Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

12/02/12 Sermon

 
 
Luke 21: 25-36

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

 

One of the more difficult things to get used to this time of year living in Maine has to do with how dark it gets up here so early. By 4:30 in the afternoon, it’s already getting pitch black outside. And as the evening continues I keep doing a double take at the clock---“it can’t be only 7:30, it feels like midnight as long as it’s been dark!”

I can hardly wait until it gets 9:00 and it’s time to take our new dog, Jack out one last time before going to bed.

And lately when I take him out, I like to look up in the sky. One of the great things about living in Maine is just how bright the sky can be with all the stars and the moon.

In the darkness below, you’re able to see the stars shine much brighter.
 
In fact, the Ancient Persians, known for their astronomy are credited with the saying “When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars”. (Charles H. Bayer)

Our scripture today from Luke is one that makes us think about looking up to the stars.

It’s the account of Jesus speaking to his disciples about the end times. Jesus talks about signs in the sun and moon and the stars, of heavenly bodies being shaken.
 

And it can seem like an odd scripture to begin with as we start the season of Advent.

When we think of the beginning of Advent we often think it’s Christmas time.

It’s time to start singing Christmas carols, and put up Christmas decorations.

I have to confess that we already have our Christmas tree up and decorated over at the parsonage. I’ve also been listening to Christmas music and getting “Hallmarked” (watching cheesy/corny Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel).
 

Of course the culture and the stores tell us its Christmas time long before it actually is.

Shopping malls have had their Christmas decorations up since Halloween.  Many of us have already been shopping for Christmas presents to ship off to our families who live away.

Yes the culture tells us it’s Christmas already but in the church it’s Advent.
 

Advent is a time of waiting; a time of preparing for the coming of Christ.

And yet many Christians struggle with this waiting.

They’re ready to begin the celebration of Christmas now like the culture.

Fred Craddock in one of our Advent journal reflections speaks about this. He tells about how people can go to the choirmaster complaining about singing Advent songs in the hymnal that they don’t know. They’d rather sing the familiar Christmas carols and make Christmas a month long celebration.
 
But Advent reminds us to not move too quickly.

It reminds us that we need to prepare for Christ’s coming; being aware of how we live.

You see Advent focuses us on how we wait. It calls us to look at our lives and reflect on how we are prepared for Christ’s coming.
 

And as we examine our lives during this time of waiting for Christmas day we are then also examining and reflecting on how we are living our lives waiting for the Second Coming of Christ.

And that’s why we read this scripture today. It’s an Advent scripture, not a Christmas scripture.

There’s no baby Jesus, no shepherds tending the flocks, no angels singing, no Mary and Joseph or oxen at the manger.
 
It’s not time yet.
 
Instead we have an apocalyptic scripture that calls us to look at whether we are ready for the Second Coming of Christ.

And this scripture can be frightening image for many.

On the cover of our bulletin today we have a very famous painting…..Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.
 
Many actually see this painting referring to this scripture as van Gogh was the son of Dutch pastor and was an evangelist himself to the poor at one time.
 

Kathy Beach-Verhey in her commentary on this scripture points speaks of how Van Gogh’s painting captures the image and mood of this Advent text of Jesus’ second coming.

She speaks about the:
Swirling yellow and white clouds on a background of dark blue and black.
 

A bright yellow moon and bright stars that look like rockets. All of it surrounding a small town with a church steeple.

In the foreground is a black flaming image that connects the earth and sky. Art historians say this is a cypress tree which in Van Gogh’s time was associated with graveyards and mourning.

Now for many who reflect on this painting see it as a frightening image. And yet as Beach Verhey says, for others it’s beautiful and bold; a glimpse of God (Feasting on the Word, loc. 1019).
 

And that’s how this end time account from Luke can be seen for us as well.

For some, Christ’s coming and the end time of this world is daunting, frightening and dark. It brings fear of damnation.
 
But for others, for those who are waiting for Christ to come, they see hope and expectation.
 
In the darkest time, they are able to see the coming light.
 

And that’s what Jesus wanted the disciples and us to focus on in this scripture.

As he speaks of the darkest end time, he points to his coming in glory and of redemption drawing near.
 
Jesus’ message is a message of hope in the midst of hopelessness; light in the midst of darkness.

Now today on the first Sunday of Advent we lit the candle of Hope.

And as we prepare for the coming of Christ on Christmas Day, we are being reminded that to prepare for Christ’s second coming we need to be people of hope.
 
The Christian way of living; the Christian way of “waiting” in this life is to actively be people of hope.
 

Especially in our own times of darkness.

In fact it is in our times of darkness that we are actually able to see Christ’s light much better aren’t we?

I mean, in our darkest times it’s the hope of Jesus that gets us thru.
 

Hope is what lifts us up when our worst fears are realized; when there is no cure for what ails us.

Sherwin Nuland in his work “How We Die” says “We often define hope in elusive and danger filled cures…He said: Hope should be redefined. Some of my sickest patients have taught me the varieties of hope that come when death is certain”…..
 
We often define hope as something that will get us out of our present difficulties. But hope doesn’t get us out---it gets us thru.
 

Hope is the fig leaf on the tree as Jesus says, that reminds us that up ahead there is new life.

There is a redeemed new world; a new earth, infused and intertwined with heaven where Jesus will come and live among us and bring forth goodness, and justice, love and peace, light and life forevermore.
 
And that is the message that we as Christians are to carry to others.

We’re to not skip over the darkness and ignore it. We are to be bearers of hope and light who walk with others in their darkness……..

There’s another piece of contemporary artwork that speaks to our scripture today as well.
 

It’s called America’s Joyous Future by Erika Rothenberg. She took a small church bulletin board, and turned it into work of art.

On the bulletin board she spelled out life at a congregation in simple white letters against a stark black background:

EVENINGS AT 7 IN THE PARISH HALL

Mon. Alcoholics Anonymous
Tues. Abused Spouses
Wed. Eating Disorders
Thur. Say No To Drugs
Fri. Teen Suicide Watch
Sat. Soup Kitchen

Sunday Sermon 9 a.m.
"America's Joyous Future"

Her art is an indictment of many of our churches who often skip over the real hurts and needs of people so as to get to the pie in the sky, feel good message.

In other words we skip over Advent darkness and want to move to the message of Christmas in our faith journeys.
 
But in doing so, we fail to be witnesses to the light to others in who live in darkness.
 

But as disciples who are prepared for Jesus’ coming, part of being prepared is to be witness of hope to others.

That means we don’t live in despair as those who live in darkness. We don’t look to fill our emptiness with drunkenness and indulgence.
 
Instead we live with an eye to the stars; with an eye on Jesus, living a holy life following Christ and the ways of his coming Kingdom………..

In closing this morning, as we begin the season of Advent, the message to us is to not skip over Advent and go straight to Christmas.

For if we do we will actually miss Jesus; because Jesus is the light and hope that shines ever more brightly in our times of darkness.
 

Where are you in darkness today? Where do things seem frightening and daunting? Is it failing health? Is it economic?

Is it in your family or a relationship? Is it in your career or your calling?

Wherever you find yourself in darkness remember that in the swirling clouds and seemingly uncertain skies, there is redemption up ahead.
 
In the Advent darkness there is the light of celebration coming----it is the Son of Man, Jesus Christ our Savior and our Lord, the coming Star of Hope……..

May his light of hope dwell in us and may we shine that hope on others……


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen