A friend of mine writes a blog titled “Sermons I Wish I’d Heard”. She reflects on what preachers often say about a particular set of lectionary readings, and wonders if that’s really what she would need to hear, and then writes her own sermon on the text.
Today’s sermon, if you will, is a sermon I wish I’d heard.
You see, we get to these apocalyptic passages in Mark and Luke, and suddenly, the preaching I hear is inevitable. You’ve heard this sermon too, haven’t you, how we must keep ourselves pure and follow the commandments to be ready for Christ’s coming which could break forth at any minute. And perhaps this is true, but to be honest, I’m not sure what to do with this hurry up and wait—how can I live more fully into being a Christian when all I’m doing is waiting and trying not to break any rules?
“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.”
I feel like I’ve heard this sermon too many times to count, yet it always leaves me deeply dissatisfied. Why are we promised all of this, but not yet? It has been hundreds of generations since these words were recorded, but we still must wait? What I want to know is not about the future, but what these words have to say to us sitting here today.
“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.”
What I want to hear about this text is not some dream of a king coming in clouds and might who we have to wait for.
I’m tired of might.
Of shows of strength.
Of the games of politics that we play that are really about power and control.
Of money and nationalism being more important than feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the refugee, the immigrant, the orphan.
And I don’t know if one day the Son of Man will be wreathed in cloud, how or if there will be an end to all of this.
But what I do know is that the Son of Man has already come.
Not in might, but in a manger.
Not in strength, but in a stable.
Not in power, but as a prophet—speaking uncomfortable and inconvenient and financially devastating truths to those who claim power.
Not in wealth or palaces or possessions, but as an impoverished son of a carpenter who healed the sick, raised the dead, and ate with women and outcasts and tax collectors.
Jesus has already come, two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. Jesus has already died on a cross on Golgatha. Jesus has already arisen at the tomb and ascended into heaven. The Son of Man has already come.
And yet, we’re still waiting. Advent is a season that illustrates this tension beautifully—Christ has already come, but every year we engage in a time of waiting, of preparing, of pondering this coming in our hearts. Our redemption has come, and yet our redemption is drawing near as we count down the days until Christmas.
And maybe this will be the Son of Man wreathed in cloud, judging everyone in the last days.
But, maybe redemption is the passing of one of life’s storms—a surgery gone well, an illness cured. An orphan adopted by a family. A community rising up to shelter those who are homeless, tired, and cold. An end to a personal crisis, love found just when we need it the most.
When I read Luke, what I know in my heart is that my heavens and earths have passed away over and over again, and I wonder if yours have too. The stones of my temple have often fallen, and perhaps you know what that feels like, to have everything crash down around you. Our heavens and earths have passed away and will continue doing so, but the promise of this text is that your redemption is drawing near.
Redemption is not a one-time-thing, or a two-time thing. We are living in an in-between time, friends, and rather than tell us to worry, Luke says that we need to stand and lift up our heads and wait for the redemption that is coming. You can almost hear the hope and excitement between the lines. This world is a crazy, heartbreaking place and yet there is a hope of redemption that can happen again, and again.
So maybe, this Advent, you’re waiting for change in your life, for a miracle, for hope. Or maybe you know someone who is waiting, and you’re waiting with them, preparing for the promise of a Savior who seeks to draw closer to us, to love us, to save us.
“When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because [our] redemption is drawing near”. Christ of the manger is drawing near. Christ the Son of Man is drawing near. And perhaps you too are drawing near, drawing near to someone who is desperately waiting for redemption, the light that you are called to bring to a friend, a neighbor, an enemy, a stranger. Christ is drawing near.
Your redemption is drawing near. Will you wait?
(Sermon recording, with some substantial variation from this text, will soon be found at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, under Advent I, 2018, or may be found below.)