The Hope for More

Luke 21:25-36
1st Sunday in Advent
Rev. Tricia Dillon Thomas

‘She’s a pastor, you know?’ I overheard one mom say to another after I suggested the children go around and say what they were thankful for in lieu of the forbidden public school prayer during Mason’s 2nd grade Thanksgiving party. ‘Oh, I had no idea.’ ‘Yes, she and her husband both.’ And as the children held hands and one of them said “I’m thankful for God” I started to feel a little smug. Yes, my idea. She’s thankful for God. And other children were thankful for their parents. And Mason was thankful for candy. And then the end. Amen. Time to gorge.

The same thing happened at my family Thanksgiving...I’m thankful for family and friends...time together...hey, this gravy doesn’t have enough giblets in it! Where’s the slotted spoon?

And so this Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, we wave goodbye to the Thanksgiving festivities of the last few days, and we turn to welcome the coming of Jesus, our Lord. And in all seriousness it is kind of a nice flow...I give thanks for God, and now I’m going to give thanks for the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Up until this first Sunday of Advent, we have been following the Gospel of Mark. Now I know the men’s prayer group has been studying Luke, but for the rest of us let’s take a moment with Luke and Luke’s Jesus.

Luke is written chronologically, starting with the birth of John the Baptist, it follows the birth of Jesus, his baptism, miracles and healings, the calling of the 12, miracles and parables, the transfiguration, many more miracles and parables, and finally the turn back to Jerusalem to face his death. He enters the city triumphantly, but when he is near and sees Jerusalem Jesus weeps. And immediately before our passage, Jesus foretells of the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem.

Jesus knows what awaits him. He tells them in Luke 18, “See we are going to Jerusalem, and everything that’s written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” Jesus MUST prepare his disciples for the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, his death, and his resurrection. The disciples will live to see all of this. And they need to know that his death isn’t some random act of violence; it was part of the plan, they knew it from the scriptures. His death and resurrection are “the turning point of history.”(1) But that’s not the end of the story!

Let’s now hear today’s scripture, Luke 21:25-36:

"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.
26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.
28 Now 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;
30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven 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 catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be 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."

The Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God.

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Have any of you seen the movie Chicken Little?. When Chicken Little sees a piece of the sky fall down, he runs to the town’s tower and begins ringing the bell, which signals to the whole town an emergency is on the way. He’s screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” and mayhem ensues. Folks are running around screaming. Fire engines are singing.

Listen to what Jesus says,

“26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

My husband is preaching on this text today as well. His sermon is called “Duck and Cover.” Jesus is talking the end of the world! Apocalypse! He says we’ll see it in the sun, and the moon, and the stars. There will be earthquakes in the heavens. Nations will be distressed. The oceans and seas will roar. The world will be full of emergency! Everything will break loose! “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

What comforting words Jesus offers his disciples as he turns toward Jerusalem to face his death. What was Jesus thinking? That he would scare the bejesus out of them...or scare the Jesus into them?!

We Presbyterians don’t often talk about end times. As one scholar writes, we “don’t deny the big booming events such as the second coming, but we don’t think about them very much either.”(2)

But why are we even talking about end times when we’re celebrating the first Sunday of Advent. Isn’t Advent supposed to be a time of preparation for Christ’s birth? The word advent translated from its Latin root “adventus" means ‘coming,’ that is,
the coming of Christ.(3) So while we remember Jesus’ coming for the first time, Advent speaks to both the past and the future coming of Christ. What kind of Christians would we be if we only remembered and didn’t hope? Didn’t hope for Christ’s return?

Most authorities on the Gospel of Luke think it was written around 80 CE. So Luke and Luke’s audience had already seen the Temple destroyed, Jerusalem sacked, and all havoc break loose by the time Luke wrote this text. Listen to this opening part of a poem written by James Lowry:

He was standing knee-deep
in the rubble of unkept promises
when Luke finally took pen in hand
to write it all down...
From the eager anticipation of the birth of Jesus...
the birth of Jesus
and of his cousin John...
all the way to the birth of the church,
Luke saw it all
not so much through the eyes of Jesus
walking headlong into destiny;
but through the eyes of one
standing in the rubble of destiny.(4)

Jesus assures them after the description of the Apocalypse:
“So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

They had seen these things taking place. Everything around them had fallen. Their Temple, their city, their God. Jesus is talking to people who are in the midst of despair.

Another scholar wrote, “These are Exodus people. These are Passover people. These people have a history of being squeezed by Egypt, Babylon and Rome. To these people, redemption is the longing of their heart. They want Rome off their back. They want Caesar out of their hair. It’s their dream. It’s their passion. The coming of God’s redemption means justice is coming, liberation is coming, the King of all the earth is coming.” (5)

(sing) Freedom, oh Freedom, oh Freedom, Freedom is coming.
Oh yes, Oh yes I know. Oh yes, I know. Oh yes, I know Freedom is coming.
Oh yes, I know.

