Know what the top impact of the impending Mayan “apocalypse” is? Suicides. As hard as it might be to imagine, law enforcement and mental health professionals have noticed an increasing number of teenage suicide notes and statements on Facebook referring to the impending “end of the world” as the reason for the suicide or suicide attempt. I know, many of us laugh it off, but what of those families, those children, who are trying to interpret the signs of the age? They hear that the end of the world is near, realize there is nothing they can do to stop it, embrace the hopelessness, and choose to end life on their own terms. It is for them the ultimate act of control in the face of utter impotence.
Perhaps you know this, but maybe you do not, but people in the NYC metropolitan area still have not been restored to the grid. Think about that for a second. This is not flyover country we are talking about. This is not the bayous where few people live among many gators and crocs. This is NYC. This is, in many respects, the city on a hill when it comes to discussions of capitalism. People who live in the area and work in the area are without basic "first world" comforts.
I know you all watch television, so everyone here is aware of the impending “fiscal cliff.” But have you really considered the fight and what it means? I’m not talking about the grand scheme fight that must take place where we as a country reach some sort of agreement about taxes and the safety net for the disadvantaged. No, that would be a worthy debate. Do you know what our politicians are really fighting about? If DC democrats get their way and taxes increase on those making more than $250k a year, and if DC republicans get their way, and a few of these spending cuts are enacted (without any spending anywhere else), we are still talking about a gap of about 52 times (roughly $800 Billion). I know these are tough numbers, given all the zeros, but think of it in these terms. Pretend for a second you are $1600 or so under water every month. Grocery bills, utilities, medicines, rent/mortgage, and incidentals to living cause you to run a $1600 deficit each month. How do you respond? Some of us have tried charging the difference, right? How did that work out? Others have tried to get a better job or decrease the spending as much as possible. How does our government work such a problem out? They are going to quit wasting that $30-$35 they spend at Outback or Olive Garden and they want us to think they are making “tough choices” and “averting disaster.” If you went to your parents with that solution, how would they respond? If your kids or grandkids came to you with this problem and this solution, how would you respond? Some of you who have come to me with similar solutions for your financial issues know how I have responded.
And maybe you have heard about this little scuffle in the Middle East. While the Arab Spring is continuing to cause its own sets of problems in Syria, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere, Hamas has decided now is the time to launch rockets into Israel. If I had a dollar for everyone outside the church asking if this is the beginning of Armageddon because “well, you know, Father, I was reading Revelation and it turns out Armageddon was just the name of a plain in Israel. Who knows where that is today? Maybe this is it?”
Jesus points to the signs in our lesson from Luke today. Jesus tells us that events will happen which will cause great distress and anguish. Certainly, there are events today which fit His description. Maybe the world is stressed by the economic pressures. Maybe the world is stressed by the seeming unending natural disasters. Perhaps the world is stressed by the threat of war. Maybe the world is stressed by doomsday prophets who seem to rise up during stressful times. Perhaps many are threatened by disease. Perhaps the threat of famine is reaching unknown heights. Whatever the tipping point, people seem to be thinking more and more that chaos reigns in their lives. So how should we see and interpret the signs?
During this teaching Jesus uses an ANE version of the Farmer’s Almanac to get His audience to focus on those things they know. When they see the fig tree bearing fruit and ripening, they know that summer is upon them. In a few months time, winter will return and the tree will go dormant. No one questions how they know these things. They just do. In the same way, when His disciples see wars and natural disasters and all kinds of unease and distress, they should see them as possible signs of His return. In a way, summer is nigh. His return is at hand.
Jesus goes on to mention that we should not turn dissipation, drunkenness, or be weighed down by the anxieties of life. Instead, we should be focused on the fact that He has given us the signs of the time of His return and remember what His return truly means. “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” For us, His return is the ultimate promise of hope! His return heralds the beginning of eternity for us! Those who claim Him as Lord and Savior are promised an eternal at the seat of the banquet that we sang about in our opening hymn. We are given a choice seat at the wedding feat of the Lamb!
Each of us gathered here knows the temptations to turn to anything but Christ when confronted by anxieties. As a church we minister to two distinct groups who have, for various reasons, chosen alcohol as their balm. Some of us know people who have chosen drugs. Maybe you know people or at one time chose sex, or shopping, or eating or any number of distractions to try and avoid facing the problems of life. The fact remains, as Jesus points out, that there is only one solution to the problems and catastrophes and pressures and anxieties of this world. Yet how few people want to confront that decision He demands? How many people want to put off until tomorrow making that decision that has eternal consequences?
The problem with putting off is that it is also a decision. Jesus warns us that people are caught up in dissipation and drunkenness are going to be caught unawares at His return. They will be caught unexpectedly like a trap.
You and I are gathered here today to celebrate the beginning of Advent. Today’s readings might seem a bit heavy. You might have come wanting to be put into the “Christmas Spirit” and found yourself being confronted by God about your preparedness or the preparedness of a loved one or friend or coworker. Advent is a season where we remind ourselves of Jesus’ first coming, to be sure. But it is also a season in which we remind ourselves that He is coming once again to judge the world. It is a judgment which, as He states today, that will come upon all of those who live on the face of the earth. There is no way to avoid that day. So, are you prepared to face that day? Seeing the signs in the world and the response of the world, have you considered that the Day of the Lord is at hand? Have you shared His story of love and mercy with those whom you want to spend eternity? Or have you allowed your loved ones and close friends to live in dissipation or weighed down by life’s anxieties?
Brothers and sisters, Advent also marks the beginning of the new church year. In many respects it would be appropriate for us to greet one another with “Happy New Year.” In the secular world, we use the New Year to make resolutions that we can forget by the middle of January. Yet our New Year is a reminder of the eschatological hope we have in Christ. The benefits or weight loss, of exercise, of shopping less, of not cursing, or whatever typical resolution we might make in the secular world are transient, are passing away. But the benefits promised when we place our hope and faith in God through Christ never fade! Ever! They may look flimsy and unreachable at times in this world, but we are promised that this world is passing away. Who in your life do you fear may be caught unawares like a trap at His return? Who in your life lives as if they do not know His promise of hope and life? Why not take the time here today to resolve before God to be intentional about reminding those people in your life of the promise of His return? Why not take the time to resolve today to be intentional in lifting your heads in the face of adversity in this world, that those around you who do not know Him might want to know of the hope you have in the face of such adversity? Why not take the time this day, and this season, to be more intentional in asking God to use you in His plan of salvation to reach others?