Advent Fish Out Of Water

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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “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, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 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.”

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Advent 1 / John Stiles / 11-29-15 / First Lutheran Church

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from God our First Love in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say, ‘Come!’ Amen.

There is an old Chinese proverb that goes: If you want a definition of water, don’t ask a fish. As we begin this new church year, with the season of Advent, I feel much like a fish in the water. We talk about Advent every year, we light the candle and hear the stories about the coming Christ-child, and yet I’m not sure we realize the enormity of it all. Like fish in the water, it’s easy to swim along through the Christmas season and miss the fact that were swimming in a whole ocean of grace about to be poured out on the earth!

Advent means “coming”. These next few weeks, we will prepare for the coming of Jesus. It is a time of anticipation and getting ready. We deck our halls with greens, the snow comes down, and we raise the banners of blue – the color of hope. There are trees to be bought, and lists to be made; letters to be mailed, schedules to coordinate. And in the midst of all of this swimming through the season, God sends us a wake up call — full of wonder and awe – and danger!

In Luke 21, Jesus tells his followers about the last days. And it’s pretty bleak. This section is filled with news of the end of time, but in the verses leading up to today’s reading (starting in verse 16) Jesus says,

“You will be betrayed even by your parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name…” “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars… for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Merry Christmas to you, too, Jesus! Really puts you in the mood for spreading Christmas cheer, doesn’t it? Jesus told his disciples to watch for the signs of the time. Just as the fig tree puts out its leaves, telling us that summer is coming; so too, when you see these things happening, you will know that the Son of Man is coming. One thing is clear: these events involve terrible destruction. They should sound familiar to us all. Verse 10:

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues… “

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about such things in the newspaper or online. Then comes this chilling indictment: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down… and that day catch you unexpectedly like a trap!”

Two common traps we fall into, especially during the holidays are worry and flurry. Simply speaking: worry constipates energy and flurry dissipates it!

VerizonThanksgettingThe trap of consumerism also looms on the horizon this time of year. Everywhere we look someone’s trying to sell us something. We fall into the trap when buying becomes more important than giving. Just this week, Verizon Wireless ran an ad campaign called Thanksgetting to promote all the features one could ‘get’ with a new phone plan.  It’s all part & parcel of the toxic soup we swim in as consumers. The word consume is actually a medical term, meaning literally to use up, lay waste and destroy. In fact, an early term for the disease tuberculosis was “consumption.” So, what’s eating at you this Advent Season? How are you really doing as you prepare your heart for the coming Christ child?

What are the storms that roar in your life this time of year?
Has a loved one been taken from you?
Have natural disasters destroyed your dreams?
Has someone hated you because of your views or because you’re different?
Have you been ignored or put off because you’re getting up there in years?
Have you been captured by a secret sin, and are just dying to break free?
Have you been hurt by a lover, scorned by a friend, or perhaps you yourself bear the guilt… and you wonder whether God even cares about your life.

It can lead us to despair, asking: “WHAT’S THE POINT OF MY STORY?! If this is God’s idea of a wake up call, I’d rather stay in bed, thank you. No, in fact, I am not awake. No, I do not want to get up. Just let me stay under the covers.” Most people know that there is no point to the senseless sufferings around us every day – racial unrest in the streets of Chicago and Minneapolis – homegrown terrorists in Colorado Springs and Charleston, SC – and a political process that has lost its civility and respect for one another. When did we lose the ability to simply be agreeable with one another, even if we don’t agree on something?

It’s important to note here that Jesus lifted up these very moments as the times in which he would come again. …the moments when we were to watch for him. He is even so bold as to say: (in v. 18) “Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” What times in your life can you point to when that promise was put to the test?

When I graduated from seminary a classmate of mine, Barb Bullock-Tiffany also began her ministry. But just two years into the call, news came that Barb had cancer and she died within a year. Young, witty, talented, tender Barb. Barb the thinker and theologian. Barb the preacher, pastor and friend. I remember being angry and sad all at once. Most of her classmates came back for the funeral. They had us seated toward the front – rows upon rows of clergy, processed by her casket during the opening hymn. And as I walked by it seemed like the end of the world. It was so unfair. So terribly wrong. I remember saying to God, as I passed by her casket: “It had better be true… It had better be true… true that you are who you say you are – true that you rose from the dead – true that you’ll be there each time we have to do this.”

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus’ advice during these times is to stand up – and raise your head – for your redemption is drawing near.”

Just like Jeremiah stood up, in our first lesson. He gave his people hope that they’ll be going home soon. They’d been in exile in Babylon for years. And yet, back in chapter 25, while the entire city of Jerusalem was under siege, Jeremiah also spoke of hope. So much so, that he went out and bought a piece of land – knowing full well that the Babylonians are about to sack the city. “The days are surely coming…” said Jeremiah. “The days are surely coming…” It was a favorite saying of his. He might as well have said: “It had better be true!”

“The days are surely coming… when I will cause a righteous branch of David to spring up.” …refering to a new king to come… in the line of David. Even as Jerusalem is about to be destroyed, and the throne of David, which has never fallen since the boy king defeated the mighty Goliath… Jeremiah prepares them for the worst. A new king is coming: a Messiah who will save not just the people of Israel, but the whole world!

And so we wait… and we hope for what we do not yet see.

Like a fish in water, there are some things I just cannot understand. We see the signs and say, “This just can’t be how the story ends.” Now, more than ever, we need this gift of wonder – to awaken the faith and find our purpose in life. But that’s not always easy to see.

It’s like the time Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip.
In the middle of the night, Holmes nudges Watson awake, and says,
“Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”
“I see millions of stars, my dear Holmes.”
“And what do you infer from these stars?”
“Well, a number of things,” he says, lighting his pipe:
Astronomically, I observe that there are millions of galaxies and billions of stars and planets.
Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.
Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.
Meteorologically, I expect that the weather will be fine and clear.
Theologically, I see that God is all-powerful, and man, his creation, small and insignificant.
What about you, Holmes?”
“Watson, you fool! Someone has stolen our tent!”

It’s a good thing Jesus isn’t a fish. Sure, he came to be a fish — like us — to swim in the waters of this world, to teach us a few things along the way. He came to show us the way through those deep, dark caverns at the bottom of the sea, where dreams vanish and good people drown – as well as the beautiful lakes and reefs and clear, blue oceans – that give us joy.

British theologian, Lesslie Newbigin, describes it this way. He says, “How can we, who are still in the middle of the cosmic story, know what the point of the story is, or whether it has any point at all? Only if the author of the story has let us in on the secret while we are still in the middle. There can be no other possibility.”

This Advent season, Jesus is coming again to let us all in on a secret. He’s coming to tell us how the story ends. And through it all, his words of hope ring true:

“When these things begin to take place, stand up, raise your heads, your redemption is drawing near…”

In fact, let’s stand for this closing prayer – and lift our heads in prayer for a change. Let us pray: Awaken the faith in us, O God. Show us the point in our story. Walk with us in the midst of our sufferings that we, too, might stand tall in the faith this Advent season.

Amen.

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