Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
November 28, 2021
I Thessalonians 3:9-13
Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please pray with me…May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
In years past on the first Sunday of Advent, I preached words of caution. Caution that we not get swept up into the busy-ness of the pre-Christmas time; caution that we not shape our days around shopping and gift-wrapping and list-making and menu-planning and merry-making. Instead I urged – wait, be alert to what is now, simply BE in this rare time of expectancy for what God is doing in God’s world. But this year, my words of caution for us are slightly different.
Before we turn to that, I want to talk a bit about Jesus’ coming that we anticipate. That coming has both a figurative and a literal aspect. Jesus coming at Christmas – in 27 days – is figurative for us because Jesus has already been born. That happened over 2000 years ago and now each year we in the Church remember his birth and celebrate it. Jesus’ coming in 27 days is figurative. And, we also know that Jesus will come again – as we state each Sunday in the Creed and we anticipate that coming – his “second coming” – a literal time when Jesus will come again in glory!
These two great actions of God intervening into the world that God created – the coming of Christ in the flesh, incarnate, and the coming of Christ in glory. These two great actions are separated by an unknown stretch of time. And it is in that stretch of time that we live. A time between something that has already happened and something that we anticipate. An in-between time.
And, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, we want to know when – when will the current order of things pass away and the new kingdom come? Give us a sign Lord.
And we then hear the words that Jesus spoke – There will be signs in sun and moon and stars and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. And like every generation before us we say, Yup, that is now. This must be the time. Musn’t it be?
But Jesus is less interested in answering their question of when than he is in speaking words of exhortation to them. When all this is happening around you – when natural disasters strike, when nations are perplexed, when people are fainting with fear and foreboding over what is happening in the world – into this Jesus speaks these words: stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.
Perhaps 40 years after Jesus spoke these words, and perhaps 10 or 15 before the Gospel of St. Luke was written, the people in Jerusalem were victims of a devastation reminiscent of that which the people of God experienced nearly 600 years earlier. Jerusalem again was under siege. The city was surrounded, no food could come in. No supplies could come in. No trade could go out. Starvation and suffering were rampant. I am certain that Christians then recalled these words of Jesus and said, Now is the time. This must be it. But, of course, it wasn’t.
Jesus said: when these things happen, stand up and raise your heads. Be not afraid.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah we heard in our first reading followed the first siege of Jerusalem around 600 before Jesus’ birth. The rich and influential and healthy and strong had been marched off to Babylon about 600 miles away and the weak and ill and infirm were left behind in this destroyed city, their home. Jeremiah spoke to them words of God’s promise – hear them again: the days are coming when I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. And the people of God, Jerusalem, will be saved and dwell securely. Be not afraid.
Jeremiah spoke to those who were waiting for a promise to be fulfilled, despite all the odds. In fact, Jerusalem shall be called “the Lord is our righteousness.” The people who lived in the destruction surrounding them would be known as those for whom The Lord is our righteousness. Stand up and raise your heads.
To many of us, the times that we are in today sound very much like what Jesus described in the Gospel. We see destruction, fear and foreboding, natural disaster, nations perplexed, don’t we? Like you, I am so weary of hearing of one more thing – one more headline, one more shooting, one more terrorist, one more disaster. How long, oh Lord??
And Jesus said: when these things happen, stand up and raise your heads. Be not afraid.
Advent is a season of waiting. How then shall we as followers of Jesus wait?
We will stand up and raise our heads. We will not cower in fear. Fear causes one to lash out. The hope that we have as people of Christ impels instead us to reach out. We will have the confidence that is ours because of God’s great love for us and all of creation. We will have the confidence of knowing that as the people of God, the Lord is our righteousness here and now. And because of this, we are called to live fully as God’s people knowing that it is not for us as it is for those who cower in fear. We speak truth where there is falsehood, hope where there is despair, justice where there is oppression, life where all is grim around us.
So to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, the words of caution I offer you today are these: In the midst of this world full of worry and alarm and strife and confusion be not afraid but stand up and raise your heads. Be alert and watching. Loving and serving. Because the Lord is our righteousness right here and right now, we are bearers of God’s kingdom to the world right within our reach. And, in this, the Kingdom of God, the very reign of Christ the King, is present in and among and through us.
Thanks be to God.