Words That Never Leave Us

Words That Never Leave Us
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Luke 21:25-36
Rev. Mark M. Vickers

Luke 21:25-36 New International Version (NIV)
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Advent is one of my favorite times of the Christian year, not because it is the first season of the Christian year, but because it is filled with expectation! It’s filled with the unknowing; it’s filled with anticipation. That is, if we take it seriously. The problem with Advent is that we, as twenty-first century Christians, have what I call the “Paul Harvey” syndrome. For those of you who remember and those of you who have no clue who Paul Harvey was, he was a famous radio newscaster who often followed up an outstanding story with some quaint, often phenomenal, true factoid, and he always closed his broadcasts with, “And now you have the rest of the story.” We as mature Christians know that Christmas comes at the completion of Advent. The problem being, we want to go immediately to Christmas without completing the journey of Advent. We want the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes; we want the cute, comfortable baby Jesus. 

Oftentimes the realm of film speaks clearly to our theological needs. In one of my favorite movies, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell portrays the up-and-coming race-car driver Ricky Bobby. After winning a series of races, resting comfortably in a nice mansion, there is a scene where Ricky and his family are gathered around the dinner table, in which his wife asks Ricky to return “thanks.” Ricky proceeds and begins his prayer with “Dear baby Jesus, dear small, adorable baby Jesus…” until he is interrupted by his wife who says, “Jesus did grow up you know. You don’t always have to call him “baby Jesus.” To which Ricky responds, “I like the Christmas Jesus, and I’m the one saying grace. When you say grace you can pray to the grown up Jesus, the teenage Jesus, or the bearded Jesus, or whichever Jesus you like.” 

Every time I hear that line in the movie I think we all really want and like the Christmas Jesus, all snuggly warm, surrounded by swaddling clothes, and cozy. We prefer that Jesus much more than the Jesus who comes back on the thundering clouds ushering in the Kingdom of God through a dark and stormy night, as we see reference to in Luke this morning. 

 You see there are two comings or Advents of Christ, the first being the Advent of the birth of baby Jesus coming into this world. Then there is what we often refer to as the “Second Coming” (or Advent) of Christ coming to usher in the Kingdom of God and the result of the “End Times.” In our story (scripture) from Luke this morning it is a bit difficult to comprehend simply because it is not the “warm and fuzzy” baby Jesus story, being born in a manger and surrounded by gentle animals and wonderful people who bring him gifts. It is the story of an Advent Jesus! Everything is changed; everything puts us on alert! The skies are ominous, not filled with pretty stars guiding little shepherd boys and Wise men from the East. The assertive behavior of running down the hall on Christmas morning to open presents in replaced with fear and trembling. It’s not the usual or preferred Advent text we might like. But let me remind you friends, the Word of God is not always for us to “like.”

But to rest our hearts in worry over this Advent coming is not what is intended. We are so anxious in our society—especially the Christian society—to predict that second coming that we automatically advance to the comfort of the first coming, the Advent (or Coming) of Christ the newborn King! 

Again we are at a confusing point in our Advent story and it is easy to get bogged down with what I call the “non-cozy” Advent. It is a daunting and confusing text to hear at what we proclaim to be the beginning of such a joyous season. It is here where I take heart in what Mark Twain said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me, but the parts that I understand all too clearly.” At this point in the text I’m drawn to verse 34, where in the spirit of the Advent scenario we hear, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with deception and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.” 

This is a miraculous story! Vincent Van Gogh, the famous painter and son of a Dutch pastor, paints this in what is known as “The Starry Night.” With a fierce and dark sky with lightning and the picture of wind blowing hard, surrounds the serene sight of a small country church in the background. It is here that Van Gogh emphasizes the essence of God’s Advent in the midst of the still small word that worships God. 

The beautiful essence of the Advent season is that it is here to prepare us for two comings! Not just the “baby Jesus” coming as Ricky Bobby would have us do, but to be reminded that Jesus did grow up and mature, and suffer and die, and was resurrected in order that a second return could happen. 

We must place ourselves outside the story as we have knowledge that we are approaching the birth Advent of Christ! In doing so, we must also do what is required of us in anticipation of the second Advent and that is, over the next four weeks, we must keep alert, constantly prepare and continue to put our hope in our loving God, who comes to us in Jesus Christ. Keeping in mind that this Lukan text does not offer fear and damnation, but the opposite—hope and expectation.  God in Christ is coming because God loves us and God wishes to redeem us, as we see in verse 28. For it is in the midst of the fearful elements of the world that Jesus calls us to “stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.” Even in the midst of our confusing and materialistic world we are called to be prepared, to live in a state of preparation for something better yet to come. 

The Good News of Advent is not simply that Christ is coming, but that His coming means we have hope despite all that we experience in our lives—illness, poverty, racism, exploitation, violence, and the list continues. We are made to be people of hope and anticipation! 

 It is my hope and my prayer that all who worship this Advent leave with a desire and a commitment to use this season of Advent to prepare for God’s Kingdom breaking forth and awaiting the presence of a radical, life-altering, and world-changing Prince of Peace, that little baby Jesus and the risen Christ. May Advent be your season of preparation and awaiting!