Luke 21: 25 – 36 Ready for Advent?   November 28, 2021


Ready for Advent?

Luke 21: 25 – 36


(preached November 28, 2021)


Today we begin the opening season of the church year, the season of Advent.  Usually Advent is understood as a time to prepare for the birth of Christ, a time to get ready for Christmas.  But the Bible text for today has nothing to say about the birth of Jesus.  This morning we hear nothing about an angel’s visit or a manger or a star.  Instead, in Luke’s gospel, we hear Jesus himself, a grown man, warning the disciples about what are sometimes called the end times.  He says, “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.”


It’s a long way from the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.  But for Christians, Advent is more than a season to prepare for the birth of Jesus.  Advent is also a season to prepare for the return of Christ at the end of time.  Advent is a season to prepare for the day when, as an ancient creed of the church puts it, “he shall come again with glory.”


These early days of Advent call us to get ready, spiritually, for the return of Christ at the end of time.  The belief that Christ will return is a fundamental Christian belief.  You don’t hear much about it in churches like ours, but in some circles of Christianity the question of how and when Christ will return is a lively topic.  A couple of years ago, a conference was held with the title, “God’s Unfinished Future.”  The invitation to the conference said, “There is a battle [going on] over Christianity’s vision of God’s future.  Popular…books, such as the Left Behind series, pit the forces of good and evil in a … showdown where God will defeat the forces of evil, the earth will be annihilated, and [those who are] ‘saved’ will be lifted up.”


That end-time scenario may be popular with some people because it appeals to a desire to see the world very simply, in black and white terms, to see life as a battle of good vs. evil.  It appeals to a desire to see righteous people rewarded and bad people get what’s coming to them.  We see that desire in westerns, or movies about superheroes like Batman, where the good guys beat the bad guys.  The desire to see the bad guys get what’s coming to them is understandable.  Most of us feel it at one time or another.  We don’t just want good to prevail.  We want to see evil punished (Peter Gomes, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, pp. 141-147).


What Jesus is saying here, about distress among the nations, might seem to support the idea that the end times will bring a battle of good vs. evil.  But it’s important to remember that he’s speaking here in poetic language.  He’s not speaking literally.


I don’t think it serves us well on our journey of faith to take literally what he’s saying here.  If we take Jesus’ words as a warning that he will come back reward the righteous and punish the bad guys, we may be missing the point.  We may be missing the point if we take his words as a warning that he’s coming back to conquer and punish the way we humans might want him to.


I know how I react to the idea that Jesus will return to conquer and punish as we humans might want.  I react with fear.  Hearing about punishment, giving the bad guys what’s coming to them, stirs up fear in me, and maybe in you.  Hearing about a violent battle of good versus evil makes us afraid.  But every page of the gospels resounds with the words of a Jesus whose life is not about fear, but about faith.  Over and over again, Jesus tells his followers not to be afraid; not to worry; to have faith.


In our passage for today, he reminds us not to be caught up in fear.  We are not to live in fear.  Instead, we are to live in faithful anticipation of the coming reign of God.  We’re not to be watching the sky for some violent return at the end of time.  We are to be watching our lives, here and now, and staying faithful.


The Rev. Keith Wagner once preached a sermon called, “Hope for the Overwhelmed.”  In the sermon, he says that what fearful people need more than anything is peace, especially peace of mind. What fearful people need more than anything is to remember that, no matter how anxious the times we live in, God is not far away.  Sometimes we can get so caught up in fear that we miss God’s presence… We allow doom and darkness to dominate our lives rather than hope and light.”


Of course sometimes when you’re fearful, the last thing you want is for someone to tell you, “Don’t be afraid.”  Everywhere we look, we can find something to be fearful about.  But if we listen closely, we can hear Jesus telling us that, if we see the troubles of the world as omens of doom, we are misreading them.  The world’s tribulations and our personal trials can be understood as reasons for us to remain faithful and hopeful” (Homiletics, December 2006, p. 33).


In his book Waiting, Ben Patterson writes about climbing Mount Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park.  Patterson was climbing with a couple of expert mountaineers.  Part of the climb was across a glacier.  As Patterson and his companions headed up the mountain, he found that the experts quickly got ahead of him.  He didn’t like that.  He writes, “Being competitive by nature, I began to look for shortcuts to beat them to the top.  I thought I saw one to the right of an outcropping of rock, so I [headed in that direction… I didn’t notice that the more experienced climbers did not choose this path.]  But [in half an hour] I was trapped in a cul-de-sac on the glacier, looking down several hundred feet of a sheer slope of ice… I was only about ten feet from the safety of a rock, but one little slip and I wouldn’t stop sliding till I landed on the valley floor some fifty miles away!  I was stuck and I was scared.”


Patterson goes on, “It took an hour for my experienced climbing friends to find me.  Standing on the rock I wanted to reach, one of them leaned out and used an ice ax to chip two little footsteps in the glacier.  Then he said, ‘Ben, you [have to] step out from where you are and put your foot where the first foothold is.  When your foot touches it, without a moment’s hesitation swing your other foot across and land it on the next step. When you do that, reach out and I will take your hand and pull you to safety.’


“The [mountaineer] went on, ‘But listen carefully: as you step across, do not lean in to the mountain!  If anything, lean out a bit.  Otherwise, your feet may fly out from under you, and you will start sliding down.”

Patterson goes on, “Against all my instincts, I stifled my impulse to cling to the security of the mountain.  Putting my faith in the good will and good sense of my friend, I leaned out, stepped out, and crossed the ice to safety.  In two seconds, I found my faith was well founded.”


My friends, as we prepare for the coming of Christ this Advent, may you and I accept Jesus’ invitation to lean away from fear.  May we lean out, in faith, toward Jesus.  May we look to him as a Savior who frees us from fear.  May we, in faith, keep watch for the coming of the Love strong enough to shake heaven and earth.




















Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Advent 1