November 28, 2021

Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Sunday, November 28, 2021

Grace to you and peace from God our father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Already Thanksgiving and the so-called Black Friday shopping day are behind us. Today marks the first Sunday in Advent. Our celebrate sets the tone by saying we eagerly await the coming days: another Christmas celebration, a second coming and the advent of our Lord in word and supper.

    Well maybe. I don’t know about you, but I am a little behind the times. It seems more like the end of autumn than the beginning of Advent. My mind has not synchronized with the season yet. The weather feels too much like autumn and not enough like winter. I heard seasonal music at Hy Vee, but we don’t have a Christmas tree up yet. So I feel like I am in a suspended state of spiritual animation. I’m caught between times.

    The Gospel for this Sunday offers a very different perspective for the first Sunday in Advent. Here Jesus looks forward to God’s promise of redemption. He says: “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 waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the power of heaven will be shaken.” This is a very dire prediction.

    A conversation we had at our Thanksgiving dinner table one time that comes to mind. We discussed about how much the world has changed in the last twenty years. Anyone who grew up in the 1950’s or 60’s or 70’s remembers how the world appeared to teeter on the edge of destruction. American and Soviet troops faced each other in Europe. Missile silos dotted the landscape of our nation. As a teenager, I recall seeing exhibits of various types of bomb shelters displayed at the Illinois State fair. Nuclear war was a clear and present danger. People thought with fear and foreboding about what was coming on the world.

    I’m reminded of the song Eve of Destruction sung by Barry McQuire back in about 1965. The song is a grave warning of apocalypse. The lyrics read like this:”Don’t you understand what I’m trying to say, Can’t you feel the fears I’m feeling today? If the button is pushed, there’s no running away. There will be no one to save with the world in a grave. (Take a look around ya boy, it’s bound to scare ya boy.) And you tell me over and over again, my friend, Ah you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.” The song symbolized an era destruction appeared imminent.

    But then in the 1980’s this threat to national survival disappeared almost over night. One country after the other broke away from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union itself broke up. Before long a wave of change swept through Red China. Think of the changer this way. China once was called red because of its communist affiliation. You could still call the country red because all of our Christmas decorations are no manufactured there. Change does not get more profound than that. Now the Chinese government has so much money it has become the major holder of American debt and one of our biggest trading partners.

    Twenty or thirty years there was apocalyptic stress among the nations. People could have fainted from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. But now, even with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a recession we feel somewhat more secure. The national mood may be more one of exhaustion and weariness than fright.

    So the question is, how do we connect with a text like this one from the Gospel of Luke. Do we sit on the edge of our chair with the expectation that we shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory? The truth is two thousand years have passed since this prediction was made.

    Maybe we find greater relevance to our Advent thinking in these words from the Gospel of Luke: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch unexpectedly, like a trap.” Now the issue of drunkenness may not be a big one for us. But the meaning of this verse is clear. We can lose sight of the fact that God continues to work in this world. We become so focused on the little things of our life and lose sight of the wider picture.

    Many of us have been secularized enough by now that our view of the world has flattened out, and the Second Advent of Jesus… doesn’t fit into a flattened-out world very well. It’s too fantastic, we think.  It’s too supernatural.  In certain moods we think it’s too embarrassing. It’s an embarrassing advent, and so we leave it to those embarrassing Christians who have turned apocalyptic speculation into a billion-dollar industry – prophecy buffs with their computer charts and wrong predictions that are then folded back into new predictions in the kind of prophetic improvisation that Paula Frederickson calls “apocalyptic jazz.”

    We get tired of all that jazz, and we are embarrassed by it… by all those “rapture” bumper stickers.  And so we just dismiss it.  It’s not the faithful thing to do, we know, but it is more comfortable. And these days, truth be told, we are into comfort – comfort food, comfortable places, comfortable routines.  There’s enough out there to unsettle us, without being unsettled by thoughts of Christ’s return.  Besides, for the most part life is good for us.  I’m not saying we don’t have our individual heartaches or fears or disappointments, but for most of us most of the time, life is pretty good.  And when life is good, our prayers for the kingdom are not as passionate as they are when we live on the edge of despair.  When life is good, we whisper our prayers for the kingdom. “Thy kingdom come,” we pray, and hope it won’t… because things are pretty good right now.

    Be on guard, says Jesus, that you don’t get weighed down with parochial anxieties and parochial amusements to relieve them.  Be on guard against that fatal absorption with yourself!  Take care.  Stay alert! “Stand up and raise your heads because the kingdom is coming.”[4]

    In that confidence, pray, work and live for others.  In the here and now, between then and then, live for others.  Lewis Smedes says that hoping for others is hard, but not the hardest thing.  Praying for others is hard, but not the hardest thing. The hardest thing for people who believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ is living the kind of life that makes people say, “Oh, so that’s how people are going to live when righteousness takes over the world.”  The hardest thing is simple faithfulness in the here and now, in our work and in our attitudes – the kind of faithfulness that demonstrates that we are being drawn forward by the powerful force of the kingdom of God. Amen.

    May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.