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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
November 28, 2021
Grace to you and peace from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of my seminary professors, the Rev. Dr. Audrey West, says that the season of Advent is a sticky-note reminder to the church [that] God is doing a new thing. Again.
And it’s true. We’re at the beginning of the church year, preparing our hearts for Jesus’ birth. For many of us, there are beloved traditions that are a part of this time of year such as food, music, and decorations. And, at the same time – if we’re paying attention – there’s also a sense of newness. The possibility of new beginnings and the opportunity to participate in bringing them to fruition. It’s an exciting time!
So, with all of that, today’s Gospel reading is kind of jarring and disorienting. And it doesn’t seem right to hear this part of Jesus’ story as we celebrate the beginning of our church year because it’s unsettling to hear some of Jesus’ final words of encouragement to his disciples during this season.
Even though we already know what happens, it feels like we’ve jumped ahead to find out how the story ends before we even know who the characters are. Talk about spoiler alerts, right?
But for as much as Advent is about our preparing for Jesus’ birth, it’s also about preparing for him to return. And the people who first heard the words in today’s gospel were expecting Jesus to come back literally any minute.
By the time these words were written down, Jesus had already been resurrected and had ascended. His followers were on the losing end of a rebellion against Rome, and the Temple that had just been completed was destroyed. For them, it felt like the world was coming to an end and they needed Jesus to come back right then.
And what Luke wrote here acknowledges that reality – their very real fear, their uncertainty. And it also acknowledges the reality of God.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about apocalyptic literature – that it sounds scary, and also that an apocalypse reveals something that is hidden. And that to experience an apocalypse is to experience a new way of looking at things and to understand reality in a new way.
So in the bible, when we read things that sound apocalyptic – to us, it does sound scary because our context and way of relating to the world is so different from when these words were written. But for the people who first heard them, they were words of encouragement that reminded them that death and destruction don’t have the final word, God does. And God’s word is life. And in that word is the promise that no matter what happens, God is with them not just in the future, but right then.
And in their hearts, they knew that. They’d dedicated their lives to following the way of Jesus – living according to his teachings and bearing witness to his love. But we know how hard it can be to hold onto that when it feels like the world is crashing down around us, and how easy it is to let the fear take over and consume us.
So what Luke does here is remind the people that the destruction they were seeing wasn’t the end. He tells them it’s like how they know spring is coming when they see new leaves on the trees. This isn’t all there is. Yeah, it’s scary now, but something new is coming.
So keep living the life Jesus calls you to live: enter into the world as it is and bear witness to who God is – to the promise of God’s presence. Your redemption is drawing near. Jesus’ words will not pass away.
Even though our life experiences and understanding of the world is different from what it was for the people who first heard these words, this passage still holds meaning for us.
We know that new beginnings aren’t always defined by a date on the calendar. They can happen whether we’re ready for them or not – and, a lot of times, we’re not. We know that transitions and disruptions happen in life. Sometimes they present us with an opportunity we didn’t know that we needed.
Sometimes they end up being just an inconvenient shift in how we do things. Sometimes, though, it feels like things change direction without warning and we’re left to get our bearings while catching up.
And sometimes it feels like a dead stop and a complete upending of things – and we can’t get our bearings or catch up because we don’t know when it’ll stop or what happens next. Kinda sounds like the pandemic, doesn’t it?
As people of faith, we know that God is with us. We’re twenty months into the pandemic and the transition out of it is a long one – we can’t even pinpoint where we are in it because so much is still unknown. But God is with us. We know this because we are still here worshiping together in-person and online. We’ve stayed connected to one another and we’re learning anew how to be together as a community.
As this process continues, it doesn’t mean that everything will go back to the way it did before – because, really, it can’t. As individual people we’ve all changed and, so, our congregation has changed, and we’re learning what that means for who we are now and who God is calling us to be.
In a manner of speaking, we’re in our own season of preparation as a congregation – and it’s going to last longer than four weeks. The Visioning Team has been hard at work for the last several months identifying priorities such as care for creation, social justice and equity, inclusivity, and meeting the needs of our surrounding community.
We’ve also acknowledged that this is a hard time to be working on visioning while sorting out changes in the congregation that we don’t really understand yet. We’ve acknowledged, too, that Covid is still a thing – which makes it hard to gather for conversations and workshops.
But we recognize, and I think our entire congregation recognizes, that moving forward is the only option. Which means we honor the things we’ve done in the past that have gotten us to this point, and look ahead at what God has in store for us next. And we recognize, too, that as we move through this process and discover the answers to the questions we’re asking – and that they’ll likely lead to more questions – we know that God will be with us through it all.
As people of faith, that’s the promise we bear witness to in our lives. It means that even when we’re scared or uncertain, we say so – and then we say, “Yes, and God is here.” And we live into our experience of that promise – the assurance and the steadiness it brings to our lives. We embody it and make it visible to others.
And together, as a community, we encourage one another and remind each other that even though the changes we experience are sometimes uncomfortable, they mean that God is doing a new thing – again.
This season, Advent, reminds us that God does new things all the time. Sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it’s welcomed. Sometimes it’s confusing. Sometimes it’s all of those things. But however we receive it and whatever it becomes, God is with us.
Even when the earth seems to be crashing down and everything feels like it’s ending, God is with us. New life is coming. This is the promise we hold onto and live into, because it assures us, steadies us, and carries us forward. Thanks be to God! Amen.