[Jesus said:] 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 humanity coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the reign of God is near. 32 Very truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of humanity.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God for whom we wait,
We trust in your word of hope.
We wait with anticipation for your promised future.
And we recognize that we are not there yet.
We are not yet home.
Walk with us on our journey homeward.
Home means a great many different things to a great many different people.
Is home a place, or is home a person? Does home have a physical address, or is home more of an emotion? What does home look like? What does home feel like? How do we know if we are home, or if we’re far from home?
This Advent, we’re returning to a series from the formidably creative women of A Sanctified Art, called Close to Home. In their words, during this season “we journey through scriptures and rituals that are tender, heavy with emotion, and vulnerable. We carry the memories and truths of this season close to our hearts.” We honor the tension that God’s promised day is not yet fully realized among us, and yet God has already made God’s home among us in the person of Jesus—Emmanuel, God with us. In the familiar scriptures of this season, “home is both physical and metaphorical, something we seek and something we are called to build. Ultimately, God is our home and resting place. God draws near and makes a home on earth—sacred ground is all around us.”
This first Sunday of Advent, with God’s promise to God’s people through the prophet Jeremiah and apocalyptic warnings of Jesus in the gospel of Luke, we are poignantly reminded of how far from home we are. Signs in the heavens and distress upon the earth. Raging of the waters and quaking of the powers. Something is coming and it doesn’t look good. This first week of Advent stirs up a sense of homesickness in us…a sense that the world is not as it should be, and in some ways, we feel far from a recognizable sense of home. “Many have lost their physical homes, many feel alone, and many are isolated. Many feel as if we are wandering with no clear way forward.” This first week speaks to our deep collective longing—for our home to be made whole, made right, and made well. With deep longing, we watch and wait for God.
And with a fervent and tested hope, we trust that God has and does come among us to make God’s home with us. Our hope trusts that God has and does enter our homesick world.
It’s been a long 20 months…amen, church? None of us thought we’d be in this place, where we are now, back in March of 2020. And yet, we persist. We hope, and we trust, that this, too, shall pass. That where we are now is not where we will remain. And we continue striving forward to do what we can for our neighbor in need and the vulnerable among us. I have to say, I think this whole pandemic has been an exercise in hope. And it certainly hasn’t been easy.
Home can be a complicated thing. Raising a young one over the past 20 months has been wild. More of his life has been lived within a global pandemic than out of one. We intentionally kept our pandemic circle small and compact, we avoided unnecessary outings, we ordered out and cooked in, we kept things tight. And we spent a lot of time at home. Trying to keep a toddler entertained, I am intimately familiar with all eighteen-hundred-some-odd square feet of our home.
So yeah, home is complicated.
This week we got to spend a really good bit of time with my parents and my grandmother and my sister’s family. It was a balm for my soul. And it was a complete 180* from Thanksgiving last year. Last year, you’ll remember, before vaccines were available, and when things had started surging before Thanksgiving. So this year, I have a lot that I’m personally thankful for. Last year it felt like a sense of home was taken from me, in some ways. After Christmas, still under last year’s winter surge, mind you, my parents were coming down to spend a few days and do the whole Christmas thing with us, and on their way down, just as they had gotten through College Station, my parents got a call from my sister, the ER nurse, letting them know that she had just lost her sense of smell. Her sense of taste would follow the next day or so. But the kicker was, my parents had just been out at my sister’s house the week before doing the Christmas thing with their family, so there was a real question about transmissibility and incubation periods, and we just didn’t know.
My parents continued the trip from College Station to Sugar Land, and I’ll never forget standing in our garage with our masks on, and watching my parents and grandmother get out of their car with their masks on, and feeling so upset about what was happening. Of course, we knew we were doing what was best and safest for all of us, but it was heart-wrenching.
My sense of home was shattered in that moment.
Surely this is not the kind of world God dreams for us.
My sister and her family all ended up being fine. She had received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier that week which likely spared her some of the worse effects and from passing it on to her family, but the contrast between last year and this year couldn’t be starker.
And that feeling is something that has stayed with me…that feeling of having home ripped from my hands. That moment feels so hopeless.
The lesson of Advent is one of waiting. It’s one of watching. It’s one of patience. And it’s one of paying attention.
Be attentive to the small, often barely discernible signs of life, Jesus says. Like the fig tree just starting to produce buds on its branches, you can know that new life is beginning to break forth. Even amidst all the other warning signs, all the things that stir up fear in us—distress among nations, shaken powers, and roaring oceans—you can trust…you can have faith…that something new is about to break forth.
And right there, that’s the key…it’s not about faith over fear, or fear rather than faith…faith or fear is a false dichotomy, church…it’s about faith in the midst of fear.
Jesus doesn’t deny that these fearful things will happen. In fact, you can expect them. “When these things take place, stand up and raise your heads. Know that redemption is drawing near.”
Advent is about a fervent hope…a tested, tried, and proved hope…hope is rugged, it’s gritty…hope is well-worn. A fervent hope holds fast to the promise that God has saved God’s people before and promises to do so again. Hope persists in the face of fear because of faith.
Our Advent journey is one of longing for a world that is as God intends it to be. A world in which there is no doubt that God has made God’s home here. A world that is no longer homesick for an imagined future that could be, because as God’s people, we are living in such a way that brings God’s promised future here, and now, to bear on our present.
Be attentive to the tiny, often barely discernible signs of new life and new growth breaking forth.
Stand up. And raise your heads.
Redemption is arriving.