Have you ever been anxious?
If we really think about the abrupt end to the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21 of this year and pay attention to the myriad documentaries laying out proof of this Mayan predication, we might well be anxious this month. If we look at the state of our world and pay attention to all of the violence and destruction, the pain and hopelessness, the greed and selfishness, we might well be anxious this month. Maybe God is fed up with us. Maybe God is done with us. Maybe it is time.
These words of the gospel passage from Luke 21 for the first Sunday of Advent come to us as a part of the exchange between Jesus and his disciples about the future of the temple. Jesus has announced that the temple will be destroyed and "not one stone will be left upon another."
Understandably, the disciples want to know when this will happen. Jesus' initial answer indicates that neither conflicts between nations nor natural disasters would be signs of that calamitous day.
Rather, Jesus said "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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken." (Luke 21:25-26)
These are signs to notice in the coming of the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus indicates. In other words, people will find it nearly impossible to believe that they are actually seeing the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple-the home of their faith. To those who encounter these dreadful experiences, it will feel as though the world is coming to an end.
Jesus goes on to instruct his disciples. Instead, when these things occur, Jesus tells the faithful to stand up and raise their heads, because their redemption is drawing near. In other words, rather than being a day of despair, it will be a day of hope for them and will point to the redemption that has already been revealed.
When things become chaotic, confusing, and fearful all around, the faithful are to remain steadfast, confident in their faith and to look for signs for the presence of the Son of Man-Christ.
Our world is filled with anxiety. Each year at the beginning of Advent we pause to remember that in our world our priorities are not in the right place. And we are anxious.
We are anxious about the state of our world when we count up the number of missing children we hear about over the course of the year or the number of people who have been shot for no apparent reason.
We are anxious still, after years, about war and the ones that we know who are in the midst of it.
We are anxious about our planet.
We are anxious about whether we have enough money to send our kids to college or to get us through our retirement.
We are anxious about whether our rights are protected or not.
We are anxious about those who do not have the basic necessities of life.
We are anxious about natural and human made disasters.
We are anxious about what the Mayans might have known.
We are anxious about illness.
We are anxious about the morals of our society and the state of the church.
We are an anxious society and make ourselves even more so as we put things in our minds that focus on the anxieties of our society by the things we watch on TV or the things we read or listen to.
Jesus tells us to lift up our heads-the son of man is coming, but not on storm clouds, not on hurricane winds or derechos or freak October snow storms, not in blizzard conditions, but on clouds such as the kind that we see on clear, sunny days with blue sky behind them. It is a sign of hope, a sign of peace. It is a sign of the presence of our Savior.
Christ tells us to look for the signs of his coming in our lives every day. We are to ask ourselves: Where are the signs that Christ is here and has not deserted us?
The time is near, but the time of Christ is always near. We have to believe it. We have to desire it. We have to be on the lookout. We have to be prepared.
The words of one of my favorite Advent hymns speak to this: People look east, the time is near of the crowning of the year. Make your hearts fair as you are able. Trim the hearth and set the table. People look east and sing today. Love the guest is on the way. (Eleanor Farjeon, 1928)
During this Advent, let us spend more time making our hearts open for the coming of Christ. Let us believe. Let us desire. Let us be on the lookout. Let us be prepared, for Christ is on the way.
To God be the glory!