Yesterday we entered the season of Advent, a time in the church calendar where we are called to slow down and simplify our lives as we wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus, the One who came to us in the flesh as a refugee baby 2000 years ago and who will one day return to us again.
For some of us, this season of waiting comes at a time that feels overwhelming and busy. By now some of our calendars are already full with Christmas parties, holiday concerts, tree decorating, shopping for gifts, preparing the home to host guests, getting ready to travel… and the list goes on. So we cannot even imagine making room in our busy schedules for the season of waiting.
And yet, for others of us, this season of waiting for the birth of this baby Jesus – the One who offers us hope, peace, joy, and love – could not come any quicker.
For some of us, this time of year can be very difficult: the empty chairs at our tables remind us of painful broken relationships, the loved ones we’ve lost, or the friends and family who live too far away to visit.
And these past few weeks and months have overwhelmed many of us with the pain and the suffering we continue to see in the news and that affect many of our own lives or the lives of those we love and know.
Another mass shooting. Another sexual assault. Another unarmed person of color being killed by police.
Natural disasters that displace and devastate communities for years. People seeking refuge from violence and war… all over the world. Children being forcefully separated from their families and put into cages. Asylum seekers being sprayed with tear gas at our very own border.
In times such as these – as we hear the voice of the prophet Jeremiah saying: “Surely the days will come when justice and righteousness will prevail” – we cry out: “but how long, oh Lord? How long?” How long must we wait for the days when oppression, violence, and corruption will cease? How long must we wait for the days when we will no longer allow fear of the “other” to create division and inequality? How long must we wait for the day when Jesus will finally return, and how will we know this has come to be?
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
In Sunday’s Gospel text (Luke 21:25-36), Jesus’ followers are asking similar questions. At a time that was also full of violence, oppression, and economic and racial inequalities, many of them put their hope in Jesus’ promise that he will one day return – bringing about justice and righteousness upon all the earth. So they ask Jesus when the Kingdom of God will be near, and what are the signs of this taking place.
But Jesus does not give them an answer to when this will take place. Sure, Jesus says, there may be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars. There will be people who will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. But Jesus urges them to not let fear and despair overcome them and to not just avoid the suffering and injustice around them.
Yes, Christ will come again.
But for him, it isn’t important that we know the exact time of when he will return. Rather, what is important is what we do with our time in the here and now while we are waiting for Jesus’ return. What is important is what we do in times such as these: when our world is full of suffering, pain, and injustice.
And so Jesus says: “Be alert at all times.”
In other words: wake up and stay woke. And when you see the suffering and injustice of this world, look for the ways God is calling you to proclaim justice and peace and to offer God’s love to those in need. And then rise up and act.
This can be daunting when our news feed constantly updates us on one horrific tragedy after another. The world’s needs just seem too great.
Yet, Jesus does not end here.
“Hold onto the hope of my return,” he says, “so that your hearts are not weighed down with worries of this life.” Raise your heads so that you might also see signs of the Kingdom of God that are already present and sprouting up like leaves on a fig tree. Look for signs that God is with us now and that the reign of God is near.
You see, it is necessary for us to find hope as we look for the signs of how God’s Kingdom is already present in this world. No, we must not ignore or downplay the injustice and suffering around us. However, in times such as these, we will not be able to rise up if we only focus our eyes on what is terrible.
So this Advent, may we slow down and choose to be alert. May we be alert so that we might see the suffering and injustice around us, the ways in which God is calling us to respond, and the signs around us that God’s Kingdom is already sprouting up like leaves on a fig tree.
- What will you do to slow down and make space for God so that you can be more alert this Advent?
- What are some signs that you see of God’s Kingdom sprouting up like leaves on a fig tree and God with us in the here and now?
- What injustices and suffering do you see taking place around you? How is God calling you to rise up and act?
Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran. Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.
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