LUKE 21:25-36 Jesus said, “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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then 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.” Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 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.”
We start a new church year with a new Gospel and begin the four-week path of preparation to Christmas. But make no mistake this is no quaint holiday to-do list of plum cakes and tinselled trees. As with the end of the church year and the feast of Christ the King, the first of the year begins with dire predictions of apocalyptic forecasts, increasing political strife and terrifying environmental warnings. Like us today, Jesus’ followers had grave concerns about their future. What do Jesus’ words say to us today? I pray for discernment.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Convicted! Jesus nailed my three favourite avoidance tactics: shop therapy, a little extra wine and atrophying anxiety.
Recently, out of frustration with feeling powerless, I took on a bold new practice. Our household would limit and where possible eliminate plastic coming into our home. In hindsight, I really should have consulted more with my nearest and dearest, but the cognitive dissonance of my coping strategies listed above was becoming far too uncomfortable. So, with the conviction of a suffragette, I marched into the grocery store, pre-bought bags in hand. Dear Lord have mercy! Are you aware of the overwhelming amount of plastic that comes with our food! Against the backdrop of soothing elevator music and colourfully tempting displays there lies unspeakable environmental degradation. One slice of deli ham comes encased in 4 layers of single use, everlasting polyethylene! I will not with reckless abandon consume it! I will not in numb resignation look away from it! I will not in anxious dis-ease rail against it but then helplessly buy it! It is a small individual act in the face of a realization that our households significantly contribute to our environmental issues. There is no doubt that this will surely challenge our life of convenience, but the alternatives have become unbearable.
During the season of Advent Jesus and the prophets are telling us to “Wake up!” “Become aware!” “Start anew!”
How have you engaged in reckless consumption, numbing and/or anxious worry to avoid the change that is needed for a faithful future? Who will pay the price of our lazy slumber? How is this the Way of Love?
(If you are interested in how to live without more plastic coming into your home, let me know. When two or three “virtually” gather…)
JEREMIAH 33:14-16 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
God promises to bring about justice and righteousness. Righteousness means setting things right. I am always struck by how different this is from self-righteousness. The space between what I consider (and sometimes stubbornly “know”) to be right and what God deems right can sometimes be quite vast. Warning! The spiritual effort to detach from self-righteousness in order to be open to God’s righteousness is difficult and humbling. For example, I have discovered that God’s love includes way more than I am comfortable with. Way more!
I open myself up in prayer for a deeper awareness of God’s righteousness. What does God’s justice look like? How is it different from mine? What needs to be set right? How may I help establish God’s righteousness and not stray into self-righteousness?
PSALM 25:1-9 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me. Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes. Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord. Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly. All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
“All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness.” Today I take a few minutes to become more aware of God’s presence and to imagine I am walking along God’s pathway of love and faithfulness. What would that feel like? What would tempt me to stray from the pathway? Who might I invite along?
1 THESSALONIANS 3:9-13 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
“Strengthen your hearts in holiness.” This letter of encouragement is from Paul to an early church community that was experiencing persecution. It says that when life around you gets challenging, reach out and be part of a community of love. This is the answer. Simple. “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another.”