Read the text here:Luke 21:25-36
Hope: Waiting and Watching
Patience! How are you with patience? Do you mind waiting for things that you want and enjoy? How long can you wait? It seems as though we Americans in particular do not deal well with waiting. We are an instant gratification people. We want what we want now! So for some of us waiting in line at a store or at the movies, or waiting at the doctor’s office, or sitting in traffic can be a very, very stressful experience. We want to get on with it already! We want to get into the future, and consequently many of us are very impatient with the present. The result of this is that we end up missing the present. We live in the future, never the present. The present becomes then only a path to the future that is always in the process of becoming, but we never quite get there. As we wait impatiently and anxiously for the future, we completely miss the present.
This tendency to live in the future is not only a 21st century, American issue. It is perhaps exacerbated by the advanced technology that we possess, but this is really a human condition. Human beings have the ability to anticipate the future, and this leads us all to think ahead, to plan and to worry and fret about what is to come and what is unknown or unknowable. Jesus is addressing this very issue in our Gospel text today. Earlier in chapter 21 (verse 7 – pew bibles NT p. 65) the disciples ask Jesus about the last days – “When will this be and what will be the signs.” And Jesus goes into a rather lengthy answer that takes up the rest of chapter 21. So what exactly does Jesus say then about the future, the 2nd coming, the final destruction and all of that?
First let me briefly set the context – Israel was ruled with a heavy hand by the Roman Empire. The people of Israel chaffed under this domination and were anxiously looking for a Messiah who God would send to organize and lead them in a violent overthrow of the Romans. Many of the disciples believed this was who Jesus was and were always on edge expecting that Jesus would show his true nature and take on the mantel of victorious liberator. Reading the Gospels with this in mind you can get a real sense of impatience on the part of both the crowd that follows Jesus and the disciples as Jesus engages in teachings and healings and feedings and meals with sinners and outcasts. At times this impatience spills over into comments that are made to Jesus, who then promptly puts the complainers in their place. So, by chapter 21 we are in Jerusalem; Jesus has already entered the city in triumph on Palm Sunday; Jesus has already cleared the money-changers from the temple. The impatience on the part of the disciples is very obvious. “Come on Jesus, let’s get on with it!” you can almost hear them saying. This impatience will transform itself into betrayal and rejection by the end of the week, by the way!
So into the midst of this highly charged context of intense anticipation Jesus states that it will not be long before the Temple is destroyed and the disciples then ask Jesus anxiously when this is to take place. Jesus’ answer to this question centers around these main points:
1. We live in a fallen world. It will always seem as though the end of the world is around the corner. There will always be wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, misery, and suffering. This is a part of the human condition – this is a part of the fallen nature of creation. Within this context there are going to be some (even some who claim to speak in Jesus’ name) who will use these events to stir up fear and attempt to manipulate others. Do not pay any attention to them.
2. Only God knows when the Day will come. Do not assume it is come, and do not fret about it, do not rush off to the hills, do not set dates. Instead – (and this is my favorite line in the text) – stand up and raise your heads for your redemption is coming near! In other words, keep doing what you’re called to do – keep being faithful! Live as though Jesus is coming tomorrow in terms of how you relate to others and how you set your priorities. And Luke has already made clear that people, human beings are God’s priority – they need to be our priority as well!
3. Do not fear. Jesus says - stand up and raise your heads for your redemption is coming near! Jesus is not saying “stand up, raise your heads, because God is going to fish you out of this mess!” Jesus is saying “stand up,” be confident in the Lord, “raise your heads,” be responsible and be faithful.
In other words – Wait patiently and Keep Awake! The world is not going to end on December 21st or any other date that some person has come up with; the world is not going to end in fear and destruction despite the popular expectation. There is in fact nothing to be afraid of – those who are called by Christ are beloved of God and God will never abandon God’s people! God’s love for us – for you – is indestructible and beyond question! Bearing this in mind then how should we live our lives? Being fearful and fretful, anxiously always looking towards the unknown future? No! Absolutely not! We as disciples of Christ are called to do one thing and one thing only: Be faithful! Live lives that reflect the love, the hope, the grace and the peace that is ours through Christ!
“The good news of Advent is not simply that Christ is coming, but that his coming means that we can hope, despite all that is falling apart in our lives, our communities, and the world around us. Just as the leaves on the fig tree offer hope in late winter that summer is coming again, so God’s word, in Jesus, promises us new life. Advent offers us expectation and hope for something new.1” Jesus says: Stand up and raise your heads for your redemption is coming near! … Be alert at all times! May our experience of Advent this year enable us all to prepare for the breaking forth of God’s Kingdom among us; and may we be strengthened and renewed in our faith and commitment to follow Jesus, our Lord and Savior, with hope and patience no matter where he leads us.
1. Article by Pastor Kathy Beach-Vermey, “Feasting on the Word,” Year C, Volume 1, page 25.