12/2/18: For Whom is This Good News? Luke 21:25-36
For Whom Is This Good News?
First Lesson: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Second Lesson: Luke 21:25-36
Rev. Scott Dickison
Well, Merry Christmas, everyone, brought to you by the Gospel According to Luke!
The lectionary really doesn’t allow us to slip too far into the holiday cheer here on the first Sunday of Advent, with these words from Jesus near the end of the gospel and his earthly life describing how it will be when he comes again to usher in the culmination of all history.
This kind of scripture makes us uncomfortable! It certainly makes me uncomfortable. We don’t really know what to do with it. Not just this Sunday when are hearts are pulling us toward Christmas, but any time.
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. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”
This is not the kind of word we prefer to hear from Jesus—we respectable, upstanding, well-educated, well-meaning, well-heeled, well-behaved people. It reminds me of a story Susan Broom told me once about guest she brought once to worship. She was a young girl who was of a more charismatic tradition visiting us here at First Baptist. She was participating as best she could through the service, standing and sitting with everyone else. Bowing her head and so forth. Until about halfway through when she leaned over to Susan and asked, When is the Holy Spirit going to show up?
Talk of the end times is hard for us. It offends our sense of decorum and maybe even out modern scientific minds that have questions about all these things. But even more than that, I believe these apocalyptic visions of the end times offend us for a deeper reason that we would hesitate to admit so I’ll say it for us. They offend us because we don’t want them to happen.
In Advent we celebrate the great Christian hope of the coming of Christ which is two-fold, both “here and not yet” as we say. We remember the birth of the sweet little baby Jesus at Christmas and celebrate how Christ is already come to be among us. But we also look ahead to the time when our faith teaches us Christ will come again. There’s an eschatology to this season, a looking ahead to the end times. And this is the harder part of our Advent celebration—the more embarrassing, culturally uncouth part that doesn’t fit well on Christmas cards:
May you and your family be found ready this year!
May you not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and have the strength to escape all these things that will take place and to stand before the Son of Man!
It doesn’t work.
On the one hand this second coming, when it’s described in scripture, sounds wonderful: the time when God’s promises will be fulfilled, when “justice and righteousness” shall be executed in the land, as Jeremiah puts it. When the “home of God will be among mortals,” and God will “wipe away every tear” from our eyes, when “death will be no more, when mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” When the light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
Yes. If this is what it’s about, Come, Lord Jesus.We want these things, but we want them to come into the world as it is, the world we have and enjoy now, where we’re relatively comfortable and secure. We want the world as we know it, just with fewer tears, less tragedy and death and disappointment, more peace and justice and compassion. We want ourworld, just better. But what Jesus imagines is something much more all-encompassing. It’s our world flipped on its head.
I was struck this week by the words of Justo González when he pointed out many of us are so “well installed in the present order of things,” when it comes to the great reversal of the Kingdom of God the gospels describe, we’re among the folks who “faint from fear and foreboding” not among those “waving their hands.”
“…perhaps our thinking on this matter is tainted by our own secret hope, which is [not] the hope for a [whole] new order, but rather the hope that the present will never pass away. And so, just as Augustine used to pray, ‘Give me chastity, but not just yet,’ we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ and then silently add, ‘but not just yet.’”
Isn't this it?
Yes, we want things to be better—yes, of course. But the world turned on its head? If that’s what it involves, we want the Kingdom to come, but not yet. Isn’t this tension of Christ coming to us is close to the tension we feel when we send someone to be with Christ? We speak of “a better place,” but we would rather them be healthy here with us. We sing of heavenly glory, but we too would prefer to stay here on earth. I want to do what my father was unable to do, and his father before him, and his father before him, which is see my grandchildren grow up. Come, Lord Jesus, but not yet.
It’s tempting to move quickly past these troubling words about the end times, but we encounter these scriptures with integrity when we take them for what Jesus intended them to be, which is part of the good news. So if we’re not quite able to receive this vision of the world to come as gospel ourselves, the next best thing is to ask, For whom is this good news?
For whom is this news of the world-flipping Kingdom of God good news? This is a hard question to ask because it acknowledges there are parts of the gospel of Jesus that do not sound like good news to us. This is a hard thing to admit, but it’s true. For some, as it’s been said, the gospel is bad news before it’s good news. The great reversal of things that is at the heart of this Kingdom of God—of the first becoming last and last becoming first, hungry people being fed and people with full bellies being turned away, the powerful being brought down from their thrones and the lowly being lifted—this is great news if you are poor or hungry or disenfranchised or marginalized. But if you’re not, it’s a great challenge. Taken seriously it may well seem like something less than good news.