Freedom! The return of Christ! The dawn of a new kingdom! Righteousness filling the earth!

Luke’s audience had an urgency and hope for more. They were waiting, ‘heads up’ for the return of Christ.

And I can imagine there is an urgency, a hope for more from the destitute. For those like Luke who are waiting for redemption. For those who can’t find a home to rest their head in the harsh winters; for those in regions in the Congo and Sudan who wait and hide in fear for themselves and their families; for those in Israel and Palestine who watch as suicide explosions are received and answered with bombings; for those who are afraid to walk out of their house; for those who are afraid to live in their house. There is an urgency and a hope for more, because and when that day comes there will be freedom, and justice will finally prevail on earth!

But what about us? What about those of us who aren’t living in fear? Where is our urgency?

Will Willimon says, “It’s hard to stand on tiptoe for 2000 years.”

Listen to the rest of Lowry’s poem:
Like leaving the breakfast table in tense silence,
dodging the victims of road rage,
and stepping over the homeless
huddled on the steps of the church
as we make our way to Advent worship,
our telling of the advent of hope
and hearing of the advent of hope
cannot escape...
should not escape
what our eyes have just seen.
and our hearts have just felt. (6)

Where’s our urgency!?! Yes, it’s been a long wait! And even though Paul tells us it will come like a thief in the night, over 200 predictions have been made about the 2nd coming, all 200 of them wrong! But is it better to live our lives under the radar? Is it better to live in apathy? To just sit and wait for nothing in particular?

Jesus tells his disciples: 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 catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap.

Perhaps these words are for us. We have worries. We even worry about things that matter. We worry about economics. We worry about how we’re doing in school. We worry about paying the mortgage. We worry about what will happen if we miss an important practice. We worry about the health of ourselves and loved ones. We worry about what our friends will think of us. We worry about those we love. We worry. We worry. We are anxious. And my goodness, these are all valid things. They are. They truly are.

But are they going to trap us? Catch us unexpectedly, so that when Jesus comes, our heads remain down? Are stuck in the muck of the anxieties that surround us, or are we living ‘in between’ lives?

How do we live in these present times? How do followers of Jesus live “in between” times? How do we live in a time where we have received the salvation of God, but God’s kingdom on earth has not yet come? How do we live urgently awaiting Christ’s coming, without getting bogged down with the anxieties of our lives?

What does it even look like to live a life where Christ has already come and died for our sins, but he has not yet returned to the earth so that the kingdom of God will reign? What does it look like to live into the hope for more?

I think this is a glimpse.

220 years ago the Connecticut House of Representatives was in session on a bright day in May, and the delegates were able to do their work by natural light. But then something happened that nobody expected. Right in the middle of debate, there was an eclipse of the sun and everything turned to darkness. Some legislators thought it was the second coming. So a clamor arose. People wanted to adjourn. People wanted to pray. People wanted to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

But the Speaker of the House had a different idea. He was a Christian believer, and he rose to the occasion with good logic and good faith. We are all upset by the darkness, he said, and some of us are afraid. But "the Day of the Lord is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. And if the Lord is returning, I for one, choose to be found doing my duty. I therefore ask that candles be brought." And men who expected Jesus went back to their deska and resumed their debate. (7)

To hope for more, isn’t just a frame of mind or internal peace. It is living a life that proclaims with bold conviction, I am not afraid! I will live with the love of God and one another in my heart! Christ died. Christ rose. And Christ will come again!

When these things take place, may we bring in the candles and stand with raised heads because our redemption is drawing near.


(1) Jean-Pierre Ruiz "Lectionary Homiletics",
"http://www.goodpreacher.com/journalread.php?id=1225"
www.goodpreacher.com/journalread.php?od=1225

(2)Cornelius Plantinga Jr. "Between two Advents: In the Interim:
"Christian Century", December 6, 2000: 1270

(3)Howard Rice and James Huffstutler "Reformed Worship", Geneva Press
(Louisville: 2001) 144.

(4)James S. Lowry, "Introducing the Luke Cycle: Advent Preaching for Year "C"
Advent 1997.

(5)Cornelius Plantinga Jr. "Between two Advents: In the Interim:
"Christian Century", December 6, 2000: 1271

(6)James S. Lowry, "Introducing the Luke Cycle: Advent Preaching for Year "C"
Advent 1997

(7)Cornelius Plantinga Jr. "Between two Advents: In the Interim:
"Christian Century", December 6, 2000: 1272