First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
14The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
[Jesus said:] 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. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
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, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be 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.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you heard any dire predictions in the news or online lately? I have, though not as dire as the ending of all creation. I’ve heard political threats and rants. I’ve heard people despairing over the state of the world today, particularly the United States of America. I’ve heard people complaining about the nation’s borders, their safety or lack thereof. I’ve heard people complaining about those hoping to emigrate to this country, and others urging people to welcome the strangers, sometimes suggesting ways to do so. I’ve read the news, and I’ve read lies masquerading as news. I’ve seen people believing the lies, and spreading them as fact.
In the context of all this, I read the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel writing, as he references fear and foreboding, and I understand how people might liken what might be frightening events of these days to the frightening events Jesus describes in this telling.
Into such troubling times like these, way back in the days of Jeremiah, the word of God came through the prophet: The days are surely coming…
What kind of days are surely coming? Days of fear and foreboding? Days of conflict and violence? Days of everyone out for oneself?
Jeremiah defines the days as ones of promise, proclaiming that Israel and Judah would be saved and live in safety. He speaks of a righteous branch rising from the house of David. We see the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus, whose birth we prepare to celebrate the end of this month… but look at Jerusalem today. Look at Israel and tell me of the safety you see there.
The days in Israel look more like those Jesus described than the ones Jeremiah promised. The days look like ones that would inspire us to take cover, and to garner defenses…
But Jesus says something quite different. He does not encourage us to hunker down in fear. Instead, he says, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
I can’t help it but recall the scene from the Independence Day movie now 22 years old, with the young woman standing on top of the roof of the skyscraper gazing up at the alien spacecraft just as the destructive beam is unleashed to destroy her, along with the entire city. “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”? Really?
The days are surely coming, the prophet proclaims, and the righteous branch has come in Jesus, but the promised peace is not the way of this world. Even so, Jesus says, “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Jesus, I believe, is not commending recklessness. What he’s doing instead, is condemning fear that results in paralyzation. We are not to be apathetic, listless, so focused on ourselves that we are blind to the world around us.
He does advise that we be on our guard, but not because of the dangerous ways of the world. We are to be on guard that our hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and worry. We are instead to let go of our fears and our selfishness and go out into the world and share the good news of what God desires and promises for this creation.
The days are surely coming. They are always coming, because someone, somewhere, has raised up a head in concern for someone in need, and done something to fulfill that need. The days are surely coming, when people like the one we called Mother Teresa work among the poorest of the poor. The days are surely coming, when a murderer chooses not to kill, or someone intercepts the violence meant for another. The days are surely coming, when neighbors watch out for one another. The days are surely coming, when people learn love, and push away narcissism.
George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of these United States, died late Friday night. Because of his position, he was able to influence large numbers of people, and people in influential positions around the world. Few, if any, of us will be in such a position of influence, but do not let that paralyze you into doing nothing. Each of us has responsibility in this world. We may not interact personally with potentates, but we can live God’s love here, for this neighborhood.
Maybe some of us have greater influence. Maybe some of us even have influence across the seas, around the world. Some of my Facebook friends live in Africa. Who can say what influence our lives have for those who sometimes might watch from afar?
Yesterday, I was reminded that December 1 is World AIDS Day. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many people wore red ribbons on December 1 in recognition of the struggles of people who were HIV positive, and the research going towards treatment. My friend suggested that we have become complacent about the disease, because in this country, the infection is treatable provided one can afford the medications. However, many cannot afford those medications, and those meds are not even available in some parts of the world. How do we stand up and raise our heads for this?
How do we stand up and raise our heads when the earth shakes at magnitude 7 followed by more than 230 aftershocks? Building have burned and roads have become impassible in and around Alaska’s largest city.
How do we stand up and raise our heads after the fires in California? What do we do about food that makes people ill? What about our neighbors in need?
The good news is that there are people everywhere, responding where there is need. No one person can do everything, but every person can do something. We can help all around the world in many ways. Lutheran Disaster Response can help us do that. Our prayers and our offerings will not be ignored.
The days are surely coming, and are here, in everything God does through us, God’s people. In Jesus’ name. Amen