Lift up your heads
Week of Sunday December 2 - Advent 1
Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
‘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. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees;30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 ‘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, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be 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.’
Forty years in the wilderness is a long time.
We were always on the move; I was born travelling.
The old people said we would find a land of milk and honey;
it had been promised.
But we never did.
lush valleys, sometimes.
But it was never right.
We always moved on.
And then we came to The Land
and crossed the river.
And we knew this was the place;
the place they had always been talking about.
Not literally flowing with milk and honey, of course,
and with plenty of dry places, too.
But we knew.
We were home.
This was what had been promised.
We still wander in wilderness.
God has done great things; yes.
And the Christ is risen.
But life is hard.
The rich still sell the poor
for the price of a pair of sandals1
and drag the poor into court2
Illness stalks the land like a roaring lion.
Evil prowls around looking for someone to devour.3
Hunger erodes us.
We need God to do more.
I’m not saying we sit on our hands and expect God to fix it all, like magic.
True religion cares for the orphans and the widows;
it does justice, as well as staying unstained by the world.4
But like Luke’s people, we understand it is beyond us to fix the world.
It will need almost unimaginable change in our attitudes as people.
To execute justice and righteousness in the land5
and make all our Jerusalems safe
is not going to happen with a five year plan
and a legislative program.
We will need a new heart and a new spirit;6
something in us must be completed.
For this, the world will be turned on its edge.
In Luke’s time they imagined signs in the sun and the moon,
and people fainting from the fear and foreboding of what would come upon the world.7
And they were right.
Even the great Roman Empire fell.
The Plagues killed 75 million people at least;
in just five years, a third of the population of Europe died.8
In war and famine in the last century
as many, and more, have died again.
We have dodged the bullet of nuclear war, so far,
and anyone who is not deeply afraid of the consequences of global warming9
is in denial,
or still asleep.
And then, after all this, said the Jesus traditions,
they will see the son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.10
It’s a quotation from the visions in the Book of Daniel, who imagined
one like a son of man
a human one
coming with the clouds of heaven
and to him was given dominion
and glory and kingship...
that shall not pass away.11
The new Christians read these words, of course,
and thought, “Yes. This is what we have been promised!
“This is the place!
“This is what they have always been talking about!”
It’s all vision, of course.
It is hope in things not seen.12
And it is hope based on our experience of God touching us and
in a small way,
already turning our world on its edge.
The hope is that one day we will arrive.
We will know the place.
We will say, “This is what they were always talking about!”
Justice will roll down like waters.13
The wolf will live with the lamb.14
and the law will be written in our hearts.15
I do not know how—
but there will be a time when the wilderness is levelled16
and we will know the place for the first time.17
while all these things take place—
as the permafrost melts
and the storms rage
and the sirens wail
stand up and raise your heads
because your redemption is drawing near. 18
Do you understand that these are not just words?
These are what is.
We are on the great journey.
We are being healed.
We have seen already
in the Christ
that justice can flow down like rivers
that the rich Zacchaeus can be remade
and that even death
cannot extinguish the vision
of a world turned on its edge.
God is coming
and we are on the way.
Be not ashamed.
Do not be cowed by the fear.
Lift up your heads.
This is what has been promised.
Your redemption is drawing near.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
1 Amos 8:6
2 James 2:6
3 1 Peter 5:8
4 James 1:27
5 Jeremiah 33:14-16
6 Ezekiel 26:36
7 Luke 21:26
8 The Global Impacts of the Black Death
9 When Even the Earth is Melting
10 Luke 21:27
11 Daniel 7:13-14
12 Hebrews 11:1
13 Amos 5:24
14 Isaiah 11:6
15 Jeremiah 31:33
16 Isaiah 40:1-5
17 Little Gidding TS Eliot
18 Luke 21:28