Date: November 28th
Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri
First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm: Psalm 25:1-10
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
When I was in college one of the jobs I had was on the technical theatre staff for my college's auditorium. We would handle lights, sound, video, set, stage managing, and anything else that might come up for any production that the school had. Although we all had to learn a base knowledge of all these different areas, we also eventually specialized in a couple of them after we had been on the crew a couple of years. My specialties were lighting and stage managing. There was one show that we did every year during homecoming, it was a variety show. And so during my senior year, I was the stage manager for that show. This meant that everyone else went on my cues. They had to wait in anticipation for me to tell them to stand by, and the go. One specific moment in that show had a performance by the school's drum-line. There was a point with 16 beats in unison on the snares, which led right into a solo. There was a lighting cue that needed to hit on that last beat, which took all the lights out except the one right above the soloist. The person running the light board for that moment had to trust me, had to be on alert, and had to be ready to press the button the second I said Go. She could not ignore her surroundings, she had to be fully present, there, ready for that cue to be called at exactly the right time. She knew it was coming, but she had to trust that I would do my part—calling Go at just the right time—and that she had been properly prepared so that everything happened at the right time, when the signal was clear.
In our Gospel reading for today, we begin Advent toward the end of Luke's Gospel. We start here so that over the next four weeks we can work our way back to the story of the baby in the manger. Because Advent is all about preparation and anticipation for that promised baby, but it is also an acknowledgment of us waiting for the time when Jesus will return. This week's passage from Luke dives right into that message of waiting, of anticipation, of being on-guard for these promises ahead. Jesus is clear that these things, his return will take place some day. He says, “my words will not pass away.” He then gives us warnings for what to expect, for what is coming so that we know it is our call in the meantime to be on alert, always. Because sometimes, we get complacent. We get comfortable. Comfortable in the world that we live in, so much so that the future that is coming seems more like a threat to our current lives than a promise of the savior.
While Jesus is explaining these things, he mentions two different groups of people who are reacting to his return on a cloud with power and great glory. First, there is the ones who faint from their own fear and foreboding of what is coming to the earth. It is not that they fear the one coming down from the clouds, though maybe that is part of it. No, they fear the changes that Jesus is bringing with him to the earth. They fear that the lives they have known, perhaps lives that were once powerful, comfortable, ignorant of the world and community around them, will be shattered in the face of the one who promises a just and open reign for all people. And then there is the other group of people. For this group Jesus uses “you” language, he is speaking directly to those he is teaching, directly to us. He says, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” In contrast to those who faint from fear of the changes signaled by Jesus's return, these people are told they they will stand and face the coming reign, and their coming redemption.
I like to think that Jesus tells them to stand up because they will be sitting among those in their community who are suffering or downtrodden. Their seat in that time was among their neighbors in need of a comforter, a confidante, an ally, a friend. And so they stand upon Jesus's arrival. And then Jesus tells them to raise their heads. I like to think that is because these people who are ready to face their redemption have had their heads pointed at the world around them. They have looked into the eyes of their neighbor, and seen Jesus there. Their head has been so busy taking in the world around them, learning about others, learning about the world, that Jesus calls them to raise their heads, to look toward the fulfillment of all the peace, hope, and justice that they have been hoping for in the world. I do no think that these two communities are always made up of different people. I think we all at times have the opportunity to be both the ones who fear the coming age of Christ because of our own comfort or security, and the ones who have been so immersed in their community that they only raise their heads when Jesus has come again to fulfill the promises of redemption. And so as we read the warnings and parable of Jesus today, we know that he is telling us that this time will come, and that we must be ready, all the time. We must trust in this promise given to us by Jesus will come at the right time just as Jesus warns us to be on alert, ready to welcome in that new world. Because even if we truly are not ready at all, it approaches nonetheless with signs and signals of the coming season.
One of the commentaries I read about this passage is by Justo González and he says it like this. “We may not be ready for the coming future; but it is coming as surely as the first leaves on a tree presage summer. We wish the present season would continue...[but] No matter how settled we may be in the present season, the new order is coming...” Much like my technical crew-mate in college needed to be ready, in anticipation, prepared to press that button the moment I said Go, we are called to constantly be ready for the coming reign of Christ. Called to prepare the way for that reign. And so for now, we watch, and we wait. We take in the world around us, we sit among our community. We love our neighbor as we are called to do in the world, and we do all this so that we are not caught unaware, so the coming new age is not unexpected or a shock, but instead is a time of welcome and reunion in the joy of promises fulfilled. May we each find ourselves seated in community with our heads focused on the world around us, so that when Jesus returns we can stand up, raise our heads, and live into the promise that Jesus reigns and our redemption has come.