Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, November 30, 2015

"Jesus is coming... Look up!"

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, Amen.

Nothing gets us in the “Christmas spirit” like talking about the end of the world.

Every once in a while, I notice a car (normally the one I happen to be behind going 5 under the speed limit) that has a bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming – look busy.” I’m not sure how exactly I’m supposed to be “looking busy” at least while I’m driving. Definitely not by texting, that’s for sure. I wonder if this means we should have some “holy busy work” at the ready. That way, when Jesus arrives, like an absentee boss, he won’t think we’re a bunch of slackers.

Were you ready for Jesus the last time he was supposed to come? Three years ago, when we last heard these words in the lectionary cycle, it was December 2012 - the month the world was actually supposed to end, according to some. It didn’t – at least not that I noticed.

While the end of the world failed to happen on a global scale, the end of the world did happen in December 2012, for the parents of children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary. For that community, what they had previously believed about the safety of their loved ones was shaken and came crashing down around them, as the rest of the nation watched with alarm and grief.

And here we are, three years later, with Jesus yet again seeming to be quoting right out of the news. There is plenty for the nations of the world to be in distress about right now, plenty of confusion, chaos, and fear: Paris, refugees from Syria, ISIS, tension between countries and races, airplanes being shot at, people being shot at… just to name a few of the events in the recent news.  So much pain, so much fear, so much suffering has happened just the last few weeks.

So much so, it might cause us to question whether or not these are the very signs Jesus was talking about. Should we be getting ready for the end? Should we “look busy”? Or should we duck and cover? Perhaps keeping our heads down and stockpiling things for “just in case” might be a better way to get ready than “looking busy,” at least by how Jesus describes the end.

Which leads us to wonder in the meantime, whether the end comes and Jesus returns, in the midst of all hell breaking loose right now, we wonder, where is God?

In the midst of all this, in the middle of the meantime, a voice speaks. A voice with a word of hope. This voice, echoing down through all the turbulent eras of the world, is a voice that tells us that this is not how things are always going to be. Another kind of future is on our way to us – not our future, but God’s future, where we will live not as part of the kingdoms of this earth, but as part of God’s kingdom. Another kind of future has always been and is already breaking in.

During another time of great upheaval in human history, the prophet Jeremiah shared this word to a broken people. The people of Israel were conquered by a foreign nation and forcibly became refugees in a strange land. Defeated, defenseless, and dejected, they might have given up on God and given in to their fear. Would they continue to believe that God would still be present in the chaos? Would God be faithful to the promises God made to their ancestors? How long would they have to wait for this coming day that Jeremiah describes?

Some things never change, I guess. We fast forward to the first followers of Jesus hearing these words written by Luke. When Luke was writing, Jerusalem had yet again been destroyed, this time by the Romans. The temple was gone, the city devastated, countless people were dead, and their world was unrecognizable. As if the sun had stopped shining and the stars had fallen out of the sky. 

Which left the early followers of Jesus wondering, can God still show up, even after all this? Is God’s kingdom still near, will God be able to break in to all the darkness that surrounds them?

If this is the kind of thing that Jesus isn’t going to save us from, it’s no wonder we could rather not hear it, and instead skip over Advent completely, and get right to Christmas carols and peppermint lattes. Especially when the things we hear in church on this first Sunday in Advent has nothing to do with Mary, Joseph, angels or birth announcements, or baby Jesus anyway. It seems like WE are the ones who have skipped over the Christmas story entirely, and jumped right ahead to what sounds like the end of the world.

But I will let you in on a little secret. In Advent, time refuses to behave properly. From the past we find hope for the future, and the future becomes the “now.”

During the season of Advent, Jesus comes to us as a baby and as a grown man. He is on a cross and he is raised. He came, he is here, and he will come again, but we don’t know just when and how until he shows up. Maybe tomorrow, two years, or two thousand years from now. And at the same time, Jesus shows up all the time. His kingdom will come, and at the same time his kingdom IS ALREADY HERE among us.

From Jeremiah to Jerusalem to Jersey, God has given God’s people a head’s up, to lift our heads and look up, that from the dead stump of tragedy, a branch is going to spring up, to show us that despite all the chaos and the fear and the pain, God is still going to SHOW UP. Even when all hell breaks loose. While the rest of the world is telling us to duck and cover, or look busy, Jesus says to stand up and look. Because otherwise we might miss where Jesus and the kingdom are breaking into our world RIGHT NOW.  Look up, your redemption is drawing near.

In these dark days of violence and fear, this is where I have seen the kingdom coming near to us:  In two teenage Syrian refugees who are helping the homeless in Seattle. In my friend and other white allies who are keeping the vigil for justice with Black Lives Matter movement in Minneapolis.  In this past month, the Rescue mission of Trenton made it into the Guinness World Record for most clothing donated to people in need. On Tuesday night our youth served a thanksgiving meal at Hightstown Methodist for those who needed a hot meal. In our own generosity in Christmas gifts for kids through RISE and the Tree of Hope for Hightstown Head start, and in our financial support of the ministries of the greater church and the ELCA.

And in most unlikely places, even in the full-on advent of the Christmas shopping season, there is plenty of opportunities to witness the kingdom come. We can continue to be grateful for what we have, beyond just sharing what we are thankful for around the table last Thursday. We can remember the humanity in a cashier who had to work all weekend. We can make choices in our purchases that honors the work and gives the worker a far wage. Your family might even choose to forgo the gift-go-round all together and instead opt for giving to your favorite charity. I might even choose to be courteous of the slow car ahead of me, even if they have that bumper sticker that says “Jesus is coming, look busy!” All these things, and more, are signs of the kingdom of God arriving, even in all the Christmas frenzy. Imagine that.

I’m going to let you in on another secret, one that is perhaps not so secret. Every Sunday when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are looking toward a time where God’s justice and mercy will reign supreme. When there is no more racism, sexism, classism of any kind, where fear and war and violence and greed and death no longer rule us. And every time we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are allowing ourselves to be open to being part of that coming. And not just by “looking busy,” but by being busy bringing in God’s kingdom.

Until God’s kingdom comes in its fullness, and Jesus does come riding in on the clouds, we wait and we hope and we be God’s lights shining in a very dark world. We don’t know what the world will bring to us around the next corner or in the next news cycle. But we can keep our heads up knowing God is going to show up. Jesus is coming… so look up! Your redemption is near. AMEN. 

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