11/29/15 Sermon (November 29, 2015) “Summer is Here”

posted Jul 5, 2016, 3:56 PM by David Hawkins
Scripture:  Luke 21:25–36 

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees;  as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Sermon: “Summer is Here”

Advent is a strange time of year, at least for those of us who follow the liturgical calendar. I mean, as soon as Grey Thursday hit (otherwise known as Thanksgiving) the stores switched on their endless loops of Christmas music, we see Christmas decorations everywhere, and Bill O’Reilly and Fox News have fired up the War on ChristmasTM machine. 

So, we know it’s definitely Christmas time. From here on out. Every day. Everywhere. 

Except, seemingly, here at the church. 

Here at the church we might have some Christmas decorations, but our scripture today has absolutely nothing at all to do with a baby born in a manger. There’s nothing about shepherds or wise men, or sheep or Bethlehem in today’s Bible passage. Instead we hear Jesus talking about the roaring of the seas and signs in the moon and the stars, about the Son of Man coming in power and glory. If you think about it, it all sounds a lot more like Revelation than Christmas. 

And the next couple of weeks aren’t going to be much different. I think we’re going to be talking more about John the Baptist than we are about the infant Jesus. Eventually we’ll get around to the birth of Christ of course, but not anytime soon.

So what’s the deal with Advent? What’s the deal with this odd season of preparation, why is it so out of step with the rest of the world? How do hold these strange competing seasons of church and culture together? 

And, even more importantly, today, what’s going with Jesus? What on earth is he talking about with all this end of the world stuff? And, how do we fit all of these seemingly completely unrelated things together? What is the uniting theme between Advent Season, Christmas, and Jesus talking about the Apocalypse?

Well, I’m not sure I can answer all these questions, but I’ll try to answer a couple of them. 

As I said last week, Advent is the beginning of the New Year for the Church. Advent heralds both the birth of Christ, and also the return of Christ. During Advent we pay attention to those scriptures which point to Christ coming to us, both in terms of the prophecies which talk about the birth of a baby boy, but also those scriptures which remind us that that Christ will come again to judge and redeem those who remain faithful to him. 

And that’s what we are doing today. Today, we find Jesus, in the last week of his life, in fact, in the last days before his last Passover meal, talking to the crowds about the coming destruction of the Temple, the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and the ultimate end of the world. 

Not really very joyful stuff, if you think about it. Kind of gloomy. Not very Christmas-y, at all.

Now, those of you who have heard me preach more than about one sermon on these types of scriptures know that I have a problem with apocalyptic texts. To be more specific, I have a problem with how they are used as a bludgeon to get people to believe in a loving Jesus, before they are thrown in the lake of fire to rot in hell forever. 

 I have a problem with the way texts like these, texts that talk about the end of the world, and the return of Jesus, are used as a threat to incite fear. And to tell the truth, I have always had a hard time finding ways to preach these kinds of texts without ending up simply ranting about those people who use them in ways that I find inappropriate or manipulative. 

The problem is, this is a negative approach. It only focuses on how I think the texts have been used badly by other people. And during my short time as a preacher, I really haven’t figured out how to preach these kinds of texts in a positive way.

But a couple of months ago, after one of my rants against a preacher I feel uses these ‘end of the world’ scriptures as a weapon, Tammy Coleman was brave enough and kind enough to come to my office and talk to me about some of the things that I said, and she was able to help me see another way of thinking about these texts, and after I’ve had some time to think about it, I think it’s the way that Jesus meant his words to be taken. 

You see, Tammy reminded me that for her, it’s all about hope. That we live in a despairing world, in fact, we have always lived in a despairing world. Whether it was in Jesus’ time, under Roman oppression, or during the black death of the dark ages, or during own time of global terror and chaos, for many people, the world is a dark, brutal place to live. 

And there are times when the light seems to be all but extinguished. There are times when we think that God has forgotten the world, that he has washed his hands of us, that he has turned his back and walked away. There are times when we think that we live in the winter of history, and that spring is forever denied us, that the summer of God’s love and forgiveness will never come.

But then Jesus reminds us that this is not the case. No matter how bleak our situation looks, no matter how cold our lives feel, no matter how dark the night, he has no intentions of letting us go. 

And this is as true for us as it was for those early Christians who were persecuted by Rome. It’s as true for us as it was for those gave their lives caring for those infected by the plague. And it’s as true for us today as it has been for the people of God for all of history. 

God will not let us go.  Not then, not now, not ever. Even now, in the middle of winter, we can depend on the warmth of God’s love. In the worst moment of lives, we can trust that our redemption is drawing near. 

You know, it’s interesting that Jesus uses the image of a fig tree as a symbol of his return. Each year, the fig tree yields two crops, one in the spring, and then another in late summer/early fall. The spring crop is a little spotty, and is sometimes compromised by frost. And it’s only after the spring fig begin to fruit that the leaves come out. 

But after the leaves come out, you can bet that the summer crop is on its way. And this is the main event. This is what the fig tree is all about. 

And this is what Advent is all about. It’s hard sometimes to think about the return of summer, especially today, after we’ve just been battered by an epic ice storm. It’s hard sometimes, to the think about the return of Jesus, especially today, in the middle of threats from ISIS and rising tensions between Russia and NATO forces. It’s hard to think about the promises of God, when all around us, promises are broken, dreams are shattered, and trust is bought and sold like commodities on the stock market.

It’s hard to fit today’s scripture into our culture’s crass commercialization of Christmas, it’s hard to think about Jesus talking about the end of the world while Alvin and Chipmunks sing ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ for the one thousandth time while you work your way through crowds fighting over a big screen TV. 

It’s hard sometimes to hope. It would be easier to give in to despair.

But here is the word of Jesus, and it’s as true for as it has been for all Christians in all places and time. Generations may pass away. Nations may rise and fall. We may never understand the mystery of God’s love. But we can count on this: The leaves are sprouting. The kingdom of heaven is near. Our redemption is coming. Jesus Christ will come again, and those who remain faithful will stand before him with courage and strength.

Raise your heads, beloved children of God. Because summer is right around the corner. 

Blessed be the Lord. Amen.