21:25 “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.
21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.
21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.
21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
21:34 “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,
21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.
21:36 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.”
The beginning of Advent is such a special time for all of us. This year I wanted to reflect on one piece of our tradition known as the Advent wreath. Each candle actually represents something its not just three purples a pink and a white in which we argue about which Sunday the pink one gets lit. No, the candles represent the themes that are brought out in the scripture for each week of the liturgical season. The first candle is hope which is this week’s message. Next week is peace, which is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that the plan that God had from the beginning is in the light of Christ. The third candle which is pink by the way is love, demonstrated by John the Baptist and his love for the one coming greater than he. The fourth candle is joy, the joy that Mary felt in the pronouncement that she was going to deliver the Messiah in the beautiful poem we call the Magnificat. The center candle, the white one is representative of the Christ candle. That candle reminds us that Christ is the light of the world and if we follow Christ, we will never walk in the darkness again.
Today our focus is on the first candle known as hope. SO, let’s start with a question. How many times in our lives have we been told that if it is too good to be true it probably is? (GIF) We know that the world is filled with scam artists. The seem to prey on the most vulnerable ones as well. Older people and children seem to be good targets. Cyber scammers seem to be the number one culprit. They seek to find people who are vulnerable especially if they are a little naïve about technology and they get them in credit card schemes. The rouse is that someone is in eminent danger and you can help, or that your computer is being attacked by others and you can stop it by giving out enough personal information that your bank accounts get hacked. Or if you pay them enough in iTunes gift cards then they can fix your system. That doesn’t seem like much hope does it?
In fact, because of all of these events we are even more skeptical of people around us. We seem to want to trust no one. We now screen all our calls and hang up immediately if it is a salesperson. What hope is there in all of that?
The crazy thing is that there is not much hope at all, in one another. We are prone to make life hard on ourselves. We seem to be constantly getting in the way of each other’s happiness. As soon as one thing is going well, we then get caught up in some drama or conflict and boom the whole universe as we know it gets blown up. Then we get angry and we do mean things to others because some one did a mean thing to us and at the very least our ability to trust has taken a hit and we are more cautious than before.
That is one of the reasons that the hope of the Advent season is so hard for us. We have such a hard time trusting anyone when they promise something that may be too good to be true. Advent is an interesting season for us in the church. We look back to the birth of Jesus as the Messiah, but we also look forward to the return or second coming of Jesus as well. The coming of Jesus in which the kingdom of heaven comes to earth is just too good to be true. War and famine are no more. Our reading for lighting the advent candle says that we will beat our swords into plow shares and our spears into pruning hooks. And they shall not learn war anymore. That’s like dismantling the branches of the military. How stupid does that seem? We have no military to protect us? What about the invasion from foreign countries? Even more so today how do we protect ourselves against terrorist attacks? It’s one thing to have hope, but it is another thing to allow ourselves to be at risk of danger.
Yet the greatest miracle to ever happen has already occurred. Jesus was born as the Son of God in a small village in a lowly manger with stinky shepherds to attend. The most unlikely of events to unfold makes the best story. We seem to know this story and have no problem accepting it as true, for the most part. The people who lived 2000 years ago had a super hard time believing that it was really the Messiah incarnate walking around eating with sinners and healing the needy. The story in some form is going to repeat itself.
The second coming of the Savior is going to occur we just are not sure when and where like the people of Bethlehem. The Messiah probably will not come to a major city or show up in a fancy place. I would be greatly surprised if it even occurred on the continent of North America. The Messiah may be a woman, three is a 50/50 chance. The Messiah probably will not be white. Might not find the Messiah on social media or YouTube. So, what do we know about this Second Coming?
There are going to be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars and the earth will be distressed. Between global warming, earthquakes, forest fires, hurricanes and drought we are pretty stressed. The people are going to faint from fear and foreboding. How many people are trying to bring about doomsday advice and how to deal with it and touting fear? The politicians and Evangelicals keep saying that we need to be afraid of the other side or Satan because they are winning, and we are losing. Immigration, sexuality, abortion, terrorism stay afraid and stay vigilant, faint from all the foreboding.
Yet Jesus said, when the “Son of Man comes in a clouds with great power and great glory, stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near. What is the first ting the angel said to Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds and at the tomb to Mary Magdalene? “Do not be afraid.” Stand up and raise your head is how the people of God respond to the Second Coming. We as Christians need to be excited about the Second Coming. Good things happen when we have hope. Jesus reminded them of the parable of the fig tree, when the leaves sprout you know without a doubt that summer is going to come again. We never doubt that fact do we? We wish sometimes if we are not fans of winter for it not to take so long, but we know eventually summer will return. Why do we struggle to have the same faith in God? Because the story of salvation seems to good to be true.
Jesus said, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.” (v.34) When we lose our hope and live in fear we begin to find ways to compensate and we lack trust in one another. Yet when we have hope we enter into God’s time. We enter into God’s time so that we are not overwhelmed by our times. This is not blind faith, but it is the recognition that our lives are in the hands of a God who has taken back from death and destruction the power to determine our future.
As we begin the Advent season, we recognize the familiar and plan for the future. Patiently waiting is a phrase that we hear often this time of year. Yet, with the hustle and bustle of the season we know that ain’t going to happen. Then, let us actively hope. Let us stand up and raise our heads. Let us seek to live in the hope of God’s promise. Let us hope in mankind again. Let us hope in our neighbor, even the one we don’t like so much. Let us live as Jesus taught us, trusting that God is in control and wants nothing but to share in our lives and to love us. Amen.