|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 30, 2020 at 10:35 AM|
Stars and sun and moon are failing to give their light. The heavens are in disarray. Right before our gospel lesson, Jesus said there will be earthquakes and famines and wars. The world is falling apart. Every single year, this is how we begin a new church year. With talk about the end of days and all the chaos that will happen in our world before Jesus returns.
And most years, it’s a big downer to start off Advent with all this end times talk right as the festive season is starting around us. But this year, these words sound a lot different- a little closer to home. We’ve just come through an election year like no other where fear and anger took center stage on both sides. And we’ve had to take seriously the need for racial justice and reconciliation in our country. There are still wars and rumors of war in too many places in the world. And the pandemic has made our lives look completely unrecognizable from what they were last year. These words don’t seem like an unwelcome intruder this year- they just sound honest. Things are a mess.
And so it’s a good time to remember that as scary as they may sometimes sound, apocalyptic words like these were meant as words of comfort for those who were suffering and living in uncertain times. ( I say that every single Advent from my seminary training, but this is the first year that I really understood that.)
This morning Jesus tells his disciples and us- “this moment you’re living through is part of what I said will be. So don’t lose heart when suffering happens.” Jesus doesn’t explain why these struggles will happen and he doesn’t say that it is his will to bring them. He simply says that there will be times when the world will be shaken and will seem like it’s ready to fall apart. In those moments, where fear grips your heart, when you’re exhausted by all that is going on, when you’re despairing, Jesus says, 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 all that’s coming.
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 the moments where you think the world will fall apart, 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. 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.
When everything else seems to be falling apart, Jesus says to us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” When the world no longer makes sense, there is still one thing to guide you. One thing that will not fail. Cling to my words, Jesus says.
Because even in a chaotic world, Jesus’ words still point the way forward. His words about self-giving love and forgiveness still teach us how to live. His loving welcome still teaches us to show hospitality to those who are left out.
When things don’t make sense, my words won’t pass away, Jesus says. So keep clinging to my truth. Know that there is abundance to be shared with our neighbors. And that mercy matters. And that healing happens. And that trusting God with your life and your future brings peace and life. Cling to my words, that will not pass away.
But then come those words that we’ve been hearing for the last 3 weeks in our gospel lessons. “Keep alert, keep awake!” Jesus says, for you don’t know when the time will come for me to return. No one knows. So the only way to be ready is to stay awake and alert all the time!
And after the year this has been, those words seem so incredibly exhausting. It’s exhausting to be told to keep awake when have trouble just remembering what day it is and when we are often too distracted and anxious to settle ourselves down at all.
But for those us of short attention spans, I think we can learn from Dory. Dory’s the fish that we meet in the movie Finding Nemo. And Dory has short-term memory loss and loses her train of thought about every 15 seconds. Which feels familiar these days. In the movie Finding Dory, she has a flashback to her parents. And suddenly in a moment Dory remembers their love and how much she misses them. And she is determined to go home. Her memory is fuzzy and she can’t concentrate, but the love is powerful enough to point her in the direction of her parents.
And she takes off on a journey that doesn’t turn out that well and it seems so unlikely that she’ll ever actually find her parents. But no matter what, Dory just keeps singing her signature song, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”
And she keeps swimming toward that love, trusting that her parents will be there and she will be home. And when she’s almost given up hope because of the journey, she sees a shell (something that always catches her attention) and then she sees another shell and then another. And she follows them until they lead her home. Her parents had been laying out shells for years to guide her home. And she just needed to follow them and “just keep swimming,”
These words from Jesus this morning are meant to be the shells that help guide us home to the heart of God from wherever our distraction and worry about the future may have taken us. These words- that seem rather ominous- are meant to lead us back to focus on the love of God when our memory of God’s goodness is a little fuzzy. When hope keeps slipping out of our minds. When nothing seems all that sure. Still, Jesus says, my words, like those shells, will not pass away. Follow them home. And just keep swimming toward me and the future I’m bringing.
We don’t have to stay alert to everything changing thing in the world and figure out how to deal with each new thing that happens in the world- that kind of staying alert keeps us wrapped up and anxious. Jesus calls us to stay alert by look up from the distractions of work and busyness and the news cycle and instead see the vision of what Jesus says will be one day. To stay focused on that love. To stay rooted in that word. Not so that we can avoid the world and its problems, but so that we can be rooted and centered in the midst of them. So we can face the future with courage. So that we have the strength to shelter our neighbors and speak God’s hope into the world. So that we can work alongside God in the work of peace-making and justice-bringing. So that we can point our lives in the direction of that love of God and just keep swimming and living out that love.