[Jesus said:] "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."
Does this scripture remind you of an end-times novel? “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world!” Or maybe a zombie apocalypse movie. “On the earth distress among nations confused.” I even scratch my head a bit at the language “The Son of man coming in a cloud.” Just yesterday we flew back from Denver among the clouds-they’re certainly mysterious, but nothing much to them up close. Why this strange language from Jesus to his disciples? Here’s an interesting fact. Jesus is paraphrasing scripture here. Yes, from the book of Daniel. Okay, cool- but here’s what I really want to know: where’s the hope?
In these visions and parables of monumental proportion, what are we to hope for?
Jesus says this: Yes, the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Yes, the Son of Man will be coming in a cloud- telling all who have ears to hear that love wins. Yes, the world as we know it-with its abuse and lies and striving to be better than one another- will be no more. And that’s GOOD news. At least for those who are longing for redemption, people to whom the world has not been kind. It’s good news for anyone in need of a do-over in life. It’s good news if you can’t seem to find the strength to go on alone. Because you aren’t. Jesus’ good news is this: none of us have to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps- that’s just a lie the world tells us. The Son of Man is coming- and with him all the glory and power we need in this life. All our grasping for human significance will fade away, for our redemption in Christ is drawing near.
Not only is this scripture NOT an end times novel, okay, it’s not futuristic at all! Here’s why. Immediately after this teaching, Jesus sits down to his final supper with his disciples. The heavens being shaken? He’s talking about tomorrow on the cross. This hope is not some far off fantasy for Jesus- its the motivation that called him to lay down his life. HE became the sign of hope- for a world he believed deserves better than violence. He is the sign of hope for a new kingdom on earth, one fashioned by the Prince of Peace. And that story of redemption begins in a manger.
Whatever you know of Christ’s birth-the story of Christmas in its nostalgic fondness, remember it includes the radical truth that God became incarnate (flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone) so we don’t have to be alone in the struggle. We are worthy enough for God to save us from ourselves- by becoming one of us. A God willing to meet us where we’re at is a God I’m willing to worship.
Friends, I don’t know what your struggle is today, but I know you have one, or two, or a few. I know we all wrestle with fear, with inadequacy, with uncertainty, with our sense of worth. “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world;” YES, and if that’s us today, Jesus with a strong and sure voice commands us: be alert and pray so you have the strength to overcome those fears. When I am afraid of what’s to come, here’s what helps me: I believe what Jesus says is true: “The kingdom of God is near.”
“Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” In fact, friends, it’s already here. We get to enter the anticipation of Advent knowing how the story unfolds. Jesus creates this eternal realm of hope for each of us to live into today. That’s what the kingdom of God is: a place filled with every hope that life-change is real.
How does it work, exactly, this kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? First- we pray it, and we mean it. Every week we usher in the kingdom of God (a new way of living in love that counters the evil around us and within us). And then we become the answer to our own prayers. This is where you all join the Christmas story: you become the hands and feet, the body of Christ. Where’s the hope? YOU are the hope. YOU are my hope. We are hope in the flesh. And not because we’re super-human enough to do it alone, but because we choose to join Christ in the story of showing up for one another.
So how about it, church? Are you in need of a life change today? Is your heart weighed down by the worries of this life? If advent isn’t a time to embrace hope, when is? Listen, if you can’t seem to muster hope in your soul today, don’t worry. “Stand up and raise your heads,” look around you. We are gifted this beloved community (just like our baptism today affirms) for this very purpose. Holding onto hope for one another, trusting Christ to give us strength, our daily bread.
It was no accident that God entered the world as a baby, vulnerable enough to know the struggle is real. Hopeful enough to know it gets better. Advent is when we begin to see our story of redemption unfold yet again. And we wonder- what hope will it hold for me this year? for all of us?
My prayer is this: That we would find new strength by inviting someone else to hold hope with us this season. This requires sharing something deep of ourselves, asking something deep of another. Reaching out for help can be more of a challenge than the struggle itself. Yet being vulnerable enough to acknowledge the struggle in our lives might also be the path of hope- our journey toward redemption. You are the hope- we are hope in the flesh when we choose to join Christ in the story of showing up for one another. If Advent isn’t a time to embrace hope, when is?
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.