Here we are at the beginning of a new church year, it’s Advent – our time of waiting patiently to see what God will do. Advent may be the most difficult time in the church calendar – in part because our culture begins the Christmas season almost before Halloween is over. Christmas decorations and Christmas carols – all are on the shelves and blasting on the speaker system in the grocery store as soon as the Halloween candy is sold.
But in the church, we refrain from Christmas until December 24th. We practice restraint, we leave the church plain, we don’t sing Christmas carols, we WAIT for the coming of Jesus. If the world could wait thousands of years for the first advent of Christ, we ought to be able to wait the four weeks through the season of Advent. Patience is not only a virtue; it’s a discipline and one of the gifts of the Spirit. So we wait for Christ’s coming and we begin our wait with the season of Advent.
We wait because Advent reminds us that even in our instant gratification world, not everything comes immediately. We wait through Advent because we’re still waiting for peace on earth. We wait through Advent because the refugees have yet to find a new home. We wait through Advent because there is not yet silence in the night – a time when the guns of war and terror have ended. We wait because the world is not yet what it ought to be and we are not yet who WE ought to be.
This week we concentrate our waiting minds on the second coming of Christ. Jesus told his disciples that when they saw the signs they should ‘lift up’ their heads, because their redemption was drawing near. The redemption of the world will be a wonderful sight – and we hold out hope, still.
There is a feeling that the changes we are experiencing all around us mark the end of the world as we know it. This presidency, the level of political turmoil we see, the deep divides we see between those who have and those who have not, between Republicans and Democrats – all these and more portend the end of the world as we know it. The talking heads on television and the radio and the internet all do their best to raise our fear about what’s coming next. It’s the end of the world. It’s the zombie apochalypse. America is lost, the Democrats are lost, the Republicans are lost… We are about to become a socialist state, a communist state, a police state, a place where everyone just does whatever they want or nothing at all will ever get done…
When Jesus warns his disciples to keep awake and aware of what’s going on in the world, when he tells them to watch the fig tree and look for the signs, it’s not meant to bring fear – it’s about hope.
Do we really want to keep the world as we know it?
Do we want to stay at war in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, possibly in Yemen? Do we want to continue seeing our military stationed at our Southern border? Do we want to see the middle class continue to shrink, to see more of people go hungry, become victims of violence, lose their homes and flee their countries? Do we want to continue to see the people we love get sick and die? What would be so awful about exchanging this world, for God’s kingdom, God’s country? Exchanging this place for a place where no one goes hungry, no one gets sick, no one is homeless or orphaned or a stranger.
Sisters and brothers, we need not fear the future. The final end of the world as we know it, with ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ is a good thing. We don’t need to drown our sorrows or wrap ourselves in worry – our redemption is coming.
We don’t need to fear the near future, either, even if it’s not the final end of the world as we know it. In fact, as Christians we are called to be always working for the end of the world as we know it. We are called to care for the widows and orphans and strangers in our midst. We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the needy, to take care of the sick and visit the prisoners. Jesus asks his disciples to work for the kingdom’s coming right here, right now – Jesus asks us to work for the end of the world as we know it. Waging peace instead of war. Making sure there is food and shelter for all instead of just for those who can afford it. Caring for the sick and the destitute rather than turning a blind eye.
You are already doing this work. Collecting food for the food pantry, making sandwiches to give away at the Samaritan Center, purchasing a gift for a child you’ve never met through the Giving Tree – these are ways of working for God’s kingdom and the end of the world as we know it. Even the changes we’re experiencing as our congregation grows older and smaller is a way of changing the world as we know it. And although change always brings anxiety, it’s also the chance for us to ask God how we might be serve the Kingdom now, in this place, with the resources we have.
The world as we know it is a far cry from the world as it ought to be, a far cry from the kingdom of God. But we should never lose hope. God is always at work, bringing life out of death, bringing the new out of the ashes of the old.
The prophet Jeremiah lived during the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. He lived IN Jerusalem and he spent his time warning the king about what he ought to do and what he ought not to do. The times were desperate and Nebuchadnezzar would eventually destroy Jerusalem and the entire kingdom of Israel. But even in those awful times, Jeremiah had a vision of hope for the people, a message of restoration and the reestablishment of the Davidic kingdom. ‘In those days and at that time,’ God said through Jeremiah, ‘I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David…’
Even when it seemed that David’s line was cut off for good, God tells the people that new life can be expected from the stump they thought was dead. Messiah would come from Jesse’s line, from the stump of David’s family tree.
God always brings life out of the ashes, God always brings resurrection just when we think we’re finally dead and gone. Our job is to work for the end of the world as we know it, not fearful of the end, but rejoicing, because the end of the world as we know it means the kingdom of God will arrive and Christ will return. Justice and peace will reign, all needs shall be met, death and dying will be no more and we will know the love God has for us without hesitation or qualification. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Bring the end of the world as we now know it. Amen.