Since the turn of the century it has been predicted at least 30 times according Wikipedia . . . or at least twice a year since the year 2000. That is how many times apocalyptic events have been predicted . . . end-of-the-world times . . . and, we are still here. Our scripture reading this morning centers upon what many scholars have deemed to be Jesus’ mini-apocalypse. Here in the 21st chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is sharing “signs” of the end of the age . . . he speaks of wars between nations, natural disasters, persecution . . . and, in our reading this morning, “signs”: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
In listening to this list of “signs” it is not that difficult to equate it to our own day and age. We have wars between nations. We have all sorts of natural disasters of the magnitude our generation has never seen. We have persecution as we witness millions of people fleeing their homelands to seek safety wherever they can find it. We have all sorts of natural signs—most recently, the sign of the “blood moons”. Surely the end must be near . . . we have all the signs; and, yet, we are still here.
One thing that is fairly sure and certain is the fact that these “signs”—these pointers to the end times—have been present in each and every generation. No generation has been hand-picked over any other generation for the privilege of encountering the end . . . at least not yet. Signs that the end is coming has been present in all generations. Even Jesus admitted that no one knows for certain when the end will come, not even he himself . . . but, that the end would come. Thus he kept telling his disciples and followers to keep their eyes open . . . to be alert, stay awake, and keep on plugging away at the purpose and mission of his ministry . . . love God and one another.
This scripture reading seems to be an ominous way of kicking off the season of Advent . . . the season in which we are preparing for the arrival of the “gift” of Christ into the world. End times do not seem to equate to the idea of hope, they are more along the line of destruction, wailing, and despair. Yet, it is an appropriate reading for the start of Advent. The writer of the Gospel of Luke is not too concerned with the “when will these things happen” as much as he is concerned with the same concern Jesus has . . . “how shall we live in the meantime?” Everyone knows it is going to happen, so what is everyone going to do in the meantime until it does happen? That is what Jesus is concerned with . . . especially when one considers that these “signs” have been present in every generation . . . and, considering we are all still here.
As a pastor I have had the privilege and honor to walk with many people and families in times of grave illnesses and death. I have been with individuals and families when “bad news” has been dumped upon them . . . news about incurable illnesses and pending deaths. And, I have walked with them through these difficult times. Odds are that many of you have had the same experience with family or friends in your own lives. It is an honor and a privilege, but even more importantly it is a time of learning and reminder.
It is a time of learning because I have witnessed the change that comes over people when they begin to realize that their days are numbered . . . that the end is coming . . . and, that life as they have known it is done. I have witnessed them go from living life as if it would never end to embracing each and every day as a gift to be lived in its fullest. The realization that it is the present moment that matters . . . can’t change yesterday, can’t predict the future, only today is what is real. I have learned that for them . . . and, for all of us . . . that is what is important, that is what matters. To be in the present moment and to live life to its fullest in that moment.
It has also been a reminder. Each and every time that I have been blessed to journey with these individuals and families, I have been witnessed to this truth about the “present moment” as being life . . . as being call and purpose. As I witness these individuals and families make this journey of living one day at a time . . . of embracing the present, I am reminded that all of us should live life in such a manner. Funny thing, I think we all forget it despite knowing it.
Jesus confronts this when he gives to his disciples and followers the instructions that he does. He does not want us to dwell on trying to figure out the end time. It is a futile exercise as no one knows the day or the time, not even Jesus himself. Besides, the “signs” have been there for us since the beginning. Instead what Jesus tells us is to “stand up and lift your heads”, and “be always on the watch.” Jesus is not concerned with the time that the end will come, he is concerned with what his followers are going to do until the end does come.
Because of this Jesus warns of two things: complacency and fear. In complacency one gets a feeling of smugness or uncritical satisfaction that things are just fine, nothing is ever going to change, and so why do anything other than one has already been doing. It is the good old “eat, drink, and be merry” view of life . . . it ain’t going to make any difference in the end, so why do anything else. To become complacent is to ignore that which needs to be done today . . . to turn away from the stranger at the door, to walk away from the homeless person on the street, and to ignore those who are going hungry in our own communities. It is not seeing the opportunities for practicing and living God’s call to love one another. In complacency we miss the boat . . . we miss the “signs” . . . after all, the “signs” are all around us . . . because we have been too busy focusing on other things that really do not matter in the end.
Fear is a bigger problem than complacency. We live in a time in which fear is taking over our lives . . . and, who could blame us if we did not view the world in which we live with fear. Read the newspapers . . . watch the news . . . listen to the radio . . . these are scary times that we are living in. Because of this fear is driving our lives and the way that we live them. Fear drives us to forget who we are . . . makes us forget whose we are . . . and, we forget who our brothers and sisters are in God’s creation . . . makes us see the stranger and outsiders as enemies . . . makes us forget God’s call upon our lives to love others . . . to reach out in compassion in times of distress. As one biblical scholar stated: “Fear is more dangerous than violence because fear can lead us to forget our deepest identity and betray our most cherished values.”
How many times did Jesus greet his disciples and followers by telling them to not be afraid? How many times in the Gospel message are we reminded not to fear . . . told, “do not fear”?
Complacency and fear take us away from the present moment . . . take us away from the opportunity to live in the present . . . thus it is that Jesus tells us to “stand up and lift your heads” to see the life that must be lived right now . . . right this moment.
Can’t you see? “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.” The “signs” are all around us . . . can’t you see? The time is a coming . . .
. . . so, what are you going to do? Are you going to be complacent and not do anything any different than you have always done? Are you going to be fearful and stick your head in the ground? Or, are you going to embrace the day for what it is . . . live it to the fullest . . . love the Lord . . . love others? What are you going to do?
As we begin the season of Advent, we have the opportunity to learn and to be reminded. We cannot change yesterday . . . we cannot predict tomorrow, but we can embrace the day and live it in such a way that we love God and one another. In this we glimpse at the Kingdom of God. In this we prepare for the gift that is to come. In this we live. Amen.