Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21: 25-36
The first Sunday of Advent is easily one of my favorite Sundays of the year.
There are a lot of reasons I love it so much. It is the beginning of our church year and beginnings are always exciting. The Scripture readings are never boring. But most of all I love how Advent holds together the difficult reality of life as it is and the hope of what is to come. It is definitely a “both/and” kind of day.
Life is Hard. And The Kingdom is Coming. Bad things will happen. And God will redeem them. In case you doubt this to be true, Jesus’ main advise is to open our eyes and see it take place.
The both/and of difficulty and promise is a truth that runs all the way through the Bible. We see it in Jeremiah. At Jeremiah is writing these verses to the people of Israel, Jerusalem, the Holy City, is being attacked by Babylon. And spoiler alert. Babylon is going to win. God will not rescue the chosen people from their foe. They will be defeated. The city will be looted. A significant population will be carted off to Babylon to live in exile. This defeat will be among the most traumatic events to happen to the Israelites.
But even in the midst of this difficulty, there is not a sense of doom, but a sense of promise. God tells Jeremiah is chapter 33, yeah things are going to get bad, really bad, people will call Jerusalem, “a waste without human beings or animals.” But then, but then I am going to bring healing. Jerusalem will be restored. On this tree that seems dead, I will cause a branch to spring up.
We see a similar kind of prophecy in Luke. Right before our passage today Jesus is telling the people how the temple, possibly the most cherished place for the Jewish people, will soon be destroyed. And this time he is not talking in metaphor. He is prophesying about the actual forthcoming destruction of the temple. Jesus does not mince words. It is going to be bad. People will faint with fear.
I don’t know about you, but I can relate to the Jewish people. Sometimes I want to faint with fear. Between the hurricanes and wildfires and shootings and corruption and constant fighting, sometimes I am overcome by it all. It is almost too much. And part of me suspects it will get worse before it gets better. It is enough to make me want to put my head under the covers and never come out of my room again.
But that would be very sad. Because what Jesus tells us is that in the midst of all the bad things, we are not to hide or faint with fear.
We are to stand up and raise our heads. Raise our heads? Why would we want to raise our heads when all the bad things are happening? The answer is so that we can see the Son of Man coming in glory. So we can see our redemption draw near.
Now many people read this passage as apocalyptically. Apoco-what? Apocalyptically means something that talks about the end of things. The end times. The end of the world as we know it. When Jesus comes again in final glory and makes all things new.
And I do hope for that day when Jesus comes and redeems every single piece of our world.
But I actually don’t think this passage is only talking about that coming. For in addition to believing advent is a both/and kind of thing, I believe it is an over and over again kind of thing.
Advent means coming. Like Jesus came once as a baby, Jesus will come again in glory, and in the meantime, Jesus is coming again and again into our everyday world in sometimes easy to miss ways. In some way and some measure Jesus is always coming to be with us. The world is always being redeemed. The kingdom is always coming.
But these everyday Advents can be easy to miss. We can be so focused on the bad or the scary or just not looking that we miss them altogether.
About a month ago I had the pleasure of visiting Montreat for the first time. I co-lead a retreat for women at the Georgia Lodge there. I was looking forward to the drive because the leaves were starting to turn in the mountains and I thought it would be beautiful. But the day of the drive it rained the entire six-hour drive through three states. My knuckles were so stiff and white from gripping the wheel and my shoulders were so tense. Honestly, at times I was scared. I was so scared of sliding off those slick mountain roads and off the mountain, it was all I could do to grip the wheel train my eyes on the road and keep going one mile at the time. My view was one of fear and danger.
But then I heard my passenger, Kyra exclaim, “Oh, look at that.” And for a second I looked up and saw mountain tops rings by wispy clouds. It was a mysterious, ethereal kind of beauty. It wasn’t all fear and danger after all. It was awe and wonder and beauty too. I just hadn’t been looking enough to see it.
Later that night as we began our retreat we meditated on Psalm 121, “I will lift my eyes to the hills from where my help comes. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” As I sat in that room full of wonderful women God took my breath away. I was convicted of how much of my life I spend looking at the little bit of dangerous road ahead of me, focused solely on my fear and not the help and wonder of God that is all around me.”
Lift my eyes indeed.
I kept with that insight the rest of the rainy weekend and I saw Jesus and the kingdom everywhere. From the beauty of the mountains to the shining faces of the women that I was sharing this faith journey will. God and God’s goodness was everywhere.
Life is scary and hard sometimes. And God is with us. Coming with promises of hope and healing. Coming with redemption and love. Coming near us over and over again. If we just lift our eyes, raise our heads, be alert for Jesus’ continuous advent into our lives.
So acknowledge the hard. But hold onto the hope. And know God is greater than any difficulty. The light has come into the world and the evil could not put the light out. This Advent, look for the light.