Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
I cannot resist this one stupid joke. Today’s readings invite us to be alert. It must be because the world needs more lerts.
I am planning this Advent to highlight a person or two each week. Next week it will be Zechariah and Elizabeth. The week after that, it will be John the Baptist, their son. The fourth week it will be Mary and Joseph.
This week it is Jesus as the Son of Man. Jesus, the Son of Man, is glorious, loving, awesome, powerful. Jesus, the Son of Man, will come and redeem us from all the distress caused by the signs of his coming. When he comes, we are to stand up straight and raise our heads in joyful expectation.
We could spend a lot of time speculating on the timing of Jesus’ coming. The first Christians thought it was going to happen in their lifetimes. Many today believe it is a cosmic event in the future – tomorrow, or soon, or in 50,000 years. Many today believe the coming again of Jesus occurred with the coming of the Holy Spirit; they believe that his coming again happens every time we sense God’s Spirit within and between and among us. But, Jesus warns against speculating on God’s timing and instead calls us to be alert to the possibilities of each day.
So, we’ll spend the time thinking about the meaning of the coming of Jesus, the Son of Man. By the time the Gospel of Luke was written, believers were dying, and Jesus had still not come as he promised – in their lifetimes. Just as the first Christians had to figure out what to do since they were still waiting, we too must discern how to live in the meantime.
There’s a saying: “Jesus is coming. Look busy.”
There’s a song: “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.”
The intention of these sayings is to have us bow down in perfect obedience. “Look busy,” and “you better watch out” both cause us to be afraid of making mistakes. If we are not busy, if we are not careful, there will be punishment. Jesus will not like us; Santa will bring us fewer toys, or give us lumps of coal in our stockings.
Paul tells us to strengthen our hearts and be blameless before the Lord. At first glance, this sounds like the same thing: be perfect, be 100% perfect. But there’s a difference. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, perfect obedience to the rules is not important. God’s grace makes us perfect, so we can strengthen our hearts – be encouraged. Out of gratitude for God’s grace, we try to pass on that grace to others.
In the ancient world, people bowed before those who were more important than they were. In some cases, they bowed the head. In other cases, they knelt on the ground, and touched their foreheads to the ground as well. (Think: the children in The King and I) And sometimes, they prostrated themselves, laying their bodies flat on the ground. This bowing is a sign of respect and reverence, and sometimes fear.
Today, many pastors invite us to “bow in prayer,” as a sign of our reverence and respect for God who is so much greater than we are. In contrast, Jesus tells us in this passage to not bow in fear but to stand up and raise our heads. In this way we can watch for what God is doing in our very presence.
In the last week or so, Mike and I watched a Hallmark movie. In the story, a young woman named Krissy Kringle finds a book with the title “Naughty or Nice.” She wonders if it is really Santa’s official naughty or nice list. The book seems empty until she says the name of a person who has just done something “naughty.” She looks in the book and finds confirmation that the deed was in fact on the naughty list. Towards the end of the movie, Krissy realizes that the book also lists nice deeds, and they far out-weigh the naughty ones. Krissy begins to understand that people are not only naughty or nice, but both, at the same time.
Doesn’t that sound just like a Lutheran theological point – we are saint and sinner at the same time, all the time. We are all sinners, and we are all forgiven by God’s grace. Jesus, the Son of Man, came into the world so that all people could have a better understanding of God’s heart, of God’s willingness to forgive.
Advent is a time to remember that the baby Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and laid in a humble feeding trough is the same Jesus who was arrested, tried, and crucified; and the same Jesus who was raised from death and ascended to heaven; and the same Jesus who comes again whenever we love each other in Jesus’ name; and the same Jesus who comes with power and glory as the Son of Man; and the same Jesus who makes us perfect in God’s eyes.
Let us not bow before him in fear, but stand with our heads raised so we can be alert to what he is doing in our midst today. This week, I invite you to watch for signs of the Son of Man in your life. Watch for his glory and his grace in your life and in the lives of those you encounter.
Here’s an example. Steve and Teresa are the owners of the Cowboy Café, the new restaurant across the street. Steve is not shy about being a Christian, but he is not pushy about his own faith. Some diners at a table near me asked him which church he attended, and he identified one down the street.
Then he went on to add, there are several other churches on this road, and named them, including Hope. He invited the diners to check them all out and see which one seemed to suit them best. After the folks left, he came and chatted with me about what he had said to the other folks. We both agree that no matter how we choose to worship, it is the same Jesus we worship, it is the same Son of Man who came to make us perfect, and to offer us all God’s grace.
This Advent, there is no reason to pretend to be busy; there is no reason to watch out; Jesus is coming to remind us of God’s amazing grace and love, which shows up in the most surprising places.
Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, we wait and watch for you, especially this time of the year. Help us to see you, not in the things we do or the things we make or the things we buy, but in the people around us. Teach us to walk with our heads held high and to remember that you love us and forgive us, and give us grace we don’t deserve. Amen