Today’s readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
It’s the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the liturgical year. But instead of parties and shouts of “Happy New Year,” the church starts the year with anxious waiting. Advent is not quite penitential, but it is filled with a combination of hope and fear. In the Gospel, Jesus talks about “the signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” He goes on to look forward to the time when Heaven and Earth will pass away, and warns us to be ready for that day. Not a very happy message, but one that resonates with many of us, facing climate change and its impact on the world we live in, never mind a pandemic that has been going on for almost two years now. The earth is sending us messages. But between wars, famines, droughts, and earthquakes, such messages have been heard at many times and in many places. Not surprisingly, the apocalyptic writings of scripture have been among preachers’ greatest hits fairly regularly over the last 2000 years! We live in a world where things go wrong, and people suffer. The end of that might not be a bad thing.
If Luke warns us to be ready for all the terrible things that will happen before Jesus comes again, I found myself drawn more to the words of Jeremiah, where he describes the world that God will bring, when God “will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel”. Jeremiah reminds us why we might look forward to that. When the “righteous Branch” of David comes, “he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” This is the world we want to live in. As the US continues its long racial reckoning, and the Sunday after the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty, it is good to remember that justice brings safety.
The psalmist is not concerned with the coming of a new world, but offers us a path. He asks to be taught — “Lead me in your truth and teach me”. We’re told that the Lod’s “compassion and love . . . are from everlasting”. And he asks the Lord, as we all must, to “Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love.” The psalm offers reassurance that “All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”
I am glad that we get to Luke’s warnings after we have heard from Jeremiah and the Psalmist. They put justice and love at the center. Building a world of justice and righteousness, we have learned over thousands of years, is not easy. But movements toward justice have often come from what felt like end times. The warnings that Luke offers and the promise that Jeremiah gives us are necessarily intertwined. I don’t know what it means to be ready for the “Son of Man coming in a cloud”, but if that is what it takes to get to the world of justice, righteousness and safety, I will do my best, like the psalmist, to follow the Lord’s paths.