Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
1st Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among the nations. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” It seems like every generation has its beliefs about the destruction and end of the world. It seems we can always find a reason to faint from fear.
In Jesus' time, in this prediction in the Gospel, he may have been referring to his own death. He was trying to prepare his disciples for his crucifixion, with the earthquake and eclipse, the days of uncertainty and fear when they would find themselves huddled in the upper room trying to figure out what to do next. He may have even been preparing them for the earth-shattering news that he is risen and that life is completely changed.
For the Gospel writer Luke, his audience was concerned with the destruction of the temple. For Jews, the temple is the center of the universe. If the temple falls, then the whole cosmos is at risk. Luke's readers had seen that destruction and now they were very afraid. It looked like the end of the world to them. They were very afraid.
In the 50s it was the threat of nuclear war. In our time it is the fear that we will change our climate so dramatically that we won't survive. Every generation has its fears about the end of the world.
Watching the news about the ISIS attacks in France a couple of weeks ago, brings up a lot of fears for us. Is it safe to go to public places this Christmas season? Should our country accept refugees? Who can keep us safe?
In the face of such hatred and violence, including the violence our own country has done to those less powerful than us, to innocent people, it is easy to get discouraged. It is scary and overwhelming. Our faith gives us the strength not to let the fearful situation, whatever it is, dictate who we are. When the whole world is telling us to be fearful, we know how to find hope.
We have a choice about how we respond. As Christians, we have some tools in our toolbox to help us in times like this. One is the scriptures, stories of hope in the face of fear, which promise the presence and love and new life of God, no matter the circumstances. They tell us of Jesus who endured what any of us do and worse. We are not alone. Death is not the end. We have so much to be grateful for. We have a cosmic story to explain where sin and brokenness comes from, assurance of forgiveness and freedom, how to stand up and raise our heads when we are oppressed or afraid, and how God is ultimately the one with power. We know fear and death won't be the end of the story, that love is the real power in our world.
In Jesus' time, the disciples were afraid. But he did not leave them to shake and shiver in their room. He came and gave them the fire and boldness of the Holy Spirit, God's spirit with them for new life. Sure enough, they were able to go out from there, overcome their weaknesses and spread the good news. We can choose love instead. Love can be our motivating factor, and when it is, the Kingdom of God is near and we are near to one another.
In Luke's time, the temple was destroyed, however people were learning that the location of God didn't depend on human buildings. Jesus located the temple in his body, he was God's presence here on earth, and when he introduced the Holy Spirit each person became a dwelling place for God. I have a quote from Archbishop Oscar Romero to share with you. “Advent should admonish us to discover in each brother or sister that we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each beggar who asks for bread, in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union, in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the face of Christ. Then it would not be possible to rob them, to cheat them, to deny them their rights. They are Christ, and whatever is done to them Christ will take as done to himself. This is what Advent is: Christ living among us.” This is partly about Christ being born in Bethlehem or into our lives, and partly how Christ dwells in each one of us in love and how to recognize that and honor that.
I don't know if you saw the youtube clip of the little French boy a couple of days after the Paris attacks. This kid is probably about 4 or 5 years old. He tells the reporter they will have to move away because of the bad guys. His dad says, no, they are not moving. There would be bad guys no matter where they lived. The boy and his dad are placing flowers at a memorial that day. He explains to his son that yes, the bad guys have guns, but the boy and his dad have flowers. He explains to his little boy that flowers are stronger than guns, that they are more powerful. He's talking about love and hope being more powerful than fear and hate, and even though hate kills, this father reassures his boy that love will win the day. It is a very moving conversation.
I remember in the hours after Sterling was born, my mind was racing. Images kept flashing across my mind—scary images of all the bad things that could happen to him. My hormone levels were changing fast in those first hours, as they do for all new moms. Thankfully, I had the support I needed, and I had some experience battling worry and negative thoughts in the past. I had to force myself to imagine all the wonderful things that would happen to him in his life. I pictured him learning and playing, discovering and appreciating, giving and receiving hugs and kisses, meeting family and friends, graduating, growing up, falling in love, having children, eating countless delicious meals, watching the clouds, feeling the breeze and on and on until I had retrained my brain in a new direction. I was anticipating the blessings that would likely come. Yes, bad things happen, too, but it doesn't do me any good to immerse myself in my fears. I knew I didn't want to raise a fearful child. I didn't want to be the anxious parent that my parents had been.
It is easy for our heads to be filled with fearful images, worry, and anxiety. But is that really who we want to be? What good will it do? Is this what we want to define us? We have so much reason to have hope.
We have a couple of other tools in our toolbox. One, we practiced this week, gratefulness. We can give thanks. We can practice thanksgiving. When worries overtake us, one of the best things we can do is start thinking of everything we are grateful for.
The second thing we can do is practice generosity. When we give to others, we forget our fears, we remember our blessings, we don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves. When we volunteer, when we wrap gifts for The Angel Tree Project, as we carry groceries for someone or help our neighbor rake her leaves, our fears don't seem so scary.
There is another form of generosity we sometimes forget, we can be generous about how we interpret another person's actions. We can see the best in others. When we think of Syrian refugees, do we picture people who can do us harm and will take something away from us? We have a choice. I saw on the news a picture of refugees in the US serving homeless veterans on Thanksgiving. There is a positive image of people who are being vilified. Can we visualize all the good that can come from refugees—all that we will learn, all that we can gain?
Think of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, walking from place to place looking for shelter and a place to safely deliver the Christ Child. Maybe some did see them and think, there's no way we're letting those people in here. She looks like she's about to pop. The fear, the risk, the noise, the mess of a baby born there in their home. Maybe that's why they ended up out there with the animals. When God comes knocking on our door in whatever the form, whether it be a refugee, or a veteran with PTSD, or a kid with a juice stain on his upper lip, we have a choice. We can worry about what we will lose. We can slam that door and decide it isn't worth the mess or the time, and we will miss out on Christ in our midst. Or we can picture some good coming out of it, healing, relationship, love, hope, growth, and let Christ in.