”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.”
Today begins the season of Advent. “Advent” literally means “the coming”. Aside from textbook definitions, what does it mean for us? Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered a pretty clear view from his jail cell in 1945. Bonhoeffer was a German Pastor, who during the Second World War opposed Hitler’s Nazis. He was arrested for his opposition to crimes against humanity being conducted by the leaders of his homeland. Shortly before he was executed by hanging at Christmas 1945, Bonhoeffer wrote to his family and friends:
Advent is no prison cell, but it is a time of waiting, reflection and anticipation. In the Christian calendar it is the beginning of a new year. Advent is adventus, Latin for “draw near”. We reflect on our closeness to Christ, and anticipate His closeness in coming to us…we reflect on history, and his first coming, we wait in the present day as we anticipate his coming in the future.
We (Christian believers) are to be continually alert, reflecting on the first incarnation of Jesus Christ, and anticipating the second; we do this because Jesus himself told us to keep looking up as our redemption will come in the clouds. Like little children in the back seat of the family car, our hearts ask, are we there yet?
How shall we anticipate His coming? The good Doctor Luke wrote down what Jesus said about it at the end of today’s text. He tells us to pay particular attention to the culture in which we live, and to be responsive to that which we observe. He told us to read the culture and react wisely to the culture.
“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.”
To be on-guard, or alert means we have to be aware of what kind of world we live in. It means we must figure out our environment so we can confront this culture with faith.
To many people, even faithful Christian believers, the horizon of our culture is too bleak to look at, much less confront. It is a scary world in which we live. One look at the newspaper or a dose of early morning TV or talk-radio will tell you that! Places like Egypt, Palestine and the West Bank are a world of images of war and terror.
In our culture there is conflict upon conflict. We could literally spend months on end just cataloging all the unnerving events going on in the world today. The news is hardly ever encouraging; the choices are always fairly simple and consequential –
þ we can ignore the pain in the lives of others because it is too great for us to bear…
þ or we can attempt to deaden the noise and pain with activities, drugs or alcohol, or desensitizing exercises; we can bury our heads in the sands of materialism and vacations…
þ or…we can do what Jesus commanded…read the culture, understand what the signs of our times are, and then…
“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.”
Reacting wisely to the culture takes understanding; it takes reading the culture in the light of eternity and faith. Here, on the first Sunday in Advent we commit to waiting, anticipating. Silence is commanded, listening is warranted…and neither is generally practiced.
Note the two ways Jesus said that our alertness can be put into practice as we confront our culture in this new millennium:
Jesus commanded us to pray. Now, the Lord was not talking about our blessing before the fried chicken this afternoon. The word “pray” in the verse comes from a root verb which means “to bind”. When we truly pray, we come to the Lord in faith, willing to open our hearts to what He wants (not the Christmas shopping list), and to be bound by His will. This table is a good place to bind yourself to Jesus.
By plodding I don’t mean to imply just “sledging-through” in life, dragging oneself as if you are wading through a hip-deep bog. Rather, to plod is more a matter of staying with the stuff every day, keeping our eyes fixed on the goal.
The table we share this morning is a source of that strength; it is called grace!
Prayer and Plodding – this is how we react to the culture wisely. This is a balancing act certainly. It is not for the faint of heart. It is for those willing to surrender their hearts to a purpose which is eternal. In so doing we receive strength to look for His coming.