"Know These Three Things"

Luke 21:25-36

2 December, 2012, Advent 1C

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

Luke 21:25-36

“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.”

Prayer.

On December 21, 2012 there are going to be a lot of disappointed people.

Starting in 1957 from the works of one well-meaning but misguided Mayan researcher

A myth was spun and gained worldwide attention;

The world as we know it is going to change dramatically.

In 1966 the myth became associated with the western understanding of the word

“Armageddon.”

The December 21, 2012 Armageddon has spread through popular culture like wildfire.

Archaeologist, linguistic specialists, and Mayan historians have all agreed

That this myth is a complete fabrication

And there is no evidence to suggest such an event was ever imagined.

One researcher adeptly observes: “We keep looking for endings.

The Maya were looking for a guarantee that nothing would change.

It's an entirely different mindset.”

(Vance, Eric (10 May 2012). "Unprecedented Maya Mural Found, Contradicts 2012 "Doomsday" Myth". National Geographic. Retrieved 11 May 2012)

Yet, Nicholas this past week reported to me that 60% of his neighbors

Completely expect the world as we know it to come to an end on December 21st.

What are we to know?

Who are we to believe otherwise?

We are Christians; followers of Christ.

As such, we look to what he said, what he taught, what he did.

What we know comes from scripture

And God speaking through scripture to open us to God’s revelation.

This Sunday we’ve transitioned from a year focusing on the Gospel of Mark

To a new beginning, focused on the Gospel of Luke.

Our Gospel for today speaks about a new beginning;

One that we seek,

Yet one filled with dangers, trials and temptations.

Three things can be discerned from our Gospel:

A promise,

A warning,

And a command.

This is the promise:

Jesus is coming.

Luke tells us that all nations will “see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud.’”

I am the first to admit to you that

I don’t have a definitive answer to you about how this is going to take place.

At the same time, I would never doubt the truth of the Good News.

We’re told Jesus is coming in a cloud.

Therefore, I believe Jesus is coming in a cloud.

We’ve had over 2,000 years of signs in the sun, moon, and stars.

Consider the eclipses, the comets, the shooting stars we have seen.

We’ve certainly witnessed repeated occasions of the earth distress confused by roaring sea and waves.

Consider the tsunamis that again and again strike and bring great destruction.

Jesus said “this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place,”

Yet, that generation passed, and another 50 generations have followed.

Which leads me to believe the coming of Christ on a cloud

Probably doesn’t take place on Armageddon’s battlefield.

I’d suggest the coming of Christ on a cloud

Takes place at the baptismal fount.

Our redemption and our salvation

Begins when we put on the mantle of Christ,

When we become a part of the Body of Christ

And become Christ’s own flesh and blood.

Like Jesus at his baptism,

When the Spirit descended like a dove from above,

So, too, does the Spirit of Christ descend upon each of us

- Christ comes to us on a cloud –

Even as we part our baptismal waters.

We are already forgiven.

We are already living, breathing, eternal members of Christ’s kingdom.

Salvation began for us long before our death.

The same promise: Jesus is coming

Implies for all Christ’s followers

That Christ will come again.

The same Lord and Savior present at our birth and baptism

Will return to us on a cloud,

My educated guess, when our mortal life ends

And we make the transition through life, to death, to eternal life.

The exact method? I don’t know.

But it is a promise;

Something that eases my fear of death,

Even something that I anticipate.

This promise of Christ coming on a cloud

Has been be immortalized and become acculturated into the Church

With the liturgical mantra:

Christ has come.

Christ is come.

Christ will come again.

While Christ coming in a cloud is the promise

This is the warning:

It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Well that’s like cold water thrown on a fire.

So much for the Good News and the kickoff of Advent!

I so wish I could make every life one that is lived in Willy Wonka’s utopian world;

Where everything is happy and abundant,

Where there isn’t a care or concern in the world.

Lotteries give us the delusion that this is possible;

Win the Powerball and retire to a life of play and sunshine,

Big houses, fancy cars, and never worrying about money again.

As much as we desire the Big Rock Candy Mountain,

- where they shot the fool who invented school

- where they hung the jerk who invented work

The truth remains

The perfect world doesn’t exist in this earthly life.

Jesus warns us that it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Fact is, our mortal life is filled with mortal people.

Mortal people make mistakes, do things they regret later.

Mortal people get sick and have accidents.

Mortal people die.

To relate to mortal people means we will get hurt.

If we are honest with ourselves

To relate to mortal people means we will hurt others, too

(Despite our best intents).

Jesus warns us that it is going to get worse before it gets better,

While at the same time,

Jesus is telling us

And showing us

That it is better to be united by the love of Christ

Than to go at it alone.

Being one in Christ

Means we become one with the Christ on the cross,

One with the Christ who forgives us,

One with the Christ who redeems us.

Being one in Christ

Means we don’t face the trials and temptations of this world alone.

We don’t face the pain and suffering of others (or ourselves)

Without our Advocate right by our side.

Truth be told

Faith does not grow or mature in utopia;

Faith is built only on the shore of crisis and suffering.

While we anticipate our Lord’s coming,

At the same time, we heed his warning,

This is our Lord’s command:

Don’t get caught unprepared.

“Be on guard,” Jesus says.

“Be alert at all times,” he repeats.

We just don’t know when the Son of Man is going to come on a cloud.

We almost want to WILL it to be December 21st.

After all, it is human nature to look for the end.

It would be some much easier to plan

If we could say He is coming on Christmas, Easter, or some other set day.

For some reason, we each harbor the delusion that it is better to know,

Than to not know.

But Jesus knows better.

(Doesn’t he always know better?!!)

If we knew Christ was returning on a cloud on any set day or time,

We could live it up until then.

We could eat, drink, and lead a life of debauchery,

Until the day before,

Then sober up and get serious.

But that isn’t the way Jesus wants it to work.

Our Lord longs for us to be faithful,

To be growing in our faith,

To be drawing closer to him every moment of every day.

We can’t do that if we are drunk.

We can’t do that if we are distracted.

The only way we can faithfully live and grow as Christ’s disciples

Is if we live in a constant state of preparation for His return.

Pray for the strength to escape the Tempter’s snare.

Be prepared to stand up and raise your heads.

Being prepared is all about practicing discipline, spiritual discipline, in our lives.

It means we stop getting drunk and allowing ourselves to be distracted by the temptations of this world.

Being prepared to welcome Christ coming to us on a cloud means

We live our lives in prayer,

We become the worship that we attend,

We focus every fiber of our being on living the will of God.

Being prepared for Christ and his coming means

We share the Good News of Christ and His love,

By both our words and by our example.

It means we extend the invitation to those who’ve never heard the Word,

To join us as one of Christ’s newest disciples.

We begin Advent this year with

A promise,

A warning,

And a command.

Christ has come.

Christ is come.

The promise is

That Christ will come again.

We’ve been warned that it will get worse,

At the same time,

We are assured that life gets better,

Much better when Christ returns.

So, while we wait,

Wait expectantly.

Watch vigilantly.

Be prepared.

Discipline yourself

And encourage others to join you

In living a disciplined and faithful life.

Let the anticipation begin!

Amen.