God Comes Near - Seeing the Signs

Jeremiah 33: 14-16       Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Luke 21: 25-36              Decembe 2, 2018

“So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

Prayer:  God of all things seen and unseen, please open our hearts and minds so that we may prepare for when you come near to us, in every one of our circumstances.  Amen.

This Bible text from Luke and others like it on the first Sunday of Advent always remind me of the Doomsday prognosticators.  I picture the older man in a worn-out trench coat from Bruce Almighty standing on the street holding a sign that says, “Repent!  The end is near!”  Over the years, we certainly have had our share of doomsday forecasters and conspiracy theorists who predict when the end of all things will come.  Remember the doomsday forecast with the Y2K event in 2000?  Everything was to go haywire with the changing from midnight 1999 to 2000.  One minute into 2000 the world wide web was to blackout. Didn’t happen.  Or, think of the now deceased Harold Camping who predicted the exact date when the rapture would take place and the world would end… he predicted it… again and again, each time saying he made a mistake in his previous calculations and needed to revise.  He eventually gave up and focused on the Bible verse quoting Jesus as saying basically that no one knows the day or the time, not even the angels, only God knows (see Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13: 32).

Those prognosticators and doomsday prophets tend to be fear mongers.  They cause the general public a fair bit of anxiety and unrest.  Some folks who take the Bible literally say that these are the end times that we’re living in.  They say everything in scripture matches up with what we’re seeing.  Big earthquakes, like the one Friday in Alaska.  Tsunamis, like the one that devastated Indonesia a few months ago. Fires, like the ones in California.

However, I invite us to remember that Jesus first of all, reminds his disciples and us that there will be days like these.  They’ve occurred since the dawn of time.  And yes... it’s possible a cataclysmic event could change weather patterns.  And some cosmic event could cause signs in the skies.

Remember, too, that Luke uses Jesus’ words in metaphorical and allegorical ways.  The roaring of the sea and waves in biblical writings often represent the primordial chaos of creation.  And, the powers of heaven being shaken is thought to allude to Rome conquering Jerusalem, which already happened by the time Luke wrote down Jesus’ words and his gospel.

So, with that in mind, Jesus’ words I think suggest an alternative to doom—a shift of emphasis.  The message of the fig tree is about seeing signs of forthcoming events.  But, I sense that Jesus invites deep faithfulness to God as those events unfold.  Not going deeper in fear as those events unfold.

Jesus says stand up when these things take place.  Raise our heads.  Basically, that means take heart.  Because when we see these things taking place, we don’t zero in on the anxiety and fear, but rather, we zero in on faith.  We center in on God.  Then our choices, commitments, decisions, attitudes stem from that center.  We live in the present and into the future from the inside out.  Based on who we are, and who God is with us.  From an internal relationship with our divine Holy God.  In response to crises. That’s when God comes near.

If there is no internal center with God in faith, then there is no outer perimeter in daily life, either.  If we move God to the margins of our life, we easily can drift around, fearing every sign of doom, every prognosticator’s forewarning, struggling with every moment of crisis. I sometimes get all worked up with our societal woes.  Then I read this passage.

Take heart, because, with God in the center, we get our spiritual bearings, our footing.   We are able to stand up and respond to the turbulence of our day in faith, not fear.  I believe God works with us.  In our circumstances.  Good and bad. Working together, we are guided toward the best possible outcomes in the future.  And God comes near.

I took heart in at least one response to the crisis of the recent mass shooting at the Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh.  Did you hear about this?  A crowdfunding campaign begun by two Muslim groups raised over $55,000 for the Jewish victims’ families after the October 27th shooting.  The Muslim organizations are partnering with the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh to distribute the funds, which are intended to help defray medical and burial costs.  The sponsoring organizations said they are sending a message from the Muslim community that there is no place for this kind of hatred and violence in America (The Hill, October 28, from “Century Marks,” Christian Century, November 21, 2018, p. 8).  God’s realm comes near.

So, take heart.  When you see the signs of these things taking place, we know that God’s realm is on its way.  God comes near, and is coming near.  Jesus’ birth signifies God’s righteous branch is springing up.  God’s new era will emerge out of the calamity, out of the natural disasters, out of the political chaos and societal turbulence because God lives in us.  God works in people who dare to become centered in God and resist the fears of a hopeless future.

That means...se are the signs for others to see.  Think of the calamities and disasters  as a great opportunity to demonstrate the opposite of anxiety to all those stressed-out folks around you.  Teach them by your example to go down deep in faith in God, not fear.

So, trust that God comes near and is coming near.  Have faith that our redemption has come and  is coming.  Be alert.  Pray.  Together with God, we can tip the balance toward health and wholeness, and open the door to greater influx of God’s divine activity bringing to reality beauty of God’s world, the justice God calls for, and living in safety that we and all the earth craves.  Amen.