Posted on Tue, Dec 1, 2015
November 29, 2015
4th Sunday in Advent
Gospel Text: Luke 21:25-36- “Redemption is NOW!”
The Coming of the Son of Man
25 ‘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.’
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
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.
Exhortation to Watch
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.’
After Jesus began his ministry up in the north, close to family and many Jewish communities, Jesus made it clear that for him and his disciples that their destination was Jerusalem. But for possibly three years or so, Jesus has been teaching, healing and even raising people from the dead as they journeyed all over Galilee and even southern Lebanon, and finally to the big city of Jerusalem. And then, after they get into town rather than the religious leaders flocking to Jesus to learn from him and hear about all the amazing things he has taught and done, all the disciples have witnessed is a constant attack from the lawyers of the temple, the priests, the Sadducees and especially the Pharisees. The Sadducees, who don't believe in the resurrection, attack Jesus regarding the promise of resurrection; Jesus confronts the meaningless piety of the scribes who like to show-off their faith with fancy clothing and robes; he rebukes the rich who only give in order to show their generous hearts rather than faith, yet compared to the poor widow, according to Jesus, they have only held back their wealth because it is better to play it safe and watch out for yourself and keep plenty of your wealth stored in ones own barns, that to care for the hungry and needy as God has commanded us to do.
Then, after teaching in and around the porticos of the temple and probably within sight of the temple, Jesus says, “When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5-6)
The disciples are from the north where people live humble lives fishing, farming, and herding or like Jesus creating household tools out of wood. No building is above two stories, yet here in front of the great temple ornate and probably glistening in the sun, Jesus prophesies that the temple will soon be destroyed! And sure enough, about 70 years later, the Romans destroyed the temple.
Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt about their future? On their way to Jerusalem, thinking about her sons’ career, we even had John’s mom whisper to Jesus, “Please reserve a spot next to you when you take over the temple and kingdom.” Little did she know what the ‘Kingdom’ Jesus was referring to could have meant to all of them.
I can’t imagine any of these guys feeling all that comfortable or making sense out of what they are seeing and hearing, and the expectations they had walking with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem
‘The temple will be destroyed? The son of man will be returning? What does this mean and WHEN will it happen?’ they must have thought. The concept of the cross and Jesus’ suffering was way out of their view of expectation… and finally Jesus says to some anxious disciples, “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.” Are these words of comfort? Or, are they some kind of code filled with mystery?
It is actually very straight forward, just as when you see the buds on the fig trees and the new supple flowers coming to life, so it will be for you to know the time when the Kingdom of God is near… It would be like, just as when you see the Golden Plover upon your lawn, or the whales returning off your islands, you will know that the Winter is upon you, so it will be with the coming of the Kingdom of God…
So that sounds like, understanding when the Kingdom of God is upon us is actually as clear as seeing the springtime buds on a tree, or the return of a beautiful migrating seasonal bird or marine mammals. And the answer is, “YES!” for those who have eyes to see, or ears to hear, it will be easy to know when the Kingdom of God is upon us.
Traditionally the first Sundays in Advent talk about the days when Jesus will return in all of his glory. Jesus sets the tone, “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."
Now when Jesus said this, all the disciples could think of was, “when?” “When will this take place?” But we know when these things will take place, we already know the temple was destroyed in about 70 AD, and in the giving of the Holy Spirit, we know that Jesus is now standing amongst us as real as it was when Jesus was speaking to his disciples in today’s text. The One who can cast out all fear and free us to be the love and compassion of God on this earth is here walking in, with and beside us!
Advent does more than prepare us to welcome the Savior King, but also prepares us to be vessels of God’s kingdom in a world that is suffering from the same pressures of evil and destruction back in Jesus’ day as well as today.
In a fascinating blog/article Carey Niewolf wrote about the “10 Predictions About the Future Church and Shifting Attendance Patterns.” I would like to highlight two points.
5. Sundays will become more about what we give than what we get.
The death of consumer Christianity will change our gatherings.
Our gatherings will become less about us and more about Jesus and the world he loves. Rather than a gathering of the already-convinced, the churches that remain will be decidedly outsider-focused. And word will be supplemented with deeds.
In the future church, being right will be less important than doing right. Sure, that involves social justice and meeting physical needs, but it also involves treating people with kindness, compassion in every day life and attending to their spiritual well being.
This is the kind of outward focus that drove the rapid expansion of the first century church.
That’s why I’m very excited to be part of a group of churches that has, at its heart, the desire to create churches unchurched people love to attend. While the expression of what that looks like may change, the intent will not.
6. Attendance will no longer drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance
Currently, many churches try to get people to attend, hoping it drives engagement.
In the future, that will flip. The engaged will attend, in large measure because only the engaged will remain.
If you really think about this…engagement driving attendance is exactly what has fuelled the church at its best moments throughout history. It’s an exciting shift.
Why do I bring this particular topic up now? Because the churches that will survive the religious cynicism and betrayal of the church today, will be those who are genuine in being true vessels of Christ, engaging fearlessly and full of hope, joy and with the determination of making justice known in the world of today, AS IF JESUS WAS WALKING WITH US teaching us and blowing our minds with what the power of Truth can do in a world so full of pain, greed, sorrow and apathy.
The key word is, ”ENGAGEMENT.” Jesus wasn't interested in being put on a throne to rule like a tyrant, Jesus was interested in becoming our king by healing, giving comfort, going to our deepest fears and places of discomfort and ruling our lives through love and mercy.
Truth and Love can always defeat fear. Our church is based on the Word of God, the Word of Truth and Love, the Word of Forgiveness and Grace, the Word of Justice and Mercy, therefore in a world so much lacking in any kind of Truth or Love, the message we are called to proclaim and live out, is the most relevant message the world could need right now.
Think about the church you are members of, and be thankful for all the things we are doing that “engage” the people who have never heard the Gospel, felt a healing touch, were simply treated kindly and with respect. Through the Holy Spirit, YOU are Jesus ‘come down’ and engaging the world. How else do you see us, as a Body of Christ, engaging those who have never heard about Jesus in their lives? Amen.
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