Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
First Sunday of Advent, year C
texts: Luke 21:25-36; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It’s enough to make us crawl under the pews and hide.
Are you tired of this yet? We’ve heard intense words of Jesus from Holy Week for a month, and it’s getting heavy. Especially the apocalyptic. Two weeks ago it was “wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes.” Last week Jesus faced execution. Now it’s signs in the sun, moon, stars, and on the earth. Confusing things will happen, Jesus says, causing people to “faint from fear and foreboding.”
The Gospels are supposed to be Good News. How much more of this can we stand?
But we might have already been under the pews before this. On Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law was in the kitchen and said, “Did you hear the news?” Without thinking, I said, “No, and I don’t want to. I’d like this to be a news-free day.” I don’t know what she meant to share. I just knew I didn’t want to hear it.
Because it just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it? Jesus’ words, heavy and fearsome as they are, barely cover the dread we get by checking the news. Since last Sunday we’ve got at least two more shootings: white supremacists in North Minneapolis shooting into a peaceful protest, someone in Colorado shooting up a Planned Parenthood clinic. By next Sunday surely something else horrible will have happened.
Maybe you could scoot over and make room for me under the pew. We could make a snug little place and hide from this world that intrudes even into the words of our Savior, so that even in here we can’t pretend to be safe, quiet, at peace.
Well, it may be hard to believe, but Jesus’ honesty is actually good news.
In Advent we prepare to celebrate once more the Incarnation of the Triune God into the world. Into our reality.
This is where our salvation begins: God enters our reality, as it is, names it for what it is, and joins our lives, our flesh. It is the death and resurrection of the Son of God that reveals the end of the powers of evil and death that bind us and this world. But it is this coming among us in the flesh that makes that possible. The true God, whom we meet in this Jesus, claims our reality and owns it.
Too often we want religion to insulate us from what’s going on in the world. We want to hide our head in the sand and pretend all is well, and we want God to support that.
The Son of God always does the opposite, from his birth on. Jesus speaks the truth about the world as it is, not as we wish it, and he honestly warns us that things will be hard.
We might not want to hear it. But if we’re going to follow a Lord who can actually save us, I’d rather follow the one who knows the score, who is aware of the suffering and evil of this world, who lives in it with us, than one who paints a rosy picture that I want to see but that isn’t true.
Facing the truth about this world makes our hearts heavy. So Jesus warns us to be on guard for that, and shows us a different way to live.
First, he challenges us not to be so weighed down at heart about the evil and suffering of this world that we live in dissipation.
That is, that we avoid facing reality by wasting our lives, frittering away our time, spending our resources on things that don’t last.
Jesus tells us to guard against avoiding the pain of reality by letting life and opportunity sift through our fingers like sand, pursuing a materialistic culture’s dreams instead of God’s dreams.
Second, Jesus warns us not to be so weighed down at heart that we fall into drunkenness.
To be on guard against seeking things that numb us to the pain of our reality and the reality of the world. Jesus could have said “addiction,” because there are so many things we humans can be addicted to as we self-treat our pain: alcohol, drugs, money, sex, gambling, work, and more. Treating our weighty hearts with false cures that only get us into worse difficulty.
A. E. Housman wrote, “Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink / For fellows whom it hurts to think: / Look into the pewter pot / To see the world as the world’s not.”  That’s what Jesus warns us against, preferring that we face the hurt it takes to think and see the world as it is.
Third, Jesus tells us to be on guard against being weighed down in heart with worry over this life.
Jesus warns us not to wallow in fear, freeze in our anxiety. This third way is probably most honest, since it sees the truth of the world. But when we worry and are afraid, we get so heavy in heart we are no better off than on the other paths. Jesus would rather we faced reality, not be stuck in it.
But these three warnings are only part of the gift. Only by truly seeing reality as it is can we also deal with it, even overcome it. So Jesus’ last word is the heart of our hope: “Pray,” he says. Pray for the strength to deal with these things.
And Paul tells us what Jesus means.
Paul believes we have all we need from God to endure and thrive in a frightening reality.
Jesus said, don’t let your hearts get heavy. Paul says that the Lord will make us increase and abound in love for one another and for all. Jesus said, pray for strength so you can stand in those days. Paul says that God will so strengthen our hearts in holiness that we will be blameless before God when Jesus, the Son, comes.
So this is our hope: the Spirit fills our hearts with love for each other and for all. When we live in love in a world filled with pain and suffering we are a sign of hope to come. A heart filled to abounding is a light heart, and it’s how we can both find light and be light in a darkening world.
And this is our hope: the Spirit strengthens our hearts in holiness. We think of what we can and can’t do in this world, and we fear. We follow those three paths Jesus warned us against. Being Christ, being holy, is to be set apart as God’s light in the world. Even in community that can feel pretty isolated in an evil world. So our hearts are strengthened for this path of holiness.
It’s good, though, that we begin Advent today. Advent teaches us much about waiting and anticipating. About leaving our hiding places.
Watching the pregnancy of Mary as we once again anticipate celebrating her Son’s birth reminds us that we are in a time of pregnancy. Grace and life in Christ will be born into the world, are being born. But we’re still in the time where we can’t always see how it will be. So sometimes we want to hide in fear.
Like pregnancy, there is much pain associated with the birth of these things, too. So we try to avoid that reality rather than face it.
But the One whom we follow on this path sees all that pain and evil and knows how to deal with it. Has dealt with it. Which means we and all God’s children will not be overcome. The healing of Christ is coming into this world.
So for now, we do as we are told. We pray – for love, for strength. And we wait.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 A. E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad (1896), LXII: “Terence, this is stupid stuff,” lines 23-26.