Text: Luke 21:25-36
Sometimes I tire of coming to church and having to hear from the Bible what I hear the other six days of the week from the news headlines: word of how the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Especially on this first Sunday of Advent when the story is supposed to be about hope, peace, joy, and love. Honestly, you ask and so do I, do we ever get a break? Why can’t we just talk about baby Jesus and of stars and shepherds and of wise people following the stars? Why not begin Advent by imagining the excitement of young Mary and Joseph as they prepare for their first-born child? Why not tell a sweet story of the promise of saying “yes” to God – of allowing something new to be birthed in us? Why do we have to begin this first Sunday of Advent being reminded of the distress in our world?
“People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming…” It’s enough to make you want to crawl into a hole and hide. There’s certainly enough in our world to make one worry. “The roaring of the sea” fell recently upon our shores in the Northeast. Those folks are still trying to recover. Israel and Gaza have a tenuous cease-fire, but only after over 100 people have been killed in bombings and rocket fire. Individuals and families are struggling financially and otherwise, trying to hold things together during the holiday season. Not to mention the news of our nation’s “fiscal cliff” that dominates the news headlines these days. Yes, there is much fear and foreboding in our world.
If nothing else, Luke reminds us this morning that fear and foreboding are not new to this world and to humanity. As much as we sometimes believe that our modern day is perched finally on the precipice of Armageddon, this text reminds us that thousands of years ago the human heart held the exact same worry – that the end is coming and that despair looms large. There is a timeless and universal quality to this fascination with how things will ultimately end. And there is an equally timeless belief that for every generation the end is near. I was amazed in reading this Luke text just how familiar it sounds and how applicable it is for our day – indeed, for our generation. There are so many voices shouting at us to live from that place of fear and foreboding. Hunker down. Pull in. Be cautious. Don’t risk. There may not be enough.
Yet Luke, after having taken us down the road of fear and foreboding, tells us that even as we are faced with the turmoil and chaos of the world, God is on the way, bringing justice and peace; and that there is hope. It is a common biblical theme: no matter how bad things seem, no matter how bad thing are, God is there and hope isn’t lost. We need not keep our heads down and fear. Luke reminds us that there is another option. Stand up. Raise your heads. Be alert. Stay calm. Redemption is near.
As I read this passage from Luke, I was reminded of something that Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate measure of a person is not where he or she stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It seems to me that that is what Luke is saying when he writes, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life…but be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place….” The necessary question on this first Sunday of Advent 2012 may be this: How will we choose to live and respond in times of challenge and controversy? In the midst of all the fear and foreboding, the swirling chaos and uncertainty of our world, how will we respond? Will we live as the world tells us to – frantic, hunkering down, pulling in, avoiding the risks that lead us to life, believing that there is not enough and that we are not enough? Or will we stand up, raise our heads, have hope, remain alert, stay calm and steady believing that our redemption is always near.
It may be that the world will always be a place of turmoil and fear and foreboding and chaos. But it doesn’t have to be, Luke tells us. We don’t have to walk around in this world with hearts weighed down from the worries of this life. When you are on the edge of despair – from illness or failure or disappointment or heartbreak or oppression or depression or burnout or whatever – when you are on the edge of fear and foreboding you are keenly aware that you are insufficient, that this world and its reality is temporary, and that you stand in desperate need of the miraculous, of something beyond yourself. There comes that moment of awareness for all of us in which we realize that that which is merely possible cannot save us. And that is what the gospel offers – an impossible possibility, a reality that transcends the everyday real, a truth deeper than all else we have been told is true, a story that stretches beyond all our stories so as to give them meaning and integrity and purpose. The gospel, our faith, offers us an opportunity to suspend our disbelief for the courage to dream something different, something hopeful, something redemptive, something that can calm us and actually save us from all the fear and foreboding that the world invites us into.
I am aware that some would call this an escape, a flight from reality. And, honestly, this is the great risk of faith. The truth that the gospel proclaims is not some mere fact that we can verify but rather it is a claim, a confession, even a wager, that there is a reality and truth beyond the confines of our limited knowing. So often do we forget just how audacious, even ridiculous the gospel is. How contrary it is to all our reason and experience. Think about it. The gospel story, the Advent/Christmas story, is a story that asserts not only that there is a God who has created and still sustains the vast cosmos, but that this God not only knows that we exist, but gives a damn, actually cares deeply and passionately about us and our hopes and dreams, successes and failure, enough to dwell among us and even in us.
The Courage to Dream – that is our Advent theme this year. I wonder: When was the last time you dreamed? The last time you allowed yourself to set aside those things that constrain you – things like limited time, resources, and energy. When was the last time you let yourself imagine what things could be like rather than how they are – freeing yourself from the fears and foreboding and worries of this life in exchange for a faith that calms us in the midst of the storm, a faith that is built on trusting something beyond ourselves, a faith that invites us to take risks for abundant living, a faith that says there is enough and you are enough? When was the last time you dared to suspend your disbelief for the real possibility of a hope, and a peace, and a love, and a joy that is redemption? I hope this Advent, you will have The Courage to Dream.