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Luke 21,25-36

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TITLE:   When the Skies Shake!

SERMON IN A SENTENCE:  When adversity strikes, Jesus promises that our redemption is drawing near.

SCRIPTURE:    Luke 21:25-36


"There will be 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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory."

These are Jesus' words.  Most of us would be just as happy if Jesus had confined himself to a message about loving our neighbor -- but he didn't.  He also spoke about the day when he would come again.

If we believe in Jesus -- if we believe that he spoke rightly when he told us to love our neighbor -- then we must also take seriously his promise that he will come again.

This is the First Sunday in Advent, and this Advent reading was chosen for a reason. It is to remind us that the Jesus who came into the world as a baby two thousand years ago will come into the world again as judge and redeemer.
But you won't hear many sermons about that in United Methodist churches.  In part, because Jesus' words are so mysterious:

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations.. People will faint from fear and foreboding. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory."

That sounds like a threat, and we United Methodists don't like threats. We would prefer to win people with sugar rather than threatening them with a stick.

And then there is the embarrassment factor.  Some preachers embarrass us with their preaching on the Second Coming, and we United Methodists don't want to be like them.

And then there are the cartoons that picture a bearded man carrying a sign saying, "The end is near."  I have never actually seen anyone carry such a sign, but the cartoons are everywhere.  We don't want people to think that we might be one of those sign-carrying crazies.

And then there is the fact that we are quite comfortable -- thank you very much -- and we don't like the idea of our world being turned upside down when Jesus comes again.  Jesus said that the first would be last and the last would be first -- and right now we are doing pretty well -- and who knows what will happen when Jesus comes again.

Someone said that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable -- and some of us are pretty comfortable.

But Jesus says that he is coming again.  Ignore it or get ready for it -- either way he is coming again.

He says that the signs of his coming will be great turmoil from the sky to the sea -- the heavens will shake and the sea will roar.  Then the Son of Man will come.

To understand this text, it might help us to know something about the time in which this Gospel of Luke was written.  Scholars think that it was written thirty or forty years after Jesus' resurrection.  Those were not easy times to be a Christian:

-- The church started among Jewish Christians, and spread to Gentiles only after a good deal of conflict.

-- For some time, Jews persecuted Christians.  If you will remember, even the Apostle Paul got his start as a Pharisee persecuting Christians.

-- And Rome persecuted Christians -- throwing them into the arena to be torn apart by wild animals -- lining up crosses along the roadsides to crucify Christians.

When those early Christians read these words about the sky shaking and the sea roaring, they could identify with that.  They had been through scary times.  They were living in the midst of scary times. 

Quaking skies and roaring seas sounded pretty familiar.

Jesus told these Christians that they would experience scary times, but that would be a sign that he was coming again in power and glory.

And then he said these words -- and I want you to pay special attention to them.  He said:

"Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Those are wonderful words!  They hold out a bold promise!  The promise is that, in the midst of terrible times, the Lord comes to redeem us.  Jesus says that we will experience terrible times -- and who among us has not experienced terrible times -- BUT:

"When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

I am glad to hear those words.  I believe that Jesus will come again in power and glory at the close of history.  I believe that, at that time, he will redeem the world from all manner of evil.
But I also believe that Jesus comes in power and glory in the midst of every difficult situation -- that he comes to us many times throughout our lives to redeem us from evil.

In fact, I will go even further.  I believe that, when things are going well for us, we are tempted to drift farther and farther from God.  In prosperity, we too often become shallow-rooted -- weak -- foolish -- vulnerable.

But in adversity, we re-discover our roots.  We learn once again that all that we really have -- and all that we really need -- is our loving Lord. We learn once again that our professional credentials cannot save us --that our good salary cannot save us -- that the government cannot save us -- that there is not enough insurance in the world to save us.

When the skies above us shake and the seas around us roar, we discover once again that we are in the hands of a loving Lord -- and that the LORD can save us -- and that ONLY the Lord can save us.

Never forget that it was on a cross that Jesus initiated the salvation of the world.  It was in the most terrible of times -- amidst terrible pain and humiliation -- that Jesus began the redemption of the world.

Jesus came to experience the valley of the shadow of death so that he could lead us to the other side -- so that he could lead us out of the darkness of the valley into the sunlight beyond.  His cross looked like the end, but was really the beginning -- the prelude to his resurrection -- the prelude to his victory over sin and death.

I must confess that I sometimes forget this.  When things are going badly for me, I sometimes feel like crying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

When I read the newspaper, I am tempted to despair.  The numbers of places where people are killing each other seem endless. We hear endlessly about tribal wars -- terrorists -- suicide bombers -- nuclear threats – serial killers.  Sometimes it feels like the skies are shaking and the seas are roaring and the ground is trembling beneath our feet.  But Jesus says:

"When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

The season of Advent reminds us that the Christ who came in a manger will come again someday in glory.  But it also reminds us that Christ comes to us every day -- in our joys and in our sorrows -- but especially in our sorrows.  It reminds us that Christ turns Good Fridays into Easters.  So, when the skies are shaking above your head -- and the seas are trembling all around -- and the ground is trembling under your feet:

"Stand up and raise your head, because your redemption is drawing near."

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