Stand Up Straight, and Tall

December 2, 2012                              Luke 21:25-36

This is the sermon I preached last Sunday. It would have been easy to dodge an ‘apocalyptic’ text like this at Advent, but I’m glad I tackled it, if for no other reason than the people in my church are going to find all kinds of teachings about the ‘end times’ depending on what they read or listen to. And yes, I’d rather they think like me. 🙂

When I was in elementary school, the swings were a pretty popular place to be at recess. I can still remember the feel of the pea-gravel under my feet, and the cool touch of the chains in my hands.

One of the things we did on the swingset was see who could swing the highest. Two guys would sit in swings next to each other, and then they’d start swinging at the same time, and see who could get the highest the quickest.

You had to be careful not to swing crooked, because then you ran the risk of hitting each other. The goal you’d aim for was to swing so high that the chains would go slack, and you’d actually freefall for just a brief moment before being jerked backwards.

Not many kids could go quite that high…But a few could.

And the kids who could, they were the ones who discovered that swinging was even more fun if you’d swing as high as you could, and then jump off the swing right at that highest point. We were in awe of those kids–They were the daredevils of the playground. (of course, it’s not surprising that they were often the ones who ended up in the nurse’s office after twisting their ankles or getting the wind knocked out of them after such a stunt). (Such is the cost of glory).

That moment right at the top of your highest swing; there’s something almost magical about that point in the ride, right?
You’re sailing along, and then for just the briefest of moments, you’re weightless.

It’s like you’re defying gravity; for just an instant.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that as we grow older, swinging loses some of it’s attraction. It’s not quite the same.

But can you remember what it was like…to swing?

Can you remember what it felt like to ‘swoosh’ through the air?

Can you remember the sense of freedom… that magical moment when you swing as high as you can, and your forward movement stops for just a split second before you start going backwards?

You might even come up out of the seat just an inch or so before swinging back the other way.

It’s that moment, when you’re freed for just an instant from the forces of gravity and time…that’s the moment I want to zero in on this morning.

However brief it might be, there’s one moment when you swing, where the end of one movement kisses the beginning of the next.

And as separate as the two parts of the action might be, you know that neither could exist without the other.

–I’d like to suggest this morning that Advent is that moment–

…Advent is the time of year that reminds us that we are part of this cosmic “forward” that feels like “back”.

Advent exposes the truth that we are somehow living in this timeless moment between the forward swing of history, and the next swing back, when reality as we have known it sweeps away as our lives unfold before us, redefined by the power and grace and mercy of the Most High God.

That’s why we read these apocalyptic passages at the beginning of the advent season every year.

Because you can’t really separate the beginning from the end.

You can’t have one without the other!

We hear a lot about waiting at this time of year. And waiting gets a bad reputation, because we equate waiting with boredom.

But Advent isn’t about that kind of waiting (at least not always).

Our faith is not primarily about the future.

Or the past.

Or even the present.

The God who created Time is also above it.

So our faith that proclaims eternal life, eternal promises given by the grace of an eternal, majestic, and most Holy God; …our faith fits in eternity, which is a bigger concept than past, present, or future.

In other words, Christianity is not only about what comes next; the second coming, the apocalypse, the tribulation or whatever you want to call it.

For we have inherited eternal life.

And by definition, eternity runs as far back as it does forward.
Kind of like a kid on a swing! 🙂

Jesus says in the reading for today “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”

“People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” It’s easy to hear those words, and it’s easy to get swept up in the doom and gloom prophecies that we hear almost everywhere.

It’s easy to read those words, and think about the “Left Behind” Series authored by Jerry Jenkins and Tim Lahaye. It’s easy to read those words and think about all the movies that are currently showing in theatres about the end of the world.

It’s easy to read these words and think Jesus was pointing to the future, to the end of all things.

But then, why does he say “This generation will not pass away until all these things have come to pass?” Why is there such an immediacy to what he was teaching here?

I think it’s because there have always been signs like he was talking about, just like there will always be signs like he was talking about.

In other words, has there ever been a time in history, when there weren’t people predicting the end of all things?

Even before the time of Jesus, there were people predicting the end.

If you want just one example, around 160 BC, there was a great Jewish warrior named Judas Maccabeus who set himself up as the messiah of the Jewish people.

He even had his own currency made after leading a semi-successful rebellion against their oppressors.

He is one example of someone who actually physically tried to usher in the end of one age and the beginning of another. It didn’t end well.

My point is, ideas about the end times and how the world will end…they’ve been around for a long time.

Actually, they’ve been around since the time of Noah, when the world was actually ‘un-made’ only to be re-made.

Actually, we could even go further back to the apocalyptic event of creation itself, when God spoke the dry land out of the chaos of the deep…that was the ending of one age and the beginning of another.

So these signs that Jesus talks about here in Luke…I think he has more than just the future in mind. I think it’s connected to a whole history of God acting in our world.

So we don’t have to fear them.

We don’t have to live in fear of some future apocalyptic event…because God has proven faithful across the spectrum of eternity.

“Heaven and earth will pass away”, Jesus says, “but my words will not pass away.”

So if your life is defined more by the words of Jesus than it is the things of this world, then you have nothing to fear!

He goes on to say, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.”

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer brokenness of our world.

And we can argue back and forth as to whether things are worse now than they’ve been before. I tend to think things are better in some ways and worse in others.

But I think the eternal God revealed through Jesus can be trusted as much today or tomorrow as He was yesterday!

Heaven and earth will pass away, but the teaching of Jesus is eternal.

And so, the question becomes how to live right here; in the meantime.

The question is how to live at the top of the swing!

The question is how to wade faithfully in this extravagant, divine love that fills and continues to fill creation?

If I could answer that question in just one sentence, I think that sentence would be “Stand up Straight and Tall”.

The Jesus revealed in the scripture we’re looking at today, he calls us to come face to face with the struggles and desperation of our lives.

Not to flee from them.

He goes on, after describing the signs of the times, and he says

“They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
“Now, when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

I hear an edge in Jesus’ voice this year that I haven’t always heard. “Stand up, lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near.” I almost hear a challenge there, like a parent might say to their teenage child: “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

“Stand up straight and look me in the eye!”

Can you hear Jesus saying that? (if not, could I suggest that just maybe your Jesus is too safe?)

Last week, Christine laid down a challenge, and I’d like to re-iterate it this morning. She challenged each of us to go for 2 weeks without criticizing this church, or other people.

I think that challenge has everything to do with Advent.

Because we are living in a new reality, where the words of Jesus carry more weight than even the heavens and the earth that we interact with daily.

Take heart when the powers of the heavens are shaken in your life.

Take heart when uncertainty prevails.

Take heart, for the Advent of Christ is hope for the hopeless and strength for the weak.

You have been chosen, redeemed, forgiven, and loved with an eternal love that knows no bounds. So take heart. Stand up tall, and straight.

With no fear, prepare to Meet your Maker’s righteous gaze when he comes “in a cloud with power and great glory.” Get your affairs in order. Extend forgiveness. Reach out with mercy. Fill your heart with Compassionate Generosity.

For you are deeply loved and able to stand before the Son of Man through the grace of God bestowed by the power of the Risen Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Let your love be made evident even to the creation which you steward. Bear witness and testify to the extravagant flood of mercy we walk in daily.

For we are a new creation, washed by the flood-waters of baptism and sent: “Go Forth and Sin no more.”

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