November 28, 2021
Sometimes it can be hard to pay attention to the world. Knowing what’s going on is one thing, but really paying attention to the world can be exhausting. Paying attention makes it feel like the portents of doom that Jesus predicted seem to be happening all the time. The signs in the heavens speak of a climate in rapid change. The nations in an uproar as the world feels like it’s tottering, war breaking out and regional rivalries threatening to undo peace so carefully crafted. People seem to be going crazy, with a man driving an SUV into a Christmas parade just the latest example. A pandemic that is just too persistent, threatening to cast a cloud over another holiday season. Paying attention to the world can be exhausting.
It makes sense that there are people who are paying attention, who have moved toward despair. I think especially of the youth summit that preceded the COP26 climate talks. These youth leaders seemed convinced that climate change would not be realistically confronted, that they were doomed to reap the interest on their ancestor’s loan from the earth. And that kind of despair can be tempting. It can beckon when the world seems to be shaking, when the stars appear to be falling, when doom seems to be the order of the day.
So what an odd thing it is that we gather and have something else to say about it? How foolish it is that we come together to light a candle, sing songs of expectation, and when we’ve got all the things that are happening around us, we speak words of hope? But that’s exactly what we’re called to do in this season of Advent. We’re called to name God’s hope in the midst of global calamity.
It’s what Jeremiah was doing when he penned those inspiring words: “the days are surely coming, says the Lord…” See, Jeremiah wasn’t writing those words from a place of comfort. He was in the middle of a terrifying siege of his city. Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonians. The food supply had been cut off, and the people were scrounging for anything they could find. As with any siege, disease had broken out as the people were cramped behind the city walls. Babylonian siege engines would occasionally hurtle huge stones or burning pots over the walls. Things looked really, really bleak.
And Jeremiah saw this, and spoke the word of the Lord. God would raise up a branch from the stump of Jesse—a king descended from David. God would rescue Jerusalem, and the people would live in peace. There would be a happy ending, and God would not forget about them, even when the world was exhausting to pay attention to. At his city’s darkest moment, Jeremiah could write that God was still faithful.
Which is a ludicrous thing to say! All the evidence in front of him said that the Babylonians were going to take over the city, and based on how they treated other conquered cities, Jerusalem was not going to be a city living in peace. It made no more sense than any of us looking at the chaos and calamities of the world and declaring that all would be well. But that’s such a central part of our faith, isn’t it? Believing in what can’t be seen yet, and trusting in God to make it happen.
Then Jesus took it one step further. When you see these things happening, he says, you’ll know that your redemption is near! So not only can we cling to the hope that God will make things better, that God will carry us through the hard times and the calamities around us, but that the calamities themselves would point us toward the closeness of our redemption. When the world shakes, it’s a sign that God is doing a new thing.
And while the world shakes, we are still called to do what we’ve always been called to do: love our neighbor, and share the good news of God’s kingdom. Jesus tells us that even when the world is shaking and the stars are falling, we are still called not to give up or take our eye off the ball. We’re called to share what we have with the needy, whether that’s through Operation Christmas Child or the coat drive or gifts to needy families. We’re called to feed the hungry, whether through donating or volunteering at the food shelf, or supporting programs like WIC or SNAP. And we’re called to proclaim liberation to the oppressed, from those weighed down with their own sin who need to know forgiveness, to those suffering the weight of oppression. When the world shakes, it’s just a sign that God is doing a bigger thing.
Now, that isn’t to say we should invite disaster and calamity. We’re not Polyannas, ignoring the very real effects of the hard things happening around the globe. We don’t close our eyes to the effects of climate change, or radical politics, or pandemics, or social ills. But we do see how God might be at work in them. We see how God shakes up the systems of the world and leads us closer and closer to the kingdom.
The damage of climate change has sharpened our focus on our collective call to steward the earth, taking our responsibility seriously because we see how much our decisions can affect this planet.
The divisiveness of radical politics has highlighted our need to listen to one another in Christian love, seeking a better way of being together that finds common ground and leads us to more justice and mercy.
The pandemic has shown us just who is really important in society, and the need to support callings like those working in healthcare, daycare, food distribution, and shipping vocations.
We don’t see the disasters and ills of the world and react with either crushed despair or idyllic ignorance. Instead, when we see the heavens shaken and the nations in turmoil, we lift up our heads with eyes wide open, knowing that this is part of God’s work of redemption. We look for the ways that Jesus is calling us to share the hope of a God who cares so deeply for all of us that God will participate in history to save us, to be God-with-us.
So this Advent, I’d like y’all to keep your eyes open to what God is doing. Notice the small acts of holiness around you, when a neighbor shares with someone in need or when you see grace and mercy taking place. See how we continue to do our work for the sake of God’s kingdom every day. And when paying attention to the world starts to get exhausting and disaster seems to be everywhere, look for how God is making our redemption nearer in it. See the ways that it draws us closer to God and God’s kingdom. And ask God how you are called to be part of it.
The fig tree is putting on its buds, so you know summer is near. Lift up your heads, and see your redemption on its way!
Thanks be to God. Amen.