Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent
|Text: Luke 21:27-28
Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in a cloud with great power and glory. When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your salvation is near.
Most are familiar with the Australian poem, “Said Hanrahan” * by John O’Brien (P.J. Hartigan). The menfolk are gathered on a frosty morning after the church service for their usual catch up on what’s happening on their farms when the conversation turns to the weather. The conversation gets serious as young O’Neill squats down on his heel and chewing a piece of bark, declares, “It’s dry all right” and everyone echoes the same words around the circle.
“We’ll all be rooned,” said
“Before the year is out.
“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-O’-Bourke
They’re singin’ out for rain.”
The discussion turned to how
much rain was needed before the drought would be broken.
“If we don’t get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”
Well, it did rain and it pelted
down and the creeks rose and broke their banks.
The dams overflowed.
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If this rain doesn’t stop.”
Of course it did stop raining
and spring came and the crops grew and the grass was knee deep.
The men folk gathered after church again.
“There’ll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”
We can be a bit like Hanrahan at times, and only see what’s wrong with life and the world, what’s not right with our family and what’s not happening in the church. All we can see are the negatives and we sigh with frustration or throw up our hands in disbelief that things have become so bad. We could become like Hanrahan looking at the world events this past two weeks. Why is there so much madness, so much craziness as people are determined to kill one another and world leaders are so powerless to do anything to stop it? Maybe we feel like joining with Hanrahan’s pessimistic chorus, “We’ll all be rooned before the year is out”.
It doesn’t take much for any of us to get into a frame of mind that is panicky and anxious and we’re uptight because our present circumstances have led us down the path of gloom and doom. We would like to know what is coming in the future but we also acknowledge that knowing the future will also get us panicky and anxious. So whatever we do, we join with Hanrahan saying, “We’ll all be rooned!”
When we read Jesus’ words from Luke’s Gospel today it would be easy to become alarmed and fearful. He says, “Strange things will happen to the sun, moon, and stars. The nations on earth will be afraid of the roaring sea and tides, and they won't know what to do. People will be so frightened that they will faint because of what is happening to the world. Every power in the sky will be shaken.” That’s something we only see in science-fiction movies. This is H. G. Wells kind of stuff. But this is real! What if we are caught up in these kinds of terrifying phenomenon? How terrible it will be? When these things unfold no doubt Hanrahan will have many who will agree, “We’ll all be rooned!”
Why do we get so uptight, anxious, fearful, unhappy when it seems that our world is falling apart? We had everything planned out so nicely and suddenly it’s all turned upside down, of course it’s natural to be upset. We like order and to be in control and to have our plans work out. But we all know that there are times when things do get out of control and we are overwhelmed.
For a moment I want to refer to the first reading from Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in tumultuous times. He had warned the people that trouble was coming but they didn’t take any notice, and in fact, the king had him imprisoned. Invading armies moved through the land and Jerusalem was surrounded and put under siege. You can imagine the panic that had set in as the mighty Babylonian army were just outside the city walls about to overrun the city.
What does Jeremiah do in amongst all this frenzied panic and fear. He buys some real estate. That’s right! He buys property. Today that might be called smart business practice to buy when the prices are down but not back then when the properties were about to be flattened. Who in their right mind buys real estate, houses, fields and vineyards when they are about to be destroyed by the advancing destruction of the Babylonian army. Jeremiah seals the deeds to his property in pottery jars where they will be kept safe for a long time. Then he says, “Someday people will again own property here in this land and will buy and sell houses and vineyards and fields.” So Jeremiah is making an investment in the future after all.
Jeremiah is not going to be Hanrahan’s mate and declare, “We’ll all be rooned!” But the prophet is doing more than making an investment. Rather his actions and words bring hope to the people. He urges them to look beyond the gloom and doom and to see the future. In the readings he outlines the focus of that hope – God will fulfil his promise to send a king – a descendant of David – who will rescue Jerusalem and everyone will live in safety.
This is continued when Jesus talks about the strange phenomenon that will happen at the end of the age. Like the destructive army that rolled over the city of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time, destructive forces will roll over the universe and there will be every reason to be panicky, anxious and fearful but there is no need to despair. “When all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!” (Luke 21:28).
Jesus refers to the seasons. “Just as you can be certain that spring will follow winter, and yes, some years the seasons are delayed, but one season will definitely follow the other, in the same way, we can be certain that Jesus will come again”.
The curtain will be drawn on these troubled times. We know what and who is coming and just as we look forward to the warmer spring days after a cold winter (or perhaps here in Queensland it goes the other way round – we long for the cool winter days after a long hot summer) so also we long for the refreshing breeze that Jesus brings to all those who stand ready for his appearing, or it might be that we long for the day when we shall meet him face to face after walking through the doorway of death.
This is hope! This is the confidence, the certainty, the boldness that we have because Jesus is our saviour. This is what enables us to deal with everything that causes us to panic and gives us grief now. We have a saviour who loves us and will gather us together as his dear children. No harm will come to us even though heaven and earth are passing away. He has shed his blood for us on the cross and paid the ultimate price for us. He has conquered all evil and death. Now at this last hour he will not let anything happen to those whom he has redeemed. Even if that last hour is our death bed we can rest in peace and confidence – our hope is in Jesus who has done everything for us.
And yet in spite of the hope that we have in Jesus the text today also reminds us that until he comes this is not a time for twiddling our thumbs or wasting our time. In the second reading Paul says, “May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more”. We are urged to fill the time before Jesus comes, not with “feasting, drinking and with the worries of this life”, because these things will only distract us and we will start to think that this is all there is to life and so be unprepared for Jesus’ return.
we are urged to fill our lives with love.
That sounds simple but we know all too well that it’s not so simple to
Love those in the church;
love those who annoy us;
love those outside the church, especially those who go out of their way to criticise the church and those who seem to be the least desirable;
love the poor, the refugees, the people of other religions;
love those who we think should’ve done more with their lives;
love those we don’t like and those with whom we disagree.
something we are constantly growing into.
We fail often. We are sorry
very often because we fail. When we
listen to the Holy Spirit we learn from him and from our mistakes and grow
stronger in our love and broader in the way we love.
As individuals and as a congregation this is our constant challenge.
How can we love others even more, even those with whom we have clashed;
those who need us and yet seem so remote and unwilling to be loved;
those who are so demanding and so annoying?
How can we be the love of Christ to others?
This should be our constant prayer in these days before Christ returns – that we would continue to grow in love that knows no limits just as God has shown no limits in his love for us in Christ.
Hanrahan bemoaned, “We’ll all be rooned!” as he complained about the weather being too dry, too wet and then the crops too abundant. A pessimist who only looked at the gloomy side of life.
children of God we have every reason to be filled with hope.
We will not be “rooned”; we’ll be safe because of Jesus our Saviour.
When trouble and death come our way we will not be “rooned” – Jesus is the resurrection and the life and he will lead us through all these things safely.
We will not be “rooned” when Christ returns – all our wrongs have been removed, wiped out, eliminated, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Paul puts it like this, “You will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Christ” (Phil 1:10). The return of Jesus is not something to fear. We can stand up and be confident because we know our redemption is drawing near.
We are happy to join with the church of all ages and say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come”.
* Go to http://users.tpg.com.au/dandsc/job/job01.htm for the full poem.
© Pastor Vince
29th November 2015