Luke 21: 25-36
(Stand silently in the pulpit for a while, as though waiting for something...) The anticipation is incredible, isn't it? You must be waiting for the same thing I am. (Silence and expectation again...) Then again, if you're waiting for the sermon, we're not waiting for the same thing. I'm waiting for the time Jesus talked about when there would be signs in the sun, moon and stars; when people will faint with fear and the powers of heaven will be shaken. I wonder how long I'll have to wait. (Silence and expectation...)
There are those who've said I shouldn't have had to wait this long. They thought all this was going to happen in 1993, and 1992, and 1991, and, well, you get the point. In every generation there have been Christians who thought they were seeing, in eclipses, or comets, or wars, the signs of which Jesus spoke. As it turns out, they've got a zero batting average (and something tells me God's going to make sure it stays that way). After all, Jesus did say it wasn't up to us to know the time. I think it can be helpful, however, to wonder about the meaning of events and see in them signs of the Lord's present advent, because between his first arrival in Bethlehem and his last arrival, he continues to invade our lives in ways both large and small. Perhaps that passage from Luke also refers to those unpredictable signs of God's coming in the middle of history and the middle of our lives.
Are there not recurring moments in our lives when time seems to stop, when the noise of the world is temporarily silenced, and there is an unexpected awareness of truth?
A student received a term paper with a very low grade. Hurt and disappointed, he asked his teacher why. The teacher said "You didn't put much work into it did you?"
A parent finds out his or her child is talking to another adult about a problem and the parent asks "Why didn't you talk to me about it? The child responds "Because you don't listen, you talk."
I remember a time when, sitting in worship by myself, the time came for the offering. Quite unexpectedly, I found myself almost overcome by emotion. I slumped in the pew and hung my head. I had no idea what was coming over me. Then I realized that the offertory was the same piece played when I had a momentous spiritual awakening years before. Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze slipped in the back door when I wasn't paying attention and brought a second advent of my first experience.
Truth has a way of making its advent by slipping in through the back door when we least expect it, catching us unaware. We may see signs in the heavens and may grow weak with fear when the truth comes unexpectedly.
The same kinds of experiences can be produced, not by words, but by the absence of words. The silence of God in a time of personal need can prompt the heart to cry out in silence. Or time stands painfully still by the space left by one who is recently absent or deceased. These advents when the universe seems out of control, and when the fundamentals of life are shaken, can slip in the back door and arrive when we least expect them.
What are these moments when time stands still at the advent of truth? We may decide they are just poignant incidents with no meaning beyond the moment. They pass, fade away, and we forget them. Or we may decide they're challenges, and that our response is to muster the will power and resources necessary to meet the challenge. As a result, we resolve that we're going to be more compassionate, more moral, more considerate, more courageous.
But, there is a third alternative. We may understand these occasions as advents when God is breaking into our lives and giving us a chance to see clearly the truth which has been lurking in just beyond our view. We see the ravine between what we are and what God wants us to be, and realize we can't build a bridge between the two, but must rely on God's grace to reach back for us.
What are we to make of those unexpected moments when our foundations are shaken and the universe stands still?...when we faint with fear and foreboding because our heavens are shaken? Will we dismiss them? See them as a challenge? Or will we see them as the advent of our Lord when we were least expecting it?
"When these things begin to take place" says Jesus "look up and raise your head, because your redemption is drawing near