November 28, 2021: Sermon Preached by The Rev. Katie Holicky
Year C, Advent 1 Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
In the early 90’s I was a small child just old enough to start to fall in love with popular music. I recall riding in the back seat of our family’s red Subaru wagon bopping along to the hits of the day. Many times as we arrived back home from whatever outing, my brother Matt and I would bolt from the car and run inside to turn the radio on, literally not wanting to miss a beat. In those years we would often find ourselves with our faces squished against each other as we shared the phone and stretched the cord of the land line as far as we could from the kitchen to the living room just to call in our requests to the local radio station.
One song I keenly remember from this era was the hit from Swedish group Ace of Base, “The Sign”. As a child I had no clue that this chart topping song was a break up song, yet I did get the sense that this song encouraged me to be on the lookout for things that could help to inform my life. Signs.
So, where are we in Luke on this first Sunday in Advent? Well, as we start a new church year and begin to look toward the birth of Christ in just a few weeks time, we find ourselves strangely at the end. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem triumphantly. He has cleared the Temple, and is teaching daily in the last days of his life. This is a section of Luke that we can clearly see draws on the rich history of apocalyptic texts and points us directly back to readings like the passage from Jeremiah– the promise of God breaking into the world. The earlier prophets named the coming of God’s judgement in similar language, and one commentary notes that, “this may be understood as nature literally descending into chaos or as the complete overturning of earthly political and military domination” (FOTW, 23). The promise of signs. Signs that inform us of the inbreaking of God coming into the world and completely changing it.
We start the section with natural signs that paint a picture reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. These images convey the sense of that natural inbreaking of God. Then we move to a parable of the fig tree– noticing signs that point to God drawing near. And then we come to this sort of jarring notion that things will be dramatic and very hard going. We are given the word from Jesus that even as everything else passes away his words will not. Perhaps what is passing away, of the world or status quo as we know it, points directly to this inbreaking of God is one that brings the reign of God to us right here, right now. The reign of God that is of love, justice, equity, and peace.
And in the midst of all that is before us in this passage, we are told to not just prepare, but to beware. The writer of, “Luke wrote with a deep and growing sense that Christian discipleship is a kind of living in between- aware of Jesus, waiting for Jesus, and coming to know Jesus for whom we wait in the midst of an eventful, unpredictable, even tumultuous world” (FOTW, 22). In Luke, this apocalyptic vision is the promise of hope. Christ is coming because God loves us (FOTW, 25). It is the promise that God will break all that we know open and bring forth a new world or way of being that is beyond the beauty of our human imaginations.
While also acknowledging that yes, there are elements of living that can overwhelm, those that are hard, and those that are of grace, and it is because of this that, “ the present moment is itself an event for us, worth living and worth living because it is a gift” (FOTW, 24). We can choose to accept all of this with thankful hearts. To trust in the promise that lies behind it, and pray for strength to do what God asks of us. (FOTW, 24). Theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said that these notions,”…present the Christian hope no longer as such an ‘opium of the beyond’ but rather as the divine power that makes us alive in this world”.
For me, a focal point in all that is unfolding in the scripture this week is that, “Those that trust in God and live faithfully need not live in fear when the world collapses around them.” (FOTW, 23). Just like the final blessing we have been sharing in these last weeks: “Live without fear: your Creator has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you absolutely. Go in peace to follow the good road and may God’s blessing be with you always”.
Yes, this is much easier said than done, and that is why we are reminded of that truth this week. That we must trust in God in the midst of the chaos. We must pay attention and prepare prayerfully, and we do so, “trusting in God and awaiting redemption from the world systems” (FOTW, 25).
I reflect again on the chorus from “The Sign” by Ace of Base:
“I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes
I saw the sign
Life is demanding without understanding
I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes
I saw the sign
No one’s gonna drag you up
To get into the light where you belong
But where do you belong?”
Today as we think about signs and God breaking into the world, we do so as we celebrate the start of a new church year with this first Sunday in Advent, a word that literally means coming or arrival. The thing about starting a new church year is not just that we are turning the page of a calendar or moving into a different synoptic Gospel, it is also that we are being invited to begin afresh in our own hearts, relationships, in this community and “in our yearning for a promise worth living for” (FOTW, 22). So, where do you belong as you look for the signs of God breaking into the world and changing it? How are you, in the midst of chaos, preparing to welcome God, trusting that new life comes to us even in turmoil…that we are a people that hold fast to a promise worth living for?
Resources: Ace of Base, Feasting on the Word