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Sermon: Seeing the Signs. December 2, 2020

December 3, 2020

Here’s the sermon I preached for both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer on Wednesday, December 2. The text for the sermon is Luke 21:25-36. Be well, friends. You are loved.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace this day in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. They’re out earlier this year, the signs of the season. Sure, the store shelves have no doubt been heavy laden with Christmas merchandise for months, as they are every year, but that’s not what I mean. People seem to be decorating for Christmas earlier than normal, indoors and out. Frankly, I’m all for it. 2020 could use an early dose of joy. So it was that we recently put up the first of our two Christmas trees. We needed some additional lights, however; shining signs to adorn the evergreen symbol. Living just a few blocks from Walgreens, I decided to walk over and pick up a few strands. I had an odd corona-moment on the way: I had donned a mask before leaving the house, and as I walked it struck me that my glasses weren’t getting fogged up like they do every other time I wear a mask. It was only when I saw my reflection in the drug store door that I realized why: I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I’d left them on my desk at home. I had mistaken my unfogged vision for clarity of sight.
  2. Signs and sight, keeping our vision clear and bright, these are the things of Advent. Today, we hear Luke’s rendition of Jesus’ little apocalypse, just as we heard Mark’s on Sunday. While we may think our vision is just fine, Jesus calls us here to look, to watch, to see. Advent is not simply waiting, it is watching. It is learning what to look for, bending our vision in the right direction. In this final teaching before the onset of his Passion, Jesus tells us where to look. It is a picture to terrify, signs in the heavens to cause distress and upon land and sea to produce confusion. Fear and foreboding will overtake the people as the Son of Man returns in a cloud. This day will close upon all people like a trap. Be alert, therefore, Jesus says. Pray that you escape the judgment that will come.
  3. It is a picture to terrify, but only if we lack the lens of faith. Embedded within his teaching today is a parable. Look to the fig tree, Jesus says, and at all the trees. As spring turns to summer their branches burst forth with leaves. They show us the seasons turning. And they will continue to turn. In our northern hemisphere we watch now not as the leaves bloom but as they wither and fall. The trees that line our streets stand barren, branches bereft. But we have come to learn that this is not the end. Not yet. As spring gives way to autumn, so autumn will give way to spring. God’s creation reminds us that death is not the end. Death, through the blooming birth of the Christ child, becomes the prelude to life. Even in creation we behold the promise of Jesus. After death, and only after death, comes resurrection.
  4. Things fall apart. But if the center does not hold it’s because we’ve affixed ourselves to the wrong center. We need to be decentered, reminded by an honest reflection that our vision isn’t as clear as we thought. We have looked to the wrong lodestars. We seek solace in stability, hitch our hopes to upward mobility, but none of it lasts. It was never meant to. Our misguided aspirations only compound the problem; the higher we build, the further we fall as brick slips from brick. We need a new way to see, new signs to behold.
  5. This little apocalypse of Jesus points us to the real apocalypse or, better, apocalypses, both the one to come in the future and the one which befalls Jesus in Jerusalem a few days hence. As the world collapses in distress, it does so upon Jesus the crucified. He is the One who descends into this world’s maelstrom of sin and suffering and death. He is the One who willingly allows the trap of our rebellion to close upon him. And he is the One who, like a dead-seeming seed falling to the earth, holds within himself the hope for new life. Our eyes look to the barren branches and yearn for what once was; Jesus invites us to look to sleeping earth and see what yet will be. Out of death, resurrection. It is neither metaphor for meaning nor individualized immortality. It is the way things are, thanks be to God, who in Christ is making all things new. We who have undone this world are ourselves undone by the Christ who hides himself in Bethlehem, who is buried on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Stars crash and the earth rises, but in Christ new life is about to burst forth. In the stable long ago. In our lives today. In the final fulness of the new-flashing Kingdom that will come. May we have eyes to see!
  6. Terry York writes in today’s Small, Dancing Light devotion, “Living, as we do, in the midst of two Advents of Jesus, we are right in the middle of this truth: the kingdom of God is near (v.31). ‘Near’ can also mean ‘at hand’ or ‘within reach’: on the one hand in the birth of Jesus, on the other hand, in the return of Christ who ascended. Both Advents stir in the hearts of the Christ-follower, giving balance to the already-but-not-yet nature of the kingdom of God here on earth.” Friends, Jesus declares to us today the delightfully odd, mysterious truth that he is here, that he is coming, and that he is with us as we wait. The world falls apart around our ears, and our eyes search for meaning. But the signs are clear. Out of death comes not more death; destruction is not the last word. Look to the fig tree, barren as it seems. As things fall apart – as we fall apart – Jesus comes to fix and focus our vision. Look to the tree of the cross and the One who dies there. There, just there, where we’d never think to look, is the center that will hold. And, finally, a center that will hold us; a life that will soon burst forth in the resurrection of all creation, the old passing away as God fulfills the promise of new creation in Christ. May we have eyes to see! Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

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