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Sunday Sermons

Worry into Hope
Luke 21:25-36

“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.People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“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. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 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.”

~

The shaking of the heavens, portends in the stars, the roaring of the sea, distress among nations, people fainting from fear- what an odd way to begin Advent. In a few short weeks we will celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior who comes as the lowly baby in a manger. What a strange way to look forward to Christmas. And yet, if we are honest, many of us find ourselves in the same position this text suggests. There are our own personal anxieties and issues; and we are worried about climate change and gun violence, the ever widening gap between political parties that seems impossible to overcome. People are fainting from fear. It is into times like these that our scriptures speak.

Jesus tells us, “be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” We all face worries in our lives- the fears our minds won’t let go of; the circumstances that make us uneasy; what does the future hold. We all know that we’re not supposed to worry but then the very fact that we are worrying means something might be wrong so we worry about worrying. I think it’s poignant that Jesus puts this worrying on the same level as drunkenness and dissipation. Because why do most people drink too much? Is it not to avoid some kind of emotional pain or unpleasant reality that they would rather just pass over?  But drinking never solves the problem, it’s still there when the alcohol has worn off so the temptation is then to make the same mistake over and over and over again -it’s a vicious cycle that traps the person in it, thinking they have found the ultimate way of escape. Worry does the same thing. We seek solace in things, in material goods, in the entertainment industry, in depending on others instead of depending on God. Like dissipation, it can waste precious time and distract us from what truly matters right here, right now.

There is cause for concern- the shaking of the heavens, our family feuds, environmental catastrophe, cancer diagnoses, earthquakes and tsunamis. But instead of worrying and being overcome, this is what Jesus says, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” There are two ways to look at the situation- things are changing, the world is falling apart or, Jesus is coming.

It’s like Van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night. The impressionist painting which features that huge swirling sky, lots of blue and bright yellow stars whose motion is frozen over a similar blue and yellow sleepy little mountain town with a church. We’re going to watch a quick video to jog our minds and help us understand this painting a little bit better.

VIDEO - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-FiTQvt9LI

As they mentioned, this painting can elicit different reactions. Some see the top part as an apocalyptic sky, something dark and foreboding. Instead of frightening, others see it as bold and beautiful- a glimpse of God. When I look at the bottom of the painting towards the town I am overwhelmed by the huge flame-like image in the foreground. It’ true, most art historians say that flame-like image is a cypress tree which would have been associated with graveyards and mourning. Focusing on the town or that flame-like image makes my heart sink- it’s dark, ominous, depressing. But when I lift my eyes and look at the sky, the swirling mystery of activity that conveys God’s sovereignty and peace, I completely forget about what is going on in the bottom of the painting. It lifts my soul and gives me hope, that menacing evil and anxiety diminish into the background, and the glory of the sky restores my faith and my trust in the majesty of God and his mysterious will.

That is the faith, Christ wants us to have when he says, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” We can look down and become overwhelmed by our own problems, our own frenetic worrying and the failings of the world; or, we can look up and trust that God is on his way. These movements can also reflect fundamental spiritual postures- are we turned inward, looking at ourselves or are we focused outward, watching for what God is doing in the world?

This is how we turn worry into hope. We turn our heads to the sky and wait expectantly. Instead of putting our hope in ourselves or things that we think will save us and make us happy, we put our hope in the one who is coming. And he always comes. You heard from Jeremiah this morning, “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.” And elsewhere, our writer Luke says “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Look for the signs, Jesus says. The signs indicate that God is bringing his promises to pass. Old things must pass away so that all things can be made new. When we celebrated the sacrament of communion last week, we participated in a sign of the kingdom. We know that we partake not just of bread and wine, but of Christ’s body and blood in such a way that we declare the future reality of his rule, but also the fact that he is present among us in this time and this space. Yes, Jesus is coming back at the end of time, but he is also already here. We have to adjust our eyes to read the signs.

Jesus connects these frightening signs at the end of days with good fruit, the fruit produced by a fig tree. As soon as you see the leaves coming, you know summer is near. Same with the kingdom, Jesus says, when you see these signs, the kingdom is near. God is coming; indeed he is already at work drawing his people back to himself. The world will look at these signs and see judgment and doom, but we are called to look at these signs and see an opportunity for fruit- for good works- and hope in our final deliverance.

But if we are to stand up, and lift our faces to the sky, shoulders back, and stand unwavering while all the world crumbles at our feet, then we will have to be resolute in prayer.  This is why Christ says we must stay alert and not be given to distractions. After all, how much easier is it to come home exhausted after a long day at work and plop down on the couch to watch TV than it is to pray? How much easier is it to call a friend and complain about a co-worker than it is to pray for them? How much easier is it to open up a newspaper, catch up on the news and check our facebook accounts than it is to open up our Bibles? And then we worry ourselves about our daily tasks and wonder why we can’t see The Starry Night. Friends, we are more at risk for losing touch with God in the season of Advent, precisely when we should be celebrating his coming, because of the busyness that we heap up on ourselves and in turn, the worry we let creep into our lives.

Advent is a season of hope, a chance to see the promises of God being worked out on earth anew. Advent is the beginning of the church calendar, a fresh start for a new year. And yet we do not begin with all the fanfare of Christmas, we begin with waiting, waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled, waiting for our “redemption [to] draw near.” So we wait. We wait and we pray. We pray and we wait. But we begin, with hope.

~ Pastor Lindsay