I’m a little tired of all the warnings that seem to have become a part of everyday life.
I flip though the television channels and some new breakthrough drug is being pitched to me for an ailment that I never really knew was a problem before, and I wouldn’t have known it if the company didn’t warn me about it.
Then after the company has shown me bright and cheery images of people living their lives free of the ailment that I didn’t know I was supposed to worry about and that the medication is supposed to treat, here comes the list of side effects and the warnings.
“Don’t take _________ if you have______. If you develop these symptoms stop taking _______. Suicidal thoughts and depression may accompany some people as they take _______. ______ may cause constipation, diarrhea, heart palpitations, a change in mood or appetite. Stop taking ________ if you experience sudden weight gain, weight loss, hives, boils, a plague of frogs, insects or gnats.
Ask your doctor if _______ is right for you.
Warning upon warning. One often wonders if the side effects are worse than living with the condition?
The evening news is full of warnings and urgings to be vigilant as well. Scam upon scam is mentioned out there, or more things to worry about.
Crime and violence “may be coming to your neighborhood.”
Personal information has been hacked and may be compromising your identity.
Global Climate change is shaking the heavens and the earth.
I’m under a constant barrage of urgings to be vigilant, to watch for suspicious activity or behavior, (whatever that may be to me), to take measures, put in a security system, to get a “cop cam”, to change my passwords, etc. etc.
It is all so very wearying.
Maybe you find it wearying too.
We hang our heads and slog on through another day, wondering what will come at us next.
So it doesn’t really strike me as a cheery moment to hear the Gospel put forth its little apocalypse today and issue its warnings as well.
Signs, in the sun, moon and stars, distress among the nations, people fainting with foreboding and fear.
I have plenty of fear and foreboding already, I really don’t need it from Jesus!
I think when we first read or hear this lesson it is the fear that jumps out at us, the list of things for which we think we ought to be watching out and worrying.
We tend to hear this as a warning from Jesus because our ears are so fine tuned to listen for warnings and to draw conclusions from this world.
But I would urge you to read and listen to this again, this time without your “warning weary ears,” for when we do that, we catch the real force of Jesus’ words.
This is not just a warning about the awful things that are about to happen. Nothing mentioned here is really any different from the things that have been happening since the beginning of this world.
Signs in the Sun, moon, and stars, …. Those happen on a regular and cyclical basis. Just ask any teacher or law enforcement offices what a full moon will mean for them.
Distress among the nations? When has there not been a time when competing national interests, or tribal differences didn’t set one people against another?
Confusion at the roaring of the seas and the waves? When hasn’t weather and ocean been unpredictable and downright scary when considered or experienced?
These things will happen, and they might be scary if dwelt upon, but the real point of what Jesus has to say is that all these things are nothing to be scared of really.
They are reasons for us to look up!
What, Pastor, the world is going to hell in a handbasket and you’re telling me that things are looking up?
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, not because of all the things we see that have always been around anyway, but rather because looking up is what is commanded to us by Jesus!
“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
That’s what Jesus says to the otherwise scary events. Stand up and raise your heads! Look up! Look for God!
It can be scary to think of God as entering into the places where we usually have free reign, mostly because we’re not sure what God is going to do when God arrives. Is God to be found in more force, in the raging of the wind? In the desolation of battle or the power of despots? Do we find God in the unraveling of the world as we know it?
No. Abraham and Sarah, Elijah and the Widow, Moses and Miriam and all the prophets of old saw many a great and terrible sign, but God was not found in the unraveling. God was rather found working in the midst of those things to bring about redemption, promise, and fulfillment of God’s word.
Now in Jesus, (the Son of Man incarnate,) we get a glimpse of what it is that God actually does when God does enter this world and it’s not at all scary! It is (in fact) what God has always done when God shows up.
Good news is preached to the poor, and the powerful are overcome.
Sight is given to the blind.
The hungry are fed.
The naked are clothed.
Demons are cast out and those with afflictions are set free from suffering.
