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A Different Message of Advent Hope

November 29, 2015

A DIFFERENT MESSAGE OF ADVENT HOPE

First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2015

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Luke 21:25-36


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.’

29 Then 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.’

No, I have not forgotten that this is the first Sunday of Advent Season.  Yet, I suspect some may find the passage from Luke’s gospel we have read this morning strange, if not inappropriate, for Advent.  

 

This is not a traditional Advent text.  It speaks of turbulent, chaotic, and distressing situations that strike fear and anxiety in hearts and minds.  As someone else has put it so well, “No ‘city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style’ here… Luke wrote with a deep and growing sense that Christian discipleship is a kind of living in between—aware of Jesus, waiting for Jesus, and coming to know this Jesus for whom we wait in the midst of an eventful, unpredictable, even tumultuous world, waiting to stand before him, yet not always knowing where he is.” 

 

Advent means “arrival” or “coming,” and the Advent Season is observed by followers of Jesus to mark our sense of expectancy and waiting. We do not wait for a first appearance of the Messiah, for we have come to know God’s Messiah in Jesus, the Palestinian carpenter from Galilee.  We are not waiting for a baby to be born in a manger.  We are waiting for the resurrected Jesus to return, not as infant, but as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Prince of Peace.  And that is exactly why this sermon is titled A Different Message of Advent Hope.

 

We are waiting in a world beset by violence on every hand.  We are waiting as people affected and afflicted by personal violence, social violence, cultural violence, national violence, and global violence.  We are waiting and witnesses to violence in Beirut, Nairobi, Colorado Springs, Chicago, Minneapolis, Little Rock, Paris, and countless other places across the world.  We are waiting and witnesses to merchandised violence in video games and other forms of popular entertainment.  We are waiting and witnesses as the victims of violence wait, and wonder, “How much, longer, until we are delivered?”  

 

Jesus knew that we would live in such a world.  In fact, that was the world that Jesus experienced!  Jesus lived among people whose lives were defined by the Roman Empire’s lust for dominance through military force.  Jesus lived among people struggling to breathe and behave as people of divine love and freedom while oppressed by the a standing army in the same way that oppressed people in the United States and elsewhere struggle to breathe and live in the power of divine love and freedom in a society and world obsessed with “security.”  This passage is as appropriate to our time and situations, as it was when Jesus spoke his words more than two millennia ago, because our world and situations are turbulent, violent, chaotic, and fearful.      

 

Jesus does not call us to shrink in fear.  We are not told to hoard resources and surround ourselves with walls in the face of “fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”  Instead, Jesus said that “when these [fearsome, foreboding, and distressing] things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

 

Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!  That’s a command, an order!  Jesus calls us to lift our heads in the face of all the things that cause so many people to be fearful and without hope.  Jesus calls us to stand up and raise our heads as people of redemptive hope—“because your redemption is drawing near!”

 

We are not called to hope to escape the world.  We are not called to prepare for evacuation!  We are called to prepare to stand before the Son of God!  So Jesus commands that we “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, like a trap” (Luke 21:34-35).  We are called to prepare to stand before Jesus as people of redemptive hope.  We are called to live, so to speak, on tiptoe.  We are not called to be fearful, but to be faithful.  

 

Advent calls followers of Jesus to be hopeful, faithful, and redemptive people.  We are called to see the vicious and turbulent situation of our time as harbingers of God’s returning Messiah.   We are called to be witnesses of hope in a society and world that literally secretes fearfulness and futility.  

 

We are, like the people who witnessed the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, ordinary people.  But we are called to a radical and subversive hope.  We are called to a defiant and counter-cultural hope.  We are called to hope that cannot be manufactured, merchandised, and marketed.  We are called to hope that will not be bullied or bossed into a corner.  We are called to stay alert, stand up, raise our heads, and live in the strength that the Messiah is coming again.

 

This hope is not situational or circumstantial.  It is not triggered by Wall Street, K Street, or any of the other places people call seats of power and influence.  The hope that lifts our hearts and inspires us to “be alert at all times” is stronger than the forces that strike fear and anxiety in so many lives.  

 

The world is a mess.  Crooks, liars, and assorted other personal and global villains are doing what they can to oppress the creation and all God’s creatures.  But Jesus is coming back.  Stand up!  Jesus is on the way.  Look up!  Jesus will show up when and how we least expect him.  Stay alert!  Live as people of gracious and determined hope.  And by that living, you and I become messengers of Advent hope.  We become agents of Advent courage.  We become guides to Advent joy.  

 

We are called to live with strength and a hope bottomed on the power of God to liberate the world from everything that frightens people.  Jesus calls us to live with the strength and hope that inspired Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Howard Thurman, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Martin King, Jeremiah Wright, Marian Wright Edelman, Iva Carruthers, Desmond Tutu, Allan Boesak, J. Alfred Smith, and so many others to stand up, speak out, and stand as bold critics of the powers and principalities. We are called to live as people of Advent hope!  

 

Kevin Yancy and Jerome Metcalfe penned a selection which seems to echo this message, Sign Me Up.  

 

Sign me up for the Christian jubilee,

Write my name on the roll.

I’ve been changed since the Lord has lifted me.

I want to be ready when Jesus comes.

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2015