The Rev’d Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
The First Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2018
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Earlier this week, during one of my daily Facebook scrolls where zoom down the great litany of Facebook posts, I ran into an image that caught my attention. The picture was that of a young man in gray pants and a white shirt, wearing a black bow tie and black-rimmed glasses holding a sign that read, “The Beginning is near.” The beginning is near.
And the photograph seemed to be replicating an image of a picketer holding a protest sign or warning message. Virtually mimicking that of an angry and fanatic Christian demonstrator holding a sign that might read “the end is near” or “repent for your sins, the end is at hand” or something along those lines.
As I continued to scroll through Facebook day after day for the rest of the week, and as I began to read and dwell on today’s Gospel passage – the words on the man’s warning sign echoed over and over again in my head. The beginning is near.
The message on the sign – The beginning is near – continually rang as I read in Saint Luke’s Gospel a whole other set of signs prophesied by Jesus – That there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. [And] people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [And] then people will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.”
These vivid signs prophesied by Jesus can be simply terrifying and discomforting. Especially if we simply recount our human history, and remember both natural and human-made disasters. From the great wars that pinned nation against nation, sibling against sibling, to those battles and wars that continue to be waged as we gather in this place to pray for peace and justice in this world. To the wildfires, tsunamis, and earthquakes that pillage the earth. Often destroying the lives of those already in great need.
The signs in Jesus’ prophecy is not implausible or unthinkable, but our reality. Two thousand years after the earthly life of Jesus came to an end, Jesus’ prophecy of this world still ring true, but so does our great hope that amidst the chaos of this world, the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory will bring the earth to a halt and redeem creation.
Up to this point in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ opponents have asked for a sign from heaven, even his disciples have asked for a sign of things to come. I’m sure we can all join Jesus’ opponents and his early disciples in the overcrowded club of people who have once or twice uttered, “Lord, just give me sign.” Give me a sign of what I must do, of how I should deal with this difficult situation, or better yet, this difficult person. Lord give me a sign of how I might be able to deal with the evil and hatred that roam around in our neighborhoods and the world. Lord, just give me a sign.
Today, Jesus gives us a sign. And the sign Jesus gives us today acknowledges our human reality and our human capacity for sin, that is our capacity to be out of right relationship with God and our neighbor. It also acknowledges our fragility as a people. It acknowledges that they very things we need to bring forth life in our world can also endanger us. Water and fire two essential elements needed for childbirth, can be the very elements of human destruction. A destruction we cannot seem to control.
In his commentary on Saint Luke’s Gospel, Professor Luke Timothy Johnson of Candler School of Theology at Emory University points out that is Jesus’ prophecy there is no temporal reference or timetable. I’m reminded of Harold Camping and all of his end of the world calculation and how they were all wrong. The irony, one of many, is that Jesus himself does not bother with specific calculations because Jesus is not warning us of a destruction that’s to take place at a specific time or location. No, he is alerting us that the beginning is near.
While signs may appear in moon, sun, and stars, and chaos may continually arise on earth, the Son of Man will appear and bring forth his judgment, his mercy and redemption. And this will be as obvious to us as a fig tree or any other tree for that matter sprouting leaves as the summer season approaches.
This season of Advent reminds us that all of creation from the worms of the earth to birds of the air will one day return to God the creator of heaven and earth. That we God’s beloved children will one day return to our maker, and until that day comes we can trust that God is at work in the world. That God is at work in our lives. That the beginning is near.
Our lives up to this point, even our human history as flawed as it’s been, are simply the opening chapters of God’s great cosmic reorientation. And we and the world are not far from God’s judgment, God’s mercy, and God’s redemption.
Whenever we speak of God’s mercy and redemption, we cannot do so without speaking of God’s judgment. The Season of Advent, its prayers, its scripture, and hymns remind us of that. We can choose to ignore it, but that’s on us.
From scripture, it is clear that there will be a day, a moment, of judgement. A day in which all creation will face God and give an account, one which will already be known to God himself. And from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we know that this account will always be received with love, mercy, and redemption. Because this is who God is. True faith is believing that God will judge all of creation, and bring forth mercy and redemption, justice and restoration, equity and wholeness. True faith is believing that this work is at hand here on earth, and that we can join in this work, even as earth shakes with uncertainty and fear, and signs appear in the sun, moon, and stars. It is believing that beginning is near.
Jesus ends his prophecy with these words: Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Those of us who endure, who bear witness, who remain alert in prayer, have nothing to fear from the coming of the Son of Man. There is no distress or confusion or dread.We can, therefore, stand up straight, hold our heads high in happy in anticipation before the Son of Man.
This is what Saint Paul is referring to when he speaks of freedom in Christ. This very commitment towards God’s justice and mercy compels Saint Paul to write, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us... We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves” (Romans 8:19, 22).
The Christian life, after all is said and done, is not one of speculation or of observation but of behavior and relationship.The promise of eternal life is our radical religious view that this life we live on the earth is not the end of the journey. It’s as if death itself is a stop on the road to eternal life. Jesus himself does not avoid death, he doesn’t kind of die. Jesus dies. And then he is resurrected. There is no resurrection without death. Death is merely a marker on the road to eternal life.
And likewise God’s true justice and mercy can not be made be manifest without judgement. We need God’s judgement, we need God’s redemption.
Thanks be to God who give us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Johnson, L. T .(2006). The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 327.
 Johnson, L. T. (2006). The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 329.
 Johnson, L. T. (2006). The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 330.
 Craddock, F. B. (1990). Luke. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press. 248.