Oh my, Working Preachers. This text from Luke? At this time? In these circumstances? Too many people will hear Jesus’ words as those that predict our current state of affairs, a state that exists in the constant news of terrorism throughout our world. And here, on this First Sunday of Advent, our people will ask why Advent? What difference does it make given our realities? This text will ring far too true, I fear, and thus, this is a preaching moment that has to have a pastoral heart.
Preaching on Jesus’ words at this point in Luke first needs to name the obvious, the elephant in the room — there are 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. Preaching on this text needs to begin with the fact that people are fainting from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. Preaching this passage has to start with naming what appears to be all too true, that the powers of the heavens are shaking. I think this is where you have to start, not to prove the Bible’s reliability in prophesying the future, but to show the Bible’s relevancy in proclaiming the truth of our present.
You will need to situate this passage in the larger narrative of Luke. You will need to explain, just a little, the language that Jesus’ uses. But mostly, you will need to preach with all of the conviction you can muster and all of the power of God’s promises behind you, that “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16).
This passage is profoundly relevant, profoundly timely, not because it proves Jesus’ ability to point to our future, but because from it and through it we hear the truth of our human brokenness. In this kind of instance, the Bible creates its own relevancy, when we realize that it gives witness to the sin of the world — the kind of sin that maligns the other for the sake of a cause, that generalizes the acts of the few, the nature of sin that insists on blame. In other words, this is one of those texts that once read will resonate with present reality because it gives us a vocabulary to articulate what we see as opposite of what God wants.
The world in which our listeners live will say, “see, Jesus was right.” It will testify, Christianity is right, therefore. In part, our preaching on this passage will need to offer a corrective of sorts, or at least provide some preventative measures. You can’t justify some idea of a Christianity “I told you so.” And you can’t claim the opposite — that Jesus is not speaking to our time and place. Jesus is, not to our specific circumstances, but into the ways in which powers of the world can take hold, how it seems that the power of God has been compromised, and the sense that what we know and what we trust seem to be crumbling around us. Yes, Jesus speaks the truth, not about our future, but about our condition, the world’s condition, that never really changes.
Perhaps this is the grief of this passage. That nothing ever changes. That God cannot prevent those who seek power from exercising power in the most inhumane of ways. That we still live have to prepare God’s way in spite of fear and foreboding.
And so therefore, we must then preach a hope that is grounded not in a utopia, but in the truth that God knows, that is, and that we can choose to live — a truth that chooses hope instead of fear; that believes in divine righteousness instead of self-justification; that knows God is our justice, our righteousness because God shows us that the way of righteousness is not for the sake of the self but for the sake of the other.
I have to believe that in saying these words, Jesus was not predicting our future but stating the truth of life as we know it. In that I take comfort and peace. The promise is that God created a different life for us, which is why Advent. This is where the liturgical season can come to your aid, where the liturgical season makes so much sense. Advent is full of the present and not yet of God’s kingdom. Advent speaks to the tension between our reality and God’s vision for our future. Advent helps us get a sense of what it feels like to be secure in what is to come yet still have to wait.
Why Advent? To help us see beyond our present. Why Advent? To give us a lens through which to see God at work when it seems only evil gets the spotlight. Why Advent? To assure us that God has secured a future for us that breaks into our present, and really, truly changes our here and now.