Hope is the first candle which is lit during Advent. Advent a season of preparation, a season of hope. The gospel lesson from Luke seems an odd choice to partner with the theme of hope. However, as we discover there is much in the words of Jesus that we can place our hope in.
Scripture: Luke 21: 25-36
This morning we celebrate the first Sunday in Advent. A Sunday when we light the candle of hope.
Yet, there are a multitude of reasons why we might blow that candle out rather than keep it lit.
War continues to wage in Syria, citizens displaced, fleeing from government forces, ISIS, rebel factions, they live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It’s a war that has been raging since 2011, a dire situation that doesn’t seem to have an end. It’s enough to make you want to give up hope.
In the Arabian peninsula Saudi Arabia and eight other nations have been waging war against Yemen since 2015. The war was started when Interim Yemeni president was overthrown due to econo9mic and political grievances. Numerous war crimes have been reported and some of the armaments being used were manufactured in Canada. It’s enough to make you want to give up hope.
In California wildfires have devastated communities leaving individuals dead and others homeless. It’s enough to make you want to give up hope.
In Honduras people have fled from violence and intimidation. A nation where the presidents brother is alleged to be a drug kingpin and who was arrested on drug trafficking charges by the US on Tuesday (reference). Gives a sense as to why people would flee Honduras for the imagined safety of the United States. Only to be attacked with tear gas when they reach the border. It’s enough to make you want to give up hope.
Earlier this week we learned that the GM Plant in Oshawa would end stop production at the end on 2019, directly impacting over 2500 jobs and countless others in the auto sector, along with four other plants in the United States. This after receiving giant government loans a decade ago. Its enough to make you want to give up hope.
In this mornings passage from Luke Jesus draws on some very disturbing imagery. On earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.
His words spark our imagination. They remind us of the words that Mary spoke when she learned she would carry Jesus. While visiting her cousin Elizabeth we hear Mary’s song of praise: The Magnificant. Speaking about God Mary says, “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones … the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1: 46-55).
Powerful and potentially chilling words. Words which might also remind us of John the Baptist who spoke these words, “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:4-5).
In the following eighteen chapters after John the Baptist Jesus has taught, he has healed, he has rebuked, but he has been mostly gentle. Then we arrive at our reading this morning and it seems that there is an additional amount of steel in voice of Jesus. He knows things are coming to a head. His words spur our thoughts and he leaves us with this, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Jesus, the Living Word, his words will last forever. Jesus who was with God in the beginning, the Word made flesh, his words will not pass away.
We are reminded that nothing lasts forever, except the words of Jesus. And that is where we put our hope.
Though war wages throughout the globe: we will not lose hope.
Though storms wage across the globe: we will not lose hope.
Though our own lives might be in turmoil: we will not lose hope.
Nothing lasts forever and so we hope.
Nothing lasts forever, not the hyper commercialism of the season. Not the crowded schedules filled with “holiday” parties. Nothing lasts forever. And yet we hope.
Advent reminds us that nothing lasts forever. Advent, the season of preparation for the coming of the Prince of Peace. A sign that the current ways of the world will not do, that God through Jesus Christ elected to do something different.
When we look at our lives, when we look at scripture we often see paradox. Things don’t make sense the way we believe they should.
As renowned teacher and activist Parker Palmer writes in his book The Promise of Paradox, “The way we respond to contradiction is pivotal to our spiritual lives.” Paradox requires “both/and” instead of “either/or” thinking. One dictionary defines paradox as “a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth” (reference).
Nothing lasts forever. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
What does that promise mean to us today?
If I am honest with myself I find these words of Jesus deeply uncomfortable. They promise to shatter everything that is comfortable to me. They speak of increased turmoil, not less. They speak of greater distress, not decreased anxiety.
And yet, sometimes we need to sit in a position of discomfort in order to realize what needs to change.
Open the paper, turn on the news. It seems to me that we are sitting in a position of discomfort. I look at the world and I see much that needs to change. Political leaders of all stripes I have difficulty respecting, who I don’t trust to lead our nations well. Leaders of industry who have become so focused on enhancing shareholder value, that profit is put above all things. That bothers me, because I’m a shareholder, we all are. I sit in a position of discomfort.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. This is where we are called to put our trust.
Author and theologian N.T. Wright phrases it like this in his commentary on Luke, “We … live and preach the gospel in a world which, as Jerusalem did to Jesus, often refuses the summons to peace. We have at least a duty to warn our contemporaries that to reject God’s invitation may well lead to disaster. And in the meantime, we must continue to practise patience. We never know when we shall need it.” (NT Wright, Luke for Everyone, p. 256).
What endures? What will last?
Hope, a candle which will not go out. Our hope in Jesus Christ, the Living Word, it shall endure forever. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.