Monday, November 30, 2015

A World Alight With the Presence of Jesus

Brad Sullivan
1 Advent, Year C
November 22, 2015
Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
Psalm 25:1-9
Luke 21:25-36

A World Alight With the Presence of Jesus

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Ours was great, up in Austin with lots of family at my brother and sister-in-law’s house.  As my sister-in-law, Darlene, said, “It was perfect except that Dad wasn’t there.”  There were some pangs of sadness here and there, but mostly it was very joyful.  Joy combined with some sadness here and there is fairly descriptive of the Advent season.  Advent is the beginning of our church year, the time of preparation for Jesus’ coming.  So, it is a joyful time, waiting with hopeful expectation for Jesus’ return.  While Advent happens just before Christmas, we’re not really preparing for Jesus’ birth.  We’re preparing for his coming again. 

We wait with joy for his coming again.  The same Jesus who welcomed sinners, cared for the orphan and widow, and forgave rather than condemned, that is the same Jesus who is going to return.  So we wait with joy. 

At the same time, Jesus points out that the time before his return, what we like to call the end times, won’t exactly be a cake walk.  “People will faint with fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”  Powers in the heavens will be shaken, the Sun, Moon, and stars, distress among the nations.  This is a whole world, cosmic happening, Jesus is talking about.  It sounds kind of frightening and foreboding. 

Then again, we get frightening and foreboding.  Distress among the nations, we know that too well.  People fainting with fear and foreboding, we know that too.  ISIS.  Terrorism.  Christians shooting theaters, schools, and pregnancy centers.  Terrorism again.  Wars.  Rumors of wars.  As I said last week, we live in a very fearful time. 

The season of Advent is a season of joyful preparation, but not one in which we deny these fearful times.  Jesus didn’t deny them.  Instead, we walk through these fearful times with our heads high.  “When you see these things begin to take place,” Jesus said, “look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  In the ultimate end times, we’re told not to give in to fear and foreboding, but lift up our heads with hope because Jesus is drawing near.

We don’t know if the particular time of fear and foreboding in which we are living right now is the time of fear and foreboding, is the end time, but we are certainly living in an end time.  Ways of life are ending as new ways are coming about.  The world many of us grew up in is ending as the world that will be is coming about.  In those days, Jesus said, lift up your heads.  Show the light of Jesus.  Stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near. 

Lots of folks like to look at these passages and seek to induce fear with them.  We live in the end times.  Be afraid.  Oooohh.  It’s like some people have turned Jesus into the Bogeyman.  Be afraid, Jesus is coming.  That’s not really the lesson, is it?  We already know fear and foreboding. 

The real lesson in this passage is redemption, joy, and lifting up our heads during the bad times.  “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life,” Jesus said.  Make sure your hearts are not weighed down with worry.  Do not let your hearts be weighed down with fear and foreboding.  Lift up your heads.  Be joyful.  In times of darkness, be the light of Jesus in what you do, in what you say, in what you believe. 

Now, I’m about to seemingly do a 180, but I’m really not.  Jesus did say that the fear and foreboding came not only from what was, but from what was coming.  The fear and foreboding was because Jesus was coming.  That doesn’t make him the Bogeyman. 

What is coming is what we prayed about in Psalm 25.  “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.”  “Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.”  Ok, fear and foreboding for the treacherous.  “Let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.”  Ok, fear and foreboding for your enemies (who might be praying the same thing about you). 

What’s coming in Psalm 25?  “Gracious and upright is the LORD; therefore he teaches sinners in his way.”  That’s what’s coming.  God does not delight in destruction, in the death of sinners.  “He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly.”  (Psalm 25:8)  Admittedly for some, this won’t be good news.  Some don’t want to be guided.  Some don’t want to do what is right, don’t want to follow in God’s way.  Some don’t want to be lowly enough to be guided.  For them, Jesus’ coming may not be good news.  Jesus was never overly pleased with those who placed themselves as high above others and perverted justice and mercy.  So, for some, his coming won’t be good news.

In other words, Psalm 25 is very good news, except for those who choose for it not to be.  Advent, then, is for us to proclaim and live that good news.  There is a better way than the violence, fear, and foreboding that we know too well.  There is the world alight with Jesus’ presence.  “Do not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”  If you are, you won’t notice Jesus everywhere around you. 

“Be alert at all times,” Jesus said, “praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Strength to stand before the Son of Man is about acknowledging our sinfulness, and letting God teach us in his ways.  God’s ways are like Jesus’ ways to welcome sinners, to care for the orphan and widow, and to forgive rather than condemn.  That is going on all around us.  Jesus is here, all around us.  Strength to stand before the Son of Man means we are aware of Jesus around us and that we are strong in the ways of the Son of Man.  That is what Advent is about, taking time to open our hearts and eyes to a world alight with Jesus’ presence, even amidst dark times of fear and foreboding. 

During dark times of fear and foreboding, Jesus says, “don’t worry, for I am coming.”  During dark times of fear and foreboding, don’t worry, because in truth, Jesus is already here.  Amen.

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