Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Advent - Luke 21;25-33
We truly do live in a world in which signs in the heavens and terrors on earth are very much real. We don’t have to be 1st century Jews and Greeks to understand this. I still remember going to a hill top in 1986 to see Halley’s Comet pass by. A marvel. Something that won’t come again in my lifetime. That was also the same year of the Challenger explosion. That shocked us as a nation. I have never seen the northern lights but I know many of you have. We have sent men to the moon. Many of you could tell me where you were when that happened. We now have people orbiting the earth in a space station. We’ve sent a rover to Mars. Fascinating stuff. We, however, also receive reports from NASA quite often of another giant meteor passing way too close to earth, again. Dinosaur extinction anyone? We continue to have discussion around Star Wars missile defense, the Space Force, nuclear proliferation. A doomsday clock always moves back and forth towards midnight of doomsday. Thinking that we are just on the precipice of it all.
Now we get ourselves caught up in Climate Change debates. Fears of rising seas, super storms, excessive droughts, floods, blizzards, death. We see earthquakes in Alaska, fires in California, famine in Yemen. Turn on the news and basically we have modern day Malachi’s, Joel’s and Daniel’s telling us that the end is nigh. So it always makes me laugh at those who hear words like this morning, from Malachi and Jesus, and they call it “religious zealotry.” But speak the same of what we get from various news outlets, and we get told, “not religion. Science or facts.” What if the very things we fear of life in the daily news are actually the very things that Christ says will make us faint with fear and expectation here in our Gospel?
So many who have preached these words wish to play on our fears. To play into this thought of terror. Of wanting us to be turned away, even, from the word of Christ to think that all of this is said to hurt us. To provoke us. To make us be scared even of the Kingdom to come.
And yet, this Kingdom of which Jesus speaks is not for your fear but your joy. The sun coming up, as Malachi calls it, after the darkness of the night. This newness in Christ coming to us in the times of our lives that seem to be the most dim. That is Advent. The place of the coming of Jesus to you when you need him, or when you don’t. A reminder for us at times when we may think God distant or absent, God even antagonistic to us, and we have this season for us, Advent, to tell us – No. God comes to you. Now. God for you. Now.
We have made the point of singing “Silent Night” this Advent as our psalm, the various verses, and the subject of those verses have become our themes for the services. So imagine, for a minute, that you are those shepherds quaking that we sang of. Lying. Slumbering in the fields, watching over their flocks by night. Doing their work. Nothing new about their life. They woke up that morning, and they were shepherds. Still. They killed a wolf or lion. Cleaned burrs out of the wool of a lamb. Separated some rams from fighting. Made some jokes by the fire. Played their bagpipes. Some got their beds ready. Suddenly in the dark of that night, all hell seemed to break loose. The heavens were rent asunder. The roar of an army of preachers (Angels) came screaming into what was this silence. No wonder they were sore afraid as Linus tells us. They would have seen something no one had seen but prophets of the distant past and these were no prophets there. Just Shepherds. Common folk who got to see something that would have seemed like the end of all things. And in that fear - a sermon. The pronouncement from the preacher of this heavenly host - Be not afraid! Those are the words proclaimed to the fearful. Their fear being materialized from pure shock and awe. They could not believe what was happening. Seeing those signs in the heavens, and what do we sing of these shepherds? What? Quaking. Afraid. Fearful. Almost of what Jesus says here – fainting by what they see. The people of earth being frightened by all that we think is happening. And in Luke 2 with the shepherds, the fainting and fear are because of God’s work. God breaking in. Would that be you? Instead of news and terror from the world around us, would God stepping into your life be done in such a way that you would become afraid? Terrified? Amazed? In the silence of your normal life, God comes to you in awesome power and then he says to you – Be not afraid.
Jesus says in our Gospel, as we see these end of days type things coming, seeing earthquakes, storms, war, enemies arising, he says – lift up your heads for your salvation is drawing nigh. Don’t look at the hell of it all. Love those affected. Pray for those hurt. Give of yourselves as you have been given, but even more, lift up your heads for the redemption is coming to you. In the darkness, in the winter of our discontent (thank you Shakespeare), we look to see that sun rising. We look to see again that the fig tree blooms and summer is coming. We look to see the Lord. We must. Because what comes to us in him is what we need. Redemption. From our fear. From the cosmic foe of time and all the things we wish we could control and can’t.
Christ tells us of this end not to scare us or bring us to despair, but to fill us with hope and faith. Looking to Jesus when so much goes wrong, or when it seems even the stars may fall from the sky, Jesus says his words will not pass away. He stands in those words – be not afraid. That his kingdom is near even in what seems terrifying, because where Christ is king is where his Kingdom is, and where his kingdom is, is where he is king.
That is the necessity of church. The necessity of gathering together. Of hearing regularly the words of Christ, that we might know where our hope lies when all hope is gone. When time seems on the attack and age catches up. When our children don’t know what to do because a friend of theirs just died, or grandma has gotten sick, or mom lost her job. They can learn that it is in our life that faith in Christ works to bring us peace. To bring us good news in the midst of bad. To know that all of time could disappear. That every plan you have in order to make this Christmas go super special might fail. That there may just not be enough presents this year. Or you have no clue what to do about insurance because Medicare changed again. Lift up your heads. Your redemption draws nigh. For in the darkness of the night comes that baby born, the God-man to come, who brings healing and grace to you. Mercy. Blessings. Life and salvation for you. Because we know that night will come. Even more so, in that darkness and fear, Christ reminds us that the sun will come up. That he is the light of the world. Christ coming to you with freedom in his wake. From sin. From death. From the devil. From time. From age. From expectations laid upon you to perform and live however the world wants you to. This Advent, lift up your heads. Watch. Stay awake. For THE Word is coming to you. God incarnate to light up the skies for your hope and freedom. Thanks be to God. Amen.