Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL. Jeremiah 33, 14-16 X Psalm 25 X 1 Thessalonians 3, 12-4, 2 X Luke 21, 25-28, 34-36
When we put aside all of the apocalyptic language and images in this text which can so distract us, we are left with three simple and direct statements from the mouth of Jesus that carries the message of Luke’s twenty-first chapter: “your redemption is at hand”, “be vigilant”, and “pray”.
There has never been a time in human history without danger and a cause for fear. In our own life-time we have lived through all sorts of threats and dangers. As a child I remember Oklahoma tornados. Some of you grew up with hurricanes, and some with earthquakes. Whatever it is, it makes you anxious and sometimes downright fearful. As a child I remember those metal rectangular signs with a circle divided by black and yellow triangles. Then it was the fear of an atomic bomb launched by the enemy we were taught was out to destroy and enslave us. Later I have discovered in aging that there are other things to fear: those little melanomas that dot so many of our faces, forgetfulness, the fear that bad cholesterol, our blood pressure and sugar levels all so carefully monitored mostly out of fear. If it isn’t things we fear, its people, and that might be worse. We fear foreigners forgetting that our ancestors belonged to that category. We fear terrorists; and not knowing what they look like, we simply fear people who do not look like us, and as a result they fear us which only confounds and increases the level of fear.
This is the setting in which these words of Jesus are spoken: a time of fear and threat, danger and anxiety. The people to whom Luke wrote first were living in a time of great trial and tribulation under the persecution of Romans and the hatred of some Israelites. To them he says: “Your redemption is at hand”. “Be vigilant”. “Pray.” This living Gospel is as significant today as it was then.
The language surrounding this instruction is taken directly from the Old Testament language and images describing the day of salvation. A people who proclaim this Gospel are a people living not at the end of time, but at the dawn of salvation. These are a people who have wait and watch, who pray and rejoice in the presence of the Messiah whose presence is not in the future, but now. If we believe that Christ has come and risen from the dead, then there is nothing to fear because fear and faith are not compatible. If we are vigilant watching for the signs of that presence day in and day out, we shall become ourselves signs of that presence by the respect and love with which we live together in peace and in charity. If we are steadfast in prayer, that love and that faith transforms our lives into unmistakable signs of God’s glory because prayer of these people is not a panic stricken cry in fear for deliverance, but a song of glory, praise, and thanksgiving that gives to God without asking for anything in return. For in the end, what more could we ask for than our redemption?
The reading from St Paul that the church pairs with this Gospel today provides sound wisdom from Paul and the church of Thessalonica that was braving great trials. He proposes one way, the only way to live through and to live in a time of threat without fear. It is a wisdom still important today when the public rhetoric of leaders and future leaders would ramp up fear to justify their ideologies and persuade us that something other than Christ and the Gospel will bring peace.
The only thing, says Paul, that will strengthen our hearts is an increase of love that will lead us to conduct our lives in a way that is pleasing to God. The future is in God’s hands, and only God will bring it to fulfillment. What we do know is the outcome which we have already experienced in the resurrection of Christ who, having been obedient and pleasing to his Father, was victorious over hatred, violence and death. So it shall be with us and for us, because Christ has died, Christ is risen, and………Christ will come again. That is the best song and the best prayer for this Advent.