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Being first-responders in a fear-filled world

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on December 4, 2017 at 2:20 PM

Mark 13:24-37


There are wars rumors of war. Earthquakes and famines. Stars and sun and moon are failing to give their light. The world is falling apart and it seems like the end is near. Welcome to the new year in the church!

 

Every single year, we this is how we begin- with a reminder of the chaos that will happen to our world. And some years we don’t really need this reminder, do we? It feels like our world is in chaos already. It feels some days like all the evil and violence will win and that this is the moment when the world will finally spin out of control.

 

But perhaps it is a consolation that Jesus knew these days would come. And he’s trying to get his disciples ready. Before that passage we just heard, Jesus was telling the disciples that there will be famines and earthquakes and that his followers would be persecuted and thrown in prison. And now we hear him telling them that even the sun and moon will be in chaos. The seas will be stormy and the tides will be out of sync. All of nature will be in disarray.

 

And people are going to be terrified. People will faint with fear. Whole countries will be in chaos because they’re not going to know how to handle a world that’s gone crazy. Because none of us do. That’s what makes the chaos of the world so scary. Most of it is far beyond our ability to control or change. When terrorist attacks happen. When tsunamis swallow up the land. When earthquakes and shootings and wars happen, we watch without being able to stop them.

 

Jesus knew that these things would happen so he tells his followers the truth. Things will happen in this world that will scare you to your core and make you question that I am really in control and am coming back. In those moments, where fear grips your heart, when all you want to do is cry and hide, remember these words.

 

I have told you what will happen so that you’ll be able to be strong and courageous in the face of the mess that’s coming. In fact, when all this stuff starts happening, that’s when you can take heart. In that day, you will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” In the moments where you think the world will fall apart, in that day you will see the face of Jesus. In the chaos, you will be met by the God who walked this earth with you.

 

So when you see these signs, Jesus says, you know that the kingdom of God is near. These signs don’t mean destruction. They mean Jesus coming into our midst. They mean God’s promise of coming to this world again is close.

 

Look at the fig tree Jesus says. (Or any other tree, for those of us who don’t know much about figs!) It sprouts leaves then you know that the summer is coming soon. That’s how nature works. Buds, then leaves, then summer happens. So you know how to read the signs of the world. And you know to depend on them. So, know that my coming is just as sure as the seasons changing. As sure as the sun rising every morning. Something that can be counted on. So when things in this world are out of control in the world, let that be your sign. Look that chaos right in the face and remember my words. Trust God to come to bring the kingdom and set things right. And when everything may pass away, know that God’s word will never cease to be on the earth. So cling to that word for your very life.

 

And then, knowing that you are holding onto this hope of God that will not disappoint you, then face the terror with courage, Jesus says. Remind each other of this. Encourage each other in this hope and pray that you will be ready for whatever happens next. Pray that you will have the strength to be who God needs you to be in the midst of all that is going on around you. And get to the joyful work that I give you to do in the midst!

 

Because as ones who look into the future with hope, we are called to be the ones that care for our brothers and sisters well in chaotic times. Like first responders who resist the paralyzing fear for the sake of helping others, we who hope in Christ are invited to rescue others are trapped by fear. We get to help them see a new vision of what is possible in the world. And because we know a new future if coming, we get to start that work now- by working to break down the systems of oppression that hurt our brothers and sisters. As ones who can trust that Jesus is coming to set this world right, and not destroy it, we can speak peace to those who are terrified and are tempted to react with violence and selfishness. We are ones that can testify to the hope that Jesus gives us, the hope that keeps us alert and gives us the capacity for joy even in the craziest of times.

 

In fact, we are to be people “infected by hope”- to be signposts of hope for those who are locked in fear or are doing their best to avoid looking reality straight in the eye. We are people who can see the world for what it is- a mess in need of God’s fixing. And we don’t have to be afraid of its messiness and its brokenness, because we know that at the end of time, God will fix all that we cannot. God will restore all that has been destroyed. God will bring peace to all the places where peace seems impossible right now- in Syria and Israel and in the streets of Baltimore.

 

We get to walk confidently toward the future that Jesus promises, even if the world seems to be falling apart around us. We don’t know when the Son of Man will come again to gather us up and transform this world. But we are absolutely assured that God will come. Simply because God has promised it.

 

But until then, we wait for the brokenness to be healed in our world. And work to heal it. And we beg and plead for it to be healed soon. But still we wait. Achingly we wait for the world to be set right. But we sometimes we start to lose hope. Because waiting is hard and we don’t know how to do it all that well. And that is why we so deeply need the gift of Advent.

 

Advent has always been my favorite season of the church year. Because I recognize it. Advent is where all Christians live their lives. Basking in the light of the dawn, but waiting and praying and pleading for the sunrise that will light up the whole world. It’s the moment where we plead for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” like Isaiah. It’s a season where we practice hope and to resist the fear the world tries to teach us. It’s a time to wait with expectation for God’s power to be seen in our world.

 

A few years ago at our campus ministry at UMBC, we had a few students who were not religious join us for one of our dinner discussions. We regularly welcome whoever will come in and eat with us so you never know how the conversation will go. And that week we were talking about how hard it is to wait and what makes it easier. And, being a pastor I just couldn’t wait to tell them about Advent, where we wait for Jesus in the manger and in our world. And to my surprise, our guests were excited to hear about all our traditions. And that’s when I started to feel a little silly.

 

“Well, the main thing we do is light candles.” “A lot?” they asked. “No, just one more each week. It’s our way of defying the darkness. And then we put blue cloths on the altar because it’s the color of hope. It’s usually a dark blue, which is the color of the sky just before morning. And then we read the promises the prophets brought us. And we sing songs about Jesus coming to steady our hearts.” In the face of the impending exams these students were worried about, in the face of a big, fancy Christmas season, our candles and readings and prayers didn’t seem like enough.

 

But the are all reminders of the promise that is enough- the promise that God holds this world and us. All our candles and songs and readings this season point us to the truth that we live in- the truth of Jesus who loved this world enough to wear our flesh and battle back all that works against our world. They point to the truth that we cling to when the world is out of control.

 

So, during this Advent, cling to this hope. When news stories cause you to fear, steady yourselves with the words of hope from the prophets. Light Advent candles (and maybe a whole lot more candles) at home to remind yourself of the light in the darkness that will not be overcome. Testify to hope by being part of the healing of all that is broken in the world- by caring for the lonely and the needy. Encourage each other with this hope and bring this hope to the world outside these walls- when you meet people locked in fear and despair. Live this hope anyway you know how as we wait for our God to come and transform this world.

 

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