This past week, on Tuesday, a woman and her 8 yr old set up a tent in the parking lot of one of the Big stores. It was them against the world, waiting for the opening of Black Friday sales. The ad had a really great teaser price for a toy everyone wants but only a couple will get. Hundreds of people lined up in hope even though it’s dangerous to be first in line, with crowd stampedes in stores, or this year someone decided to pepper spray everyone who might get the toy first. Every year we hear about people actively committed, vigilant, waiting for the clerk to come and open the door, so they can get the thing they hope will make it all better, til the next fad. We all tell their stories. And every year we hear stories about nailing down the timeline for the fate of the world. I think it’s no surprise there are more predictions this year- we’re increasingly disheartened and nervous in the world. This week brought another Mayan calendar discovery. We anticipate these stories, sharing the news that at least will distract us from our lives. But our time isn’t unique. It was a troubled and confused world Jesus was born into. A world hoping that something or someone powerful would come make it better.
Today we begin the season of Advent which places us at odds with our world. While everyone’s hoping to get the right stuff that will bring happiness, we’re called to focus in a different way and to tell a different story. To light a candle and tell God’s story. Calling to God- Stir up your power and Come! This candle tells the story of hope. We remember the waiting- what happens that leads to Jesus’ birth. But also what happens after Jesus’ death. In the midst of the season of manufactured joy, today’s gospel speaks Jesus’ last words to the disciples before the cross- Stay awake and aware. Stay focused. But how can we? In an onslaught of ads telling us to buy happiness, and people telling us we should because all this God stuff is just a pipedream? Now more than ever maybe we identify not only with the gospel, but with the words of Isaiah – as people who feel alienated, stunned by their experience, who tell God-“Hey, no one is speaking your name. No one takes hold of you, Lord. Don’t be mad at us, it’s hard to be in this place.”
And this is the point of Jesus’ words to the disciples. They’re intended to be words of hope, because God knows the world we live in. But, lots of people look at today’s gospel and get frustrated. We still want hope in the form of a real timeline. Instead we get planets and weather and a fig tree. So people try to look for signs, or hidden meaning and then lump it together with Armageddon and power. Next thing you know it’s negative and frightening and judgmental. Words of hope become words of fear as we cringe and wonder about what we see. Then “Keep awake” sounds like we need a 5 Hour Energy Drink, and if we do fall asleep, it better be at the right time. But remember these words of Jesus to the disciples are words of hope. If we begin reading just two verses earlier, I think it helps us frame our perspective. Jesus tells them and tells us:
“There’ll be lots of fake prophets and fake saviors.” He’s preparing his followers for the world after the cross. People struggling to know the real truth about Jesus and God’s vision. Where so many things will be said and done in Jesus’ name we’d need help to clarify and preserve the truth. People will rise up against the powers that be, then claim this revolt would usher in the return of Christ- Lots of misunderstandings. So Jesus says “keep focused on what you can rely on- My words. Focus your belief and actions on what is real.” We all face those times when we say, “We’re looking for you, Jesus but we can’t see you. Where are you? Is our hope real? We’re surrounded by unbelieving, sinful people.” The generation we hear of, I think is made up of all the people living on earth til the return of Christ, of those who won’t believe, who will hurt others, and bring destruction. Who will sidetrack us with predictions of what we can’t know-use up our energy that could better be spent elsewhere. Or who tell us that none of that matters, so do what you feel ‘cause it’s all temporary. All of this can lead us away from our focus- what it means that Christ was born AND died AND has risen AND will return. This is what we as disciples have been given to preach and teach about as we make disciples. So Jesus reminds, “When I return it will be unmistakable. But you can’t know the time or compel it. Lots of people will tell you otherwise- But stay focused and resist this, and the fear it brings. Live in my hope.”
How do we live in this hope when we need something to hold onto? We tell God’s story in the birth of Jesus.
In Advent we remember and celebrate the birth, how God has acted in this promise that speaks hope. We remember the waiting and then the joy. But we also tell God’s story in the Cross. We aren’t just remembering “Baby Jesus,” but Christ of the Cross. God acted in this promise too, in waiting and then joy. We wait for the return of a Crucified and Risen Christ where there will then be joy. The ongoing story of God fulfilling promises, bringing hope. Telling this story we can live in hope that God is still at work. Then keeping awake isn’t about looking for predictions but proclaiming God’s power, focused on God’s Word for us. There will be times we confess, “Lord, we couldn’t see you and we stopped speaking your name, we stopped taking hold of you. “ But the stories remind us that then God really does take us and form us anew, we’re not forsaken. The distance from the resurrection to God’s ultimate promise is unknown but when we gather and tell the story, we share Christ with us, for ourselves and for other.
And so we tell the story again- We light the darkness and remember what God has already done and hold onto where God is going. Yes, Baby Jesus in the manger matters, but the real reason we have hope is also about everywhere Jesus goes after the manger- fulfilling God’s hope and salvation. While lots of other people and ideas will come and go, these are the words that are constant. That give us hope so can again call, “Stir up your power, Lord and COME! “ And believe.