürgen Moltmann, in his book, “The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology,” writes that Christian eschatology is not about “the end.” He says, “On the contrary, what it is about is the new creation of all things.” He goes on to note, “What it is I do not know, butI have confidence that the new beginning will find me and raise me up.”
Christian eschatology, Moltmann reminds us is about hope in God: “God’s glory … the new creation of the world … the history of human beings in the earth … the resurrection and eternal life of human people.”
This Advent, 2018, I need to hear stories about hope in God for all things and all people and all creation. This Advent I invite you to share stories of hope in God, evident in small acts of kindness, simple examples of human connection, slivers of reconciliation among people and nations, tiny hints of green sprouting from branches that represent justice, righteousness, safety, salvation, joy and love.
On election night last month, I was flying home and waiting for my connecting flight in the bustling Atlanta airport. I sat alone eating my dinner, watching pundits predict outcomes, seeing the “breaking news” banner when polls closed. I looked forward to being obliviously in the air when definitive numbers were announced. I wondered if my hope for a less politically divided life together bordered on delusional. Behind me sat a woman working on her laptop. A young man in a janitor’s uniform came to empty the trash can adjacent to the woman’s table. She struck up a conversation with him. Her accent revealed her home before she told him she was from Minnesota. She asked him if he was in school. No. He had to work. He had a son on the way. “How exciting,” she exclaimed. “You have no idea how much your heart will expand.” She had an 18-month-old at home, she said. They chatted and eventually she got the young man’s name and address so that she could send him baby clothes her son had outgrown. “Nothing fancy,” she said. “But good for every day.” He thanked her, told her to have a safe flight. She wished him well. They went back to their respective work.
I got up to go to my gate but not before stopping to thank the lady with the thick Minnesota accent. I told her I was moved by her kindness. She said, “We need to be kind to each other.” As the “breaking news” boomed about red and blue races, I agreed. Neither earth nor heaven shook, nothing went dark, but that small exchange brought about a seismic shift in my attitude. Their shared humanity over impending new life bolstered my faith, and gave a glimpse of love and unity that is too often unseen. It gave me hope that redemption isn’t as far away as I feared.
- When you read these texts, what feelings do they evoke in you?
- Why do you need to hear stories of the coming Son of Man?
- How are you keeping awake and alert? What signs are you looking for or do you see that God’s kingdom is present and coming?
- Who do you long to see face to face? Are there people you want to be reunited with this Advent?
- When heaven and earth are shaken, what remains steadfast and unchanging?
- Where do you see leaves sprouting from fig trees? How can you encourage their growth?