Today is the First Sunday in Advent and the beginning of another year on the church’s calendar. We are glad today to have the children worshipping with us, because church is a meeting of adults at which children are present. This presents us with a bit of a challenge today, because today’s Gospel is not a children’s story, definitely carries a PG rating if not 14a.
Just so that we know who you are- hands up if you are 18 and under. I want to begin by asking a question of the young people.
Who can tell me what the letters GPS stand for? Who can tell me how GPS works?
Now I have a question for the older generation. What did people use in days before GPS?
What do you think people used in the days before map and compass?
Found their way by looking up into the sky and following the path of the sun, moon, and stars. We are talking here about a time when there was no television, no internet, no cell phones, no video games. It makes you wonder, what did people do all day? When they weren’t working, and trying to stay alive, they looked up in the sky, during the day they would watch the movement of the sun, and at night, the movement of the moon and the stars. What they noticed was that the sun, moon, and stars moved in regular predicable ways.
Where does the sun rise in the morning? In the east. Where does it set at night? In the west. This is something you can always count on. Don’t have to ask, “I wonder if the sun is going to rise tomorrow and from which direction? Will it rise in the north or the south? No, it’s going to rise in the east.
I love looking at out at night at the stars. There is a constellation of stars called the “Big Dipper.” If you take the last two stars in the big dipper they will point you to a star called Polaris. The one thing about Polaris is that it points north, which is helpful if you ever get lost at night.
In our story today, Jesus talks about the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, and the stars falling out of the sky.
Sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it? This Gospel is definitely rated PG.
Last summer I was in the United States for Eclipse, where we saw the light from the sun get totally blocked out by the moon, and all of a sudden, it was dark out, and its morning.
It was pretty cool, but we knew it was coming, and knew what to expect. But imagine not knowing it was coming. That would be pretty scary.
Nice thing about a full moon, that it actually reflect quite a bit of light. It’s amazing what you can see at night. Imagine a situation, where both there is no light from the sun and the moon. That would be dark. You can’t see anything.
To make matters worse, all of a sudden you look up, and the stars are falling out of the sky? What happened to the Big Dipper? Where is Polaris? Gone! Now we are really in trouble.
Without the sun, moon, and stars, how are you supposed to know where you are? How are you supposed to go anywhere or do anything?
What Jesus is describing here is a sudden situation where you are totally lost, confused, and in the dark. I don’t know about you, I don’t like the sound of this one bit!
To make matters worse, Jesus says this terrible thing is going to happen after a time of terrible suffering.
Did he just say suffering? I don’t like the sounds of that very much either. Sounds like things are going from bad to worse.
So what exactly is Jesus referring? Is this the end of the world? The short answer is no. Jesus is not talking about the end of the world, but a cataclysmic event that happens that makes you think and feel like the world is coming to an end.
What kind of things? We are talking about disaster like earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, where you lose absolutely everything. But then there are the personal disasters: the car accidents, the doctor’s diagnosis, the medical emergencies, the job loss, the marriage and family break ups, and suicide. What Jesus has in mind here is any event that rocks your world, turns it upside down, and makes you feel that your world is coming to end, and that’s because it is.
The picture that Jesus paints here of the future is not something that any of us would wish for ourselves. But you know what, sooner or later it comes to us all, and often more than once. There isn’t an adult here who could not tell me a story about a time in their life when they didn’t see the sun, and moon darkened, and the stars fall out of the sky. One day everything is fine, next day, lights go out, and I am scared, lost, and confused, and don’t know where to go, and what to do.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could know when the bad thing is going to happen? But Jesus says there is no telling. It could happen in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow, in the morning, and the phone rings with the news.
So what are we to do?
Three times in our passage Jesus tells his disciples to “Stay awake, and not to fall asleep.”
Last Sunday I talked to the kids a little bit about how people fall asleep.
Why do people fall asleep? Because they are exhausted. We are all tired.
But the kind of falling asleep that Jesus is talking about here is not where our physical eyes close, but where we close our eyes to what is happening around us, and aren’t really paying attention to and dealing with a problem or a difficult situation.
Instead of dealing with the situation we seek an escape from it.
What are some of the way of avoid dealing with a problem? What are some of the sleeping pills that people take?
One is to keep busy, run from one thing to the next. A simple way of avoiding a difficult situation at home is to spend all your time at the office. Social media is another way out, as is shopping. For some “church”, rather than being the place where I face up to my situation, becomes a way of avoiding it.
But you can only avoid things for so long. Life being what it is, it will wake you up. But when Jesus says stay awake, “What does he mean?”
Does he mean we anxiously sit by the phone waiting for it to ring? Does he mean be on your guard against the next disaster? Does he mean for you to get in touch with your feelings, and be present in the moment as they say?
It’s none of these things.
When Jesus talks about being awake when he is referring to paying attention to his Presence in your Life and his Promise to you. It’s why Jesus says when you see these things happening, when your world is falling apart, “Know that I am very near. “ And then Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, my words, my promise to you , will never pass away. I promise” says Jesus “to send my angels to the four corners of the earth to gather in my elect.”
Here we are! The angels have done their job. Today is for us a wake up call.
It is a call to wake up not only to the instability, uncertainty and fragility of life, and how quickly things can change and be ripped from us, but more importantly, in the midst of a world that seems to be falling apart, to wake up to the Presence, the Promise and the Power of God to save you.
It is this Presence, this Promise, and this Power that we have to celebrate and lay hold of today.