Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent — November 28, 2021

Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
What an autumn it’s been! Blustery days and heavy rains that border on being…dare we say it…biblical, in proportion. On any island height, from Lopez Hill to Mount Grant on San Juan, or Mt. Constitution on Orcas wild winds tear at tree branches as the tallest ones creak and groan. They seem to murmur to one another: hold on, hold on. We often get little more than a brief glimpse of blue sky through broken clouds; a sunny morning yielding to a drippy afternoon.
And it’s not just the weather, right? The church follows a prescribed yearly path of readings which tend toward darkness and foreboding right about now. It’s Advent, and the theme is expectation. But what exactly is it that our scripture lessons are telling us to expect?
In Luke, Jesus sounds an alarm for his followers. Distress in the heavens seems to mirror earthly convulsions. Paul, though thankful for his solid community in Thessalonica, (still watching for the return of Jesus) is concerned that their faith is weakening in the prolonged wait.
Jeremiah alone, encouraging all the faithful in exile, is a momentary bit of blue sky and a glimpse of the sun. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made…” It sounds ominous at the start but turns into something very good. The prophet of doom takes a break to announce safety and salvation.
Advent scriptures tend toward images of disruption that culminates in renewal. It is not a future event. It is already our lived experience. Today it is the gospel of Luke that especially communicates this idea. The grammar of these verses is predominantly in the indicative – signaling what already is in fact, far more than what will be.
Jesus talked to his disciples about signs and portents. People confused by roaring of the sea, fainting with fear and foreboding. The powers of the heavens likewise shaken. It is now that Jesus says to his followers. This is when you lift up your heads! Your redemption is near. “You will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
What could Jesus possibly be trying to tell his followers? Well. Remember the Transfiguration? Twelve chapters ago three of the disciples went up on the mountain with Jesus.
They were nearly asleep when suddenly they roused and saw Jesus in clouds surrounded by glory. The Son of Man associated with the greatest leaders in prophecy and wisdom. They became witnesses to God’s unfailing Word Jesus speaking in the eternal now. Remember?
Then, because the disciples were sometimes slow on the uptake, Jesus told a parable. In case you didn’t get what I just said…let’s go over that once more time. Behold the fig tree and all the trees. With leaves! So you know it’s summer right? It’s obvious to anyone whose eyes are open.
The followers of Jesus should know the nearness of the kingdom, it is evident if they are paying attention. When you see these things…the kingdom of God is near. Indicative again! What is.

So people of God, be expectant! Outwardly and inwardly. And what do God’s expectant people do? It depends on how they view their situation. Martin Luther once commented that if he knew that the end was coming, he would plant an apple tree.
There are contemporary examples for us too. Remember the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? They were faithful Christian people who anticipated the coming of God and the end of the present age. The name of their movement was inspired in part by Jeremiah’s prophecy.
The Davidians still exist in Waco and elsewhere, although their community was shaken by the tragic events of nearly thirty years ago. Their preparations for the return of Christ brought them negative attention from anxious observers. The firestorm that erupted was no faithful witness to Jesus on either side of the fence. Nor was it the end Jesus promised.
The Amish people also live in expectation. They too prepare for the end in ways both spiritual and physical. Perhaps you recall the Pennsylvania Amish community that experienced a school shooting. People watched them closely for their response to the injury of six children and the deaths of five and were astonished to see that the Amish resisted responding with rage. They were prepared to hold on to hope and forgiving love. This was hard. But it was not the end.
Luke’s own community was post-Temple destruction. The unthinkable had happened yet the foretold end had not come to pass. Perhaps this is why Luke takes a more nuanced view of the end. Not like Mark who paired this teaching of Jesus with the visions of Daniel for an urgent message around the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.
Perhaps the greater threat to Luke’s people was not being alert to the presence of Christ, and “falling asleep on the job” of being witnesses in the due course of all the events of their own time. Pay attention (to yourselves) lest your hearts are weighed down in excess and drunkenness.
The Christians at Thessalonica wondered why Jesus had not yet returned as he had promised, since by then the generation of the disciples had died. In their waiting, despite their generous support and witness to the gospel, the faith of some was wavering. What, after all, should they be expecting? Paul encouraged them with his prayers and urged them to stay resilient in love and holiness. “So that you may be blameless before God…at the coming of our Lord Jesus.”
Luke says escaping or fleeing all these things means living in the midst of disruption and looking for renewal with undiminished confidence. For this, it is necessary to be awake and alert. Diligently practicing Christ-like ways helps in this discipline. But what does that look like?
It’s just as the Word of God persistently says. Look at Jesus. He is humility in the path of arrogance. He is justice in the face of injustice. He is peace in the storm of conflict. He is mercy where there is every right to prosecute. He is love wherever hate is on a rampage.
Luke never answers the when question. He’s all about how people of faith should show up to the here and now. Living lives of purpose, beauty, and meaning in the face of all obstacles. Sure, it’s a blustery season in nature and in spirit. But we light candles in the darkest hours and whisper to one another and to ourselves. Hold on, hold on!

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