Today we begin a new liturgical year. It is the first Sunday of Advent and every year the first Sunday of the Church year begins with a foreboding reading about the end of all things. We are in the year of Luke and today’s reading takes place in Holy Week. We hear Jesus saying: “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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Two weeks ago we heard the corresponding reading from Mark’s Gospel where Jesus predicted the end of all things describing a day when “no stone would be left on another.” His disciples then ask “When will these things take place?” Mark’s gospel is believed to be the first written and it was written either immediately before or right after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 66 CE. Temple destruction and its meaning as part of the signs of end times were on Mark’s mind and heart when he told the Jesus story as was the belief Jesus would be coming any day now. Luke, however, was written some 20 or so years after Mark’s gospel – temple destruction is past history. Luke and his community are struggling with the fact that Jesus’ return doesn’t seem as imminent as it did for Mark or even St. Paul. Luke’s concern isn’t so much “when will these things happen?” as much as it is “how do we live this faith right now as we wait?”
We live in a time often described as “already but not yet.” Jesus has already come, lived among us, died, rose and has ascended; but he has not come again and the last chapter has not yet been written by God. We live in that in between time – just like Luke, Mark, Paul, Matthew, John and all the others who bore witness to Jesus as Christ. In this in between time, there have been many wars and rumors of wars. There has been destruction and chaos. But rather than trying to pinpoint the end of all things, Luke give us a message of hope: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus exhorts us not to cower in fear when things get crazy and scary – instead he tells us to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” … in fact, it has already come.
We have seen resurgence in terrorism in the past few weeks which has brought out some very ugly behaviors in some of those who claim to be our leaders and even those who claim to be Christian. I am persuaded that terrorism and violence are not our greatest enemies – fear is our greatest enemy. When we are afraid, we forget who we are and whose we are. We will sell out our values and our beliefs under the false premise that finding a common enemy will somehow make us safer. It even causes us to make enemies out of people who are not. Just as Andy spoke of music being in his head and heart, fear is something which can invade our heads and hearts and really mess up our thinking and actions. Fear is a dangerous thing!
But remember, hope is also a dangerous thing because hope can give you the imagination and spiritual insight to see possibilities beyond the current reality. Our hope is centered in the cross of Christ and the resurrection. It tells us that no matter what and no matter how bad it gets, God is not finished and the final chapter of history is not yet written. This gospel also must be something in our heads and in our hearts: something they can’t take away from you (no matter who the “they” being referred to happen to be). These promises of Scripture need to be in our minds and our hearts so we don’t forget who we are and whose we are – and we dare not let fear into that space!
So when we become anxious over a terrorist attack and begin to fall back into fear, we need to remind each other to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption has already been won in Christ Jesus. When we are tempted to scapegoat Syrian refugees and blame “all Muslims” for the behaviors of a relatively small number of radicals, we need to stand up and lift our heads – our redemption is already here! When violence in our cities tempts us to abandon the civil rights of others, we need to stand up and raise our heads … our redemption is already here!
Jesus Christ is the lord of all time and all history. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things may get, our redemption has already been won by Christ on the cross and because of that, we need not fear anything ever. This is the essence of hope which, at the end of the movie, Andy reminds Red: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” So stand up … raise your heads … live in hope … your redemption is already here.