It’s like that story I know I’ve told recently but has just been ringing in my ears this week, about the former gang member who’s trying to turn his life around. And he’s sitting there in the office of the friend and mentor who helped him make these changes, telling him how he’s off drugs, off the streets, working an honest job trying to provide for his family, but like so many people he’s struggling to make ends meet. He can’t get enough hours at work, the bills are starting to mount up and he can’t understand how he’s trying so hard to do the right thing but it feels like the world is stacked against him. And he finally through his tears he says, “I Just keep waiting.”
“Waiting for what,” his friend asks him?
“For the last to become first.”
For whom is this world-flipping, head-spinning vision of the world to come good news? And not just generally, but I wonder specifically. Here in Macon, for whom would this news be good? The residents of what neighborhood? The people sleeping where tonight? The students at which schools? And on a wider level: whom in our country or the world today might hear this gospel of upheaval and reversal as good news?
These are Advent questions. And once we’ve found our footing and confessed that in our heart of hearts this gospel may not be immediately good for us, and named, specifically, for whom it could be, the next step is just as important: we must go stand with them.
González makes this point beautifully. This is really the only way forward available to us who find ourselves at the center of things, we must go and stand with those at the margins. To go stand with those for whom news of God upending the ways of the world is good. Solidarity is how we are saved, how this news becomes good for us.
We can’t stop being who we are—not entirely. We can’t magically shed our advantages or education or experiences. But we can use these things, these resources, these blessings, to lift others. And we can do this in any number of ways, many of which you know and already do and do well.
We can give our money to organizations that do good work, or perhaps even directly to people in need. This season is filled with opportunities to give in this way—you almost can’t leave your house without tripping over ways to give. We have a number of good ways here at the church. This is a good thing. It’s a start, but giving money is different from standing with. Charity is not solidarity.Giving can be done at a distance, but standing with requires that we move a little closer, that we open ourselves to feel, to understand, to know, to love. It means risking our own comfort, our ability not to involve ourselves in the hardships of others, the grief of others, the despair and disappointments and pain of others. It means taking on a little of these things ourselves. And if solidarity is a little too cold a word for you, there’s another that’s very similar and perhaps moves us a step further: incarnation.
Incarnation is God coming to be in solidarity with us, to stand with us, to dwell with us. To take on our lives, our pain, our suffering, our grief, our death—to make it God’s own. To bless it, even. This is the miracle, the mystery we gather around and before and within this season—that God—GOD!—would squeeze Godself inside a mother’s womb, in the form of a little baby, small, and vulnerable and infinitely needy—purple skin and soft-spot and all. That God would take on this life we live in our bodies, this life we live in some ways alone and in other ways together—that God would take it all on, take it all in. That God would do this still.
And so the invitation—now, then, and always—is to live our life in the same way. To live incarnate lives. Lives lived fully in our own, divinely-kissed skin; but also lives committed to standing with others. Dwelling with others, taking on and taking in others. Involving ourselves in the lives and especially the hardships of others. Laughing with those who laugh and weeping with those who weep, as Paul puts it. Isn’t this when we’re most the church of Jesus Christ, when we do these things? Especially when we cry tears? Isn’t this what we mean by following in the way of Jesus? The way of incarnation: living deeply with others in this way? Especially with the ones for whom the good news is truly good.
Friends, this is where our journey begins. Our Advent journey that we’ll take over these four weeks. But even more, our Christian journey that we will walk together this year and as many years as God will allow. It begins with the good news not simply that Christ has come but that Christ is coming. That God is intimately involved in the life of the world, that God is intimately involved in your life, and so we are invited to be intimately involved in the life of God until it is fully revealed among us.
This life of God, we’re told, is already buried deep within us, down below all that we carry around, all that we accumulate over the course of our days. All the pain, all the grief, all the worry and disappointment and fear—but even, too, all the successes, all the comforts, all the distractions that convince us there’s nothing more to this life than what we see. The life of God is underneath all these things and it longs to tell you the truth about yourself and the world, how we were all made for each other. How there’s enough in this world for everybody—enough food, enough homes, enough love, enough hope. And that God longs to reveal how deeply this is true.
But in those times when we just can’t see these things for ourselves, we’re invited to stand with others who can, with the promise that when we do, as sure as while the days are getting shorter now in just a few weeks time light will once again come into our world, this news of Christ’s coming will be good news for us, and we will say with clear eyes and open hearts, Come, Lord Jesus. Come.Amen.
Justo L. González, Luke, from the Beliefcommentary series, 239. His commentary on this passage has been immensely helpful in shaping this sermon.
Greg Boyle tells this story in his book “Tattoos on the Heart.”