Benediction Online

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Our hope is in the eternal God of Love

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

I have a hard time using those little ear-bud head sets they give you on airplanes so you can listen to the movie. I really need something that covers my whole ear but I worry that if I were to take and use those I would miss a significant announcement like, “please put on your oxygen mask” or “please take off your seat cushion and prepare for a water landing”.

As a result, when I fly, I often watch bits of movies with no sound. Sometimes I understand what’s happening, sometimes I don’t. One movie I watched silently several years ago has stuck with me. As I understand it, an asteroid is about to hit the planet and everyone on the East Coast is moving to higher ground because the impact will create a devastating tsunami. One woman has the opportunity to leave in a helicopter with her colleagues but there isn’t enough room for everyone. She gives up her seat to someone else – a child or a disabled person – I forget which, and goes to be with her father who for some reason can’t leave New York. The last scene is of them standing calmly on the beach watching a wall of water approaching.

I think it sticks with me because I wonder what I would do. Would I give up my seat in the helicopter? And if I did, would I stand calmly on the beach waiting for the tsunami to come? Or would I find myself running for my life even though it was hopeless?

Today’s Gospel reading is the third in a series. Two Sundays ago we heard about the disaster of the end times. Last week we heard about the stability of the kingdom of God which is right here and right now as well as not here and not yet. Today the two come together. The end times and the kingdom of peace and righteousness are combined in this reading from Luke. Here, we are told to be hopeful when we see the end times because we know that our redemption is also coming.

That’s why this reading comes at the beginning of Advent, the season of preparation. This month is not only a time to get ready for the coming of the Christ-light, but also to consciously prepare ourselves for the return of the cosmic Christ.  “Be on guard” says the gospeller, “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.” So Advent is a time for re-examining our lives and our hearts. Are we “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life”? or are we ready to welcome our redemption?

This is one of Jesus’ themes – stay awake, be alert because you don’t know when and how the Kingdom of God will break through into this world. Catching the glimpses of God’s presence and her hand at work in our lives is one of the important skill sets of the spiritual life. The more we can cultivate the knowledge of the presence of God, the more we will see our redemption breaking through because our redemption IS the presence of God. This is what we long for, and this is what we are promised – the experience and knowledge of God’s presence. Our redemption is the fully realized reconciliation with the divine.

It has become quite popular to ask what would you do if you knew you only had one year to live? Or one month? The question before us today is what would you do differently if you really thought that Jesus was coming again?

The great reformer Martin Luther was asked the same question, “What would you do if you heard that Jesus would return tomorrow?” Martin Luther said that he would plant a tree. For in all likelihood, the rumor would be untrue. After all, Jesus said that no one knows the hour or day when he would return. No one but the Father. So why not plant a tree and plan for the future? Then if Luther was wrong and Christ did return, he would find Luther taking care of the earth.

Being alert, staying conscious, means taking responsibility for ourselves and our environment. It means living in such a way that we do not leave a trail of things that have to be sorted out or cleaned up. It means staying current with our relationships, not procrastinating when we need to ask for forgiveness, not nursing anger or grievances, because there may not be time or opportunity in the future. We don’t know when Christ will come with power and great glory – whether for us individually or for the entire creation. We don’t know when the end times will be upon us.

What would it take for you to be able to stand calmly on the shore watching a tsunami coming?

Now is the time to cultivate that, whatever it is for you….. Because if you have cultivated the ability to stay calm and centered, confident in the love of God, hopeful that your redemption is near – if you can look pain and death in the face with serenity - then you will be able to weather the storms of your end times in a centered way, and to be a center of peace and healing for those around you when we experience communal disaster.

The challenge of Advent is that we, the Church, are called to be preparing our hearts and reinvigorating our spiritual practice at a time when the culture around us is rushing around in a frenzied panic of buying, eating and drinking. It is deeply counter cultural to truly follow the call of Advent. It is counter-cultural to center on God and not on all there is to be done.

But our hope is not in Christmas presents. Our hope is not in shopping until we drop. Our hope is not in being on Santa’s nice list.

Our hope is in the eternal God of Love, who continues to hold and cherish us every moment of our lives. Our hope is in the reign of God which is solid and everlasting. Our hope is that Christ is coming and we will meet him face-to-face.

And in the meantime, lets us pray with Paul,
“may the Lord make us increase and abound in love for one another and for all... And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.


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