December 2nd, 2018, Pastor Galen, First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36
Fear and Apprehension
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says that people will feel “faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world” (Luke 21:26). I think this is a fairly apt description of many people in our world today. Many of us live in a constant state of fear and apprehension, worried about everything from terrorism to botulism, from government corruption, to environmental pollution. We worry about our own personal finances, or whether we’re gaining too much weight. We’re worried about extinction of endangered species and climate change. And then of course there are the fears we have about our own physical safety and that of our family members.
And the news often doesn’t help. It plays into our fears. There’s always a new food to steer clear of, a new health study that comes out saying that something is bad for us that used to be considered good. Anything that happens on a local level gets broadened out so that the whole world seems to be in danger. If one person experienced it, then we might all experience it. And the rise of social media has exponentially multiplied our capacity to be aware of all of the possible hidden dangers present throughout the world.
All of this adds up to us as a people being rather fainthearted and apprehensive.
But In the midst of this, Jesus tells his disciples and us today, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Stand and Wait
“Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”
The people living at the time of Jesus were in great need of redemption. And not just spiritual redemption. They needed to be set from from physical oppression. Jewish people were ethnic minorities living under Roman occupation. They were essentially held captive by Rome. Heavily taxed, under constant threat of violence or retaliation, they longed for freedom. They longed for God to intervene and to restore their rightful place as citizens of the Kingdom of Israel, to set a Jewish King back on the throne and to grant their nation complete autonomy.
In the midst of that, some, like the Zealots, thought they should revolt violently against Rome. The infamous Sicarri (a Jewish extremist group within the Zealot party) advocated assassinating Jewish leaders who colluded with Rome. Others, like the religious sect called the Pharisees, thought that perhaps if they were just spiritual enough and holy enough, if they prayed enough prayers, if they gave enough alms to the poor, if they kept all of the sacrifices and holy days just right, then perhaps God would intervene and restore their land.
And yet Jesus tells his disciples not to try to try to take over Rome by force, and not to be afraid, but to “stand and lift up your heads.” It’s a seemingly passive yet active and bold response. Standing with heads held high, for a people who were marginalized and politically oppressed, denotes a sense of dignity and self-worth. At the same, standing and waiting, suggests complete and utter trust and dependence on God alone for salvation.
Salvation and Security
The prophet Jeremiah’s words provide a measure of hope and relief in the midst of terror and apprehension:
‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. ‘In those days and at that time, I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior’ (Jeremiah 33:14-16).
Jeremiah’s words, spoken 600 years before the birth of Christ, acutely predict that the Savior would be a descendant of David, that he would do what was right and just, and that he would be an agent of peace and salvation in our world. Jesus showed us the right way to live, and revealed the thoughts and intentions of people’s hearts. Jesus made it possible for us to have peace with God and with others.
Ultimate we look to Jesus as our guide, as the template for how we live our lives. It’s been said that “Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and died the death we deserved to die.” Throughout Jesus’s lifetime he absorbed all of the pain and suffering, violence and oppression that this world could throw at him. All of the evil, greed, and corruption in the world converged together in a single moment as Jesus hung on the cross, and when Jesus breathed his last breath, sin and death were defeated and no longer hold any power over us. Through his death and resurrection Jesus conquered sin and death and the grave. He died to make it possible for us to be reconciled to God, he was raised to life so that we can have life.
And yet, even as we hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah, we know that there are parts of the prophecy that have yet to be fulfilled. Although the work that Jesus did on the cross brought about our spiritual salvation, and although Jesus laid out the path for us to live righteously and and pursue justice, our world still awaits God’s ultimate promise of total peace and security, which will only come to fruition when Christ returns. There are still wars. There are still famines and earthquakes, violence and discord, injustice and oppression, but on that day when Christ returns, all will be made right.
Wait and Work
And so we continue to wait. We continue to stand. We continue to have hope, even in the face of terror. We stand in humility but with dignity. We stand with our heads held high, yet we also kneel down in humble submission before God. We work tirelessly to bring about change in our world, but we admit our vulnerability and the reality that we cannot do it on our own. We acknowledge the pain and suffering that is still very much in existence in this world, even while we await the final restoration when Jesus will return to make all things right. We pray for miracles, while at the same time actively working for solutions to the problems plaguing our world today, believing that God is working in and through us to bring about God’s Kingdom on this earth.
The amazing reality is that as followers of Christ we are invited to be agents of God’s healing work in our world. We, apprehensive and fearful people though we are, are called and invited to be co-laborers with Christ in bringing about peace and safety and security in this world.
Last night I had the honor and privilege of attending the pre-dinner before the 46th Annual Mayor’s Christmas Parade, which many in our congregation have played a significant role in helping to make happen. At the dinner I saw many people from many different walks of life, gathered together with the common purpose to promote happiness and cheer during this festive season by coordinating this parade which has been such a long-standing tradition in our community. Our very own Tom Kerr has been coordinating the parade for 46 years. Today Christina will be co-emceeing the event, while several of us will be serving as judges, parade marshals, or even walking in the parade itself.
Now, our city is not a perfect city. Like any city we face a multitude of perennial problems, some that even threaten our physical safety. And yet it’s a beautiful thing to see people standing in the face of fear, marching and walking in a festive display of unity, community, and togetherness. It’s wonderful to see people of all ages coming together to show that our city is united, to show that no matter our socioeconomic, cultural, or ethnic backgrounds, we can come together to celebrate the holiday season and share in joy and festivity.
And it strikes me that this is what Advent is all about. It’s about choosing to have hope even in the midst of darkness. It’s about believing that God will one day make everything right, waiting and anticipating what is to come, while striving and working for good here and now. It’s about proclaiming to the world that Jesus has come and that he will come again. It’s about coming together to acknowledge our need and dependence on God and one another, and promoting peace and joy in a world where there is so much fear and apprehension.
And so in light of that, let us stand. Let us stand with humility and dignity, with utter trust and dependence on God. Let us allow Jesus to work in us and through us. Let us experience the joy of this season, even as we long for and anticipate the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises when Christ returns.