“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.
“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.”
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
When I say the word ‘home’ what does that conjure for you? For me I picture Liz and I with our cats, doing a puzzle by the fireplace. I picture the people who make me feel safe. I picture the places where I am able to let down and relax. I picture the smells of fresh baked bread as well as the sound and feel of the fireplace. What about you? Do you picture time with family? Yummy food? What is home for you?
Today is the first day of Advent, the beginning of the Christian year. It is the season designed for us to wait and prepare for Christmas Day and the arrival of God with us. We are going to be doing a worship series called Close To Home for the four weeks of Advent. The idea is to prepare our hearts and minds for when God comes home to us but in the meantime we wait, we long, we prepare, we yearn, we hope for those promised days! During the month of December you’ll start to hear Christmas music played and you might feel the longing for that Christmas Day with family once again. You’ll hear songs like, I’ll be home for Christmas, There’s no place like home for the holidays, and All I want for Christmas is you. These songs show our culture longing for more and I think they often stir something up in us that yearns for those heavenly moments on earth.
And you may be wondering how in the world I went from this apocalyptic text from Jesus to longing for home, well let me tell ya. The people of Israel have been captive under Roman occupation for hundreds of years. They have had friends become traitors as tax collectors for the foreign government. They have had religious officials cozy up to the people in power. While many, many more have been oppressed and struggle to survive under that regime. In fact it is one of the central narratives of the First Testament, about how God is a liberating God who saves Israel from its many captors, from Egypt to Babylon to their own hard hearts. The people under captivity are longing for God’s redemption. So when Jesus offers these apocalyptic words, Jesus is saying God is getting ready. God is close to home. “Redemption is drawing near.” “When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
We, in our time and place, listen to Jesus’ apocalyptic words in preparation during this season because Advent is the time to remember that God is coming home, that heaven on earth is on its way, that Immanuel, God with us, is close. I wonder in what ways we are longing for God with us in our world today. Advent comes during this time of year where we long for more sunshine as the days grow shorter. The season where we might be longing for family as we approach the holidays and we haven’t seen them in a long time because of the pandemic. Or perhaps we are longing for peace when the family finally does arrive because of long held tensions and unresolved hurts. This season we may be longing for comfort and for safety as rivers rise and we are afraid to go out in public. This season we may be longing for justice as kids walk the streets and the color of their skin determines if they live or die.
Sometimes it feels like God is so far away. Sometimes it feels like justice and peace are never going to arrive. And we find ourselves feeling homesick longing to be taken home. This whole last two years have been an advent season of sorts. We have longed to be together and worship. We have longed to be with family and friends in safety. We have longed for a world where money is not the bottom line. And I want to say to you all “that is okay.” It is okay to feel overwhelmed or to feel grief at the pain in our world. It is okay to see the signs that Jesus is talking about and wonder how we will ever get back to normal. It is okay to struggle and push and challenge for a better world.
Because it is into this broken world that God arrives. It is to these broken people that Jesus speaks. It is to our broken hearts that peace is offered. It is to our broken relationships that forgiveness is made real. It is to our broken society that God says to the oppressed your redemption draws near. These apocalyptic words are not meant to terrify but rather to provide hope and resilience. Jesus is not naming a far off future of prophecy but rather naming the very real and lived reality of the Jewish people under Roman occupation. Jesus names the brokenness of his ancient world and sadly we continue to face this same brokenness even 2000 years later! Jesus knows this broken world and meets us here anyway.
So as you begin to prepare for Christmas and the new year, think about the people who make you feel at home. Think about the spaces where you can feel safe and comfortable. And prepare your hearts and minds to help all the homesick people find these spaces. Because home is close and it is for all. Redemption is drawing near for those who have been oppressed. The Son of God is arriving to meet us in the midst of our brokenness but also to offer us hope and justice and peace. May it be so.