The Prisoners are set free, and the hungry are filled with good things.
Outcasts are welcomed, and the forgotten remembered.
There isn’t much scary about what Jesus does.
Well, I should qualify that a bit. What Jesus does is scary if you have your eyes fixed firmly on the things of this world and look to them for your comfort and your hope.
If what you are preoccupied with is getting rich, then to hear that Jesus shows partiality and favor to the poor, or hear to him say, “do not be anxious about what you will eat and what you will wear” is incredibly threatening. It topples the economic system we have in place, the engine of our way of life!
If your livelihood depends upon hiding things, on people being blind to your actions, then to hear from Jesus that “nothing will be hidden that is not revealed” and to hear the promise that in the coming of Jesus God brings the “light to shine in the darkness and the light is not overcome.” That is incredibly threatening for someone who depends upon clandestine operations, hidden agendas, and operating in the shadows of this world.
If you are most comfortable with the current divisions, with some people having more than others, with labels and prejudices that hold people and ideas in the status quo, then to hear that Jesus welcomes the outsider, casts out the demons, and bridges the divisions long held between people may very well be threatening to your comfortable way of looking at the world.
The Gospels remind us that looking at Jesus is like looking at God. We “see” who God is and what God is like through the actions, words, and concerns of Jesus. What we “see” Jesus do is good news if you are caught up in the signs and turmoil of this world.
If you are a part of keeping the world in chaos, to hear that God is present is a very threatening thing indeed!
What Jesus drives home here is this. When the world looks scary, it is time to raise your head and look for Jesus!
Look to God!
God is about to do something, and it will not be found in the power or “eye catching” events, but rather the Word and action that arises out of it or in the face of the scary.
The warning given is not to avoid the scary stuff, but rather to not be weighed down so much that you miss God coming in the midst of these things happening, the little signs of hope and power in the midst of big distractions.
Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, Jesus says.
That’s the trap, letting your heart be so weighed down or trying to cope with the scary stuff in life with the things of this world will sucks the joy out of your life and cause you to miss the signs of God’s Kingdom coming in your midst.
Letting your heart get weighed down by the cares for this world causes you to lose sight of the God who created this world with all its wonders.
Dissipation is a distraction deeper into the cares of this world. Getting lost in a life of material goods at first promises shiny toys and temporary joys, but it clouds your judgment and blinds you to the God who provides all good gifts and whose intention is for all to enjoy the goodness of creation.
Lift your head up out of the fog of materialism, of running after the things of this world, of being consumed with consuming or bedazzled with celebrity!
Drunkenness lets you escape the cares of this world for a brief time, but there is a price to pay for your temporary relief, and it numbs you to what God may be up to in your very midst.
It is the Word of God that lasts forever, not the ups and downs of daily life here on this world.
Advent focuses our attention on the coming of Jesus, and we sometimes let that “coming” be reduced to preparation for Christmas, but really Advent is about looking for the signs of Jesus’ return, and do you know where you find those?
You find those in the little things, in the words and action that are Jesus-like that seep in around all the noise and bluster of big signs and scary events.
You won’t find God in the roaring blaze that destroys, but you will find Jesus at work in the firefighters who look up and assess and work diligently to contain and to make a stand against the overwhelming.
You won’t find God in the devastation, but you’ll see the hands and feet of Jesus sifting through the rubble and offering aid, comfort and recovery to those devastated.
You won’t find God in the earthquake or the flood, but you will see Jesus in the picking up of the pieces and the rebuilding of lives in their wake.
You won’t find God in the fainting and the foreboding, but you will see Jesus at work in the care and redemption of bringing hope to the hopeless.
You’ll find it hard to see God at work in the sending of troops to protect a border, but you’ll see the actions of Jesus in those who work to reunite families separated, and to bring refuge and shelter to those who wander.
So look up, get your head out of the scary stuff and remember how it is that God comes.
Not in power and might and with fanfare, but as one who is vulnerable, a babe in a manger who is bent on getting our minds off all that wearies and scares us.