Advent 1 – Hope for the Journey – November 28, 2021

Hope for the Journey

 Jesus said to the disciples: “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. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. 29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  34 “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 you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 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.”                                            Luke 21:25-36


Today, the first Sunday in Advent, we begin a new year in the Christian calendar.   Among other things that means we close Mark’s gospel and open Luke, whose account of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection we will follow for the next twelve months.   

GospellersAll four gospellers are honored in the chancel decoration that Natalie Bayard Brown gave to Emmanuel, and whose 100th anniversary we are celebrating.    In early Christian art, each of them was given a symbol that identified them to the viewers.     They are depicted here with their winged symbols around the cross at the center of the handsomely carved wooden reredos behind the main altar: Mark and his lion are at top left of the cross, Luke and his ox at top right.  Matthew and his angel are bottom right.  John and his eagle bottom left.    


Season of Hope

Advent is a season of hope, as we look forward to the Incarnation.   That epoch-making event was God’s astonishing gift to humankind: to take on flesh as a simple tradesman, to live as one of us, to know the delights, the despairs, the loves and the losses that all ordinary people go through.   

Most of the coming Advent texts prophesy that gift, as Jeremiah did today.  

But today’s gospel reading is from the end of Jesus’ ministry.  He and the disciples are in Jerusalem, where he had entered in triumph and set himself squarely against the corruption of the religious establishment.  First driving merchants out of the Temple precinct, then teaching in the Temple, day after day Jesus challenged the Jewish religious leaders.  Sometimes he confronted the priests and the scribes directly, sometimes he exposed their faithless greed, power and hypocrisy through parables.    

Now, knowing that the cross is looming, Jesus wants his disciples to be prepared for the struggles that lie ahead and to be confident that God would deliver them in the fullness of time.   


ApocalypseHe lays it out in apocalyptic a vision of the future.  

According to Webster the essential meaning of apocalypse is a great disastera sudden and very bad event that causes much fear, loss, or destruction”.  Synonyms include Armageddon and inferno.   

Judeo-Christian tradition cleaves instead to the sense from the original Greek: kalypsis means cover and apocalypse means to uncover, discover, to reveal. We believe that apocalyptic writings are God’s revelations to ancient Hebrew prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah as well as to Daniel and John, whom we read last Sunday.   

Why does Webster liken apocalypse to disaster?   I think it’s because most of us like the idea that we are in control of our lives.   Apocalypse shatters that illusion with the truth that God has absolute dominion over the whole of creation: time, space, the cosmos, “this fragile earth our island home,” and the gifts and the ultimate destiny of every person.   To us, it is both unsettling and comforting that any moment God can enter human history—as God did, quietly, in the Incarnation.    So the season’s readings tell us again and again to be prepared: keep awake, be on guard, be alert.

“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.

News of the Day

Am I the only one who feels like this is the news of the day instead of something that written 2000 years ago?  

Wars, plagues, famines and natural disasters have always happened.   But until very recently people only really knew about events in their own regions.  Now, in a news climate that prioritizes crisis and conflict, we are bombarded with bad news from everywhere.    I often feel like the character in a New Yorker cartoon several years back who said sadly to a friend “My desire to be well informed is totally at odds with my need to remain sane”.   Also, I would add, with my desire to be hopeful.

Where DO we find hope in these times?     Let’s begin with Jesus’ own words: 

 “When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near”.  For people of faith that is a promise: whatever befalls, us God is here.   In the midst of chaos and despair our hope must be grounded in the goodness of God–not only in the future, but in every minute of every day.  

Emmanuel's NativityOur gospel also predicted Christ’s second coming—“with power and great glory.”   We may live to see that, as some people in every generation have thought they would.  But we don’t have to wait.  God didn’t wait, either.   Instead, on Pentecost, just fifty days after Jesus rose victorious from the tomb, God’s Holy Spirit came to bless us and dwell among us.    Even as Christ was born in humility in a remote corner of the world, so, too, Christ is born and abides quietly today, in ordinary people everywhere: in you, and you, and you, and you, and maybe even in me. 

The Kingdom of God is Near

The “Kingdom of God is near”.    In every word or act of goodness, kindness and generosity the kingdom of God is manifest.    If we seek signs of hope, of God’s presence here and now, we will find them.   For instance, yesterday’s Newport Daily News ran a front-page story about everyday heroes among our neighbors who were alert and able to come to the rescue of strangers in their midst.

Hope is a choice.   NPR host Krista Tippett says hope is a muscle and like any muscle can be strengthened.   When you read or hear hopeful stories share them with family, neighbors and friends.  Nurture trust in hope in God’s goodness for yourself and those around you.    Let’s build the muscle of hope together for the good of all. 

Look for the signs of God’s goodness and presence.  In this and every season, stay awake, be alert to know and celebrate that the kingdom has come near.