FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT
TEXTS: Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with … the worries of this life …” (Luke 21:34)
Do you remember the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip? Created by American cartoonist Bill Watterson, it was syndicated from 1985 through 1995.
“Calvin and Hobbes” follows the humourous antics of Calvin—a precocious, mischievous, and adventurous six-year-old boy—and Hobbes, his always-forthright stuffed tiger. Set in present-day suburbia, the strip depicts Calvin’s recurrent flights of fancy and his friendship with Hobbes. In one of these comic strips, the following conversation takes place …
In the first frame, Calvin declares: “Live for the moment is my motto. You never know how long you got.”
In the second frame, he explains: “You could step into the road tomorrow and WHAM, you get hit by a cement truck! Then you’d be sorry you put off your pleasures. That’s what I say—live for the moment.”
And then he asks Hobbes: “What’s your motto?”
Hobbes replies: “My motto is—look down the road.”
Today’s Scripture readings are about what’s coming down the road towards us. They are about the promises God has made to us—such as the promise made through the prophet Jeremiah:
“The days are surely coming … when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute righteousness in the land.” (Jer. 33:15)
Stop for a minute, and think about that. What does it mean to us now, this promise of God? What does it mean, when Jesus says to us that there is a day coming when the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory?
What do these promises mean to us now in the midst of a busy life? A hectic life? A life where our kids expect to be driven here and there, and ask for things that we simply cannot afford? A life where our employers demand too much of us—and then dispose of us as they please? A life where our lodge, our children’s school, our hockey team—and, for that matter, our church—demand from us hours and resources that we simply do not have?
What do these promises about the future mean when we are caught up in trying to do all we can do right here and now in this present time? What do they mean when we are struggling to live one day at a time—when we are trying to be too many things to too many people?
What do they mean when we watch the news or read the newspaper and discover that senseless tragedy continues throughout the entire world—that crime and starvation and terrorism and war and earthquakes and floods abound? What do these promises mean, while coronavirus mutations stalk us, day and night?
In the face of all this, can we rely upon the promises of God? How should we react to what we witness happening all around us?
Here is Jesus’ advice: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
In other words, we should steadfastly cling to hope. We should watch, and we should pray—pray that we may be able to escape the time of tribulation, and pray that we may be able to stand before the Son of Man when he comes.
The promise of God—the promise of Christ—is that the future is not going to be like the present. The promise of God is that those things that are wrong in this world—those things that are evil—will surely pass away. The promise of God is that a new heaven and a new earth will come upon us—a new world of everlasting peace and everlasting justice, of infinite joy and boundless love.
Jesus calls us to believe in this future. That is why he mentions the signs of his coming, how the powers of the heavens will be shaken—how the stars and the moon and the sun itself will appear to go off course, bringing terror and fear to all the earth. That is why he says:
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)
Be on guard so that your heart is not weighed down. Wow. As I was reading those words of Jesus—as I was preparing my blog for this week—those words caught me … frankly … off guard.
The passage spoke straight to my heart. It told me, “Don’t get so caught up in the worries of this life that you are unprepared for the return of the Master.” It told me, “Be alert to the bigger picture.” It told me, “Understand your place in the greater scheme of things. Be on guard.”
It’s too easy to forget that, in the end, God’s will shall be done. And all I can do—all any of us can do—is to seek to understand God’s will, as best I can—and try to obey it, as best I can. And then trust God for the outcome.
Because the outcome is not up to me. When I lose sight of that truth, I begin to feel overwhelmed, and sorry for myself. Soon, I’m grumbling and hard to get along with. All because I’ve lost my focus.
How about you? What do you feel lost in today? Are you lost in the moment that is at hand?
Are you lost in the concerns that this moment brings? Has your life been so overwhelmed by one thing or another so that you can’t appreciate what else is going on?
We’ve all heard the expression, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells us not to sweat the big stuff!
He says we should not be distracted from him by anything, even by huge, major issues—warfare, floods, famine, creation seeming to fall apart. Nor even by an ongoing pandemic. Jesus says we should view these things as signs of what is to take place. Portents of the radical change that’s coming—change that will usher in a better world.
However, I think Jesus is telling us something else, too. He’s warning us about those smaller things—those personal things—that can be more distracting than any war or disaster halfway round the world.
Those personal events are dangerous, precisely because they are subtle and sneaky. We don’t realize what’s happening until it is too late. All of a sudden we’re trapped. We’re depressed. We’re working too hard. We’re so focused on one thing, that we miss the bigger picture.
That’s why Jesus tells us to be alert—to watch. He warns us against getting so caught up in the everyday things—or even the big, global crises—that we lose sight of the larger scheme; that we fail to look down the road; that we fail to see God’s approaching Kingdom.
Make no mistake about it—the Kingdom is coming. A righteous Branch has sprouted from David’s line—and he will do what is just and right in the land.
He has come—and he is returning! We are called to be ready for him when he does—to be praying and loving and doing the things he has commanded us to do. Listen once again to what Jesus said:
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Yes. I’m repeating that quotation. Because that is the primary theme of Advent. It’s about being alert to what is going on around us; asking what the signs around us mean to tell us; readying ourselves for the fulfillment of God’s Word in our midst; preparing ourselves by prayer; having within ourselves the blessed hope that God wants us to have.
Jesus does not inform us about the signs of the end and the coming time of judgment in order to frighten us, but rather to reassure us. He wants us to understand that God is keeping his promise, and that the time of his rule is close at hand. Jesus tells us about the signs of the coming of the Kingdom so that we can prepare ourselves for it.
Look around. Look down the road. And then—with your head held up high—walk on the road towards the approaching Kingdom.
Walk in prayer. Walk in hope. Walk in righteousness and in love, trusting that—just as so many of God’s promises were fulfilled in the birth of Christ—so, too, shall the rest be fulfilled, to his praise and to his glory.
Welcome to the first Sunday in Advent—the Sunday of Hope!