Advent 1C 11/28/2021 Luke 2:25-36
David Lose is the Senior Pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. In his weekly blog, “In the Meantime”, he wrote this: “the greatest challenge we face today is not the pandemic, or community unrest, or economic inequity, or the divisions among us, but fear.” He goes on to say that as serious and as troubling as all of these things are, fear is at the root of them. Fear is what drives all of these things. It always has and it always will.
Such is where we begin a new church liturgical year and the season of Advent. I like the way Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the Bible, called “The Message”, words the opening of our Gospel reading for today. This is how he puts it: “It will be like all hell has broken loose – sun, moon, stars, earth, and sea, all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom…” I don’t know about you, but this scene Jesus has painted in our minds is enough to scare me.
And here is what fear does; it causes us to turn in on ourselves. When we are afraid, we assume we will never have enough, and we look at those around us as a threat to our wellbeing and survival. Just look back to the early months of the pandemic when store shelves were empty because people, out of fear, started hording toilet paper and disinfectant sprays and wipes and all sorts of stuff. Fear hardens our hearts and darkens our vision and divides us, making it difficult to have any sense of community.
It seems, given all of the calamities and tragedies we are experiencing so often these days, that the level of fear among us is at an all-time high. I don’t remember a time in my life when the subversive undercurrent of fear has been so prevalent. As a matter of fact, I avoid following the news anymore because it always leaves me anxious and upset. Jesus is right when he says: “people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” I get that! I know what he is talking about.
It’s no wonder that the most common command in scripture is “Do not fear … do not be afraid … fear not.” More than 120 times in the Bible some angel or prophet or priest offers up these words from God. And if we are going to obey it … if we are going to stop being filled with fear; what are we going to replace it with?
Jesus gives us the answer when he says: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads.” I think what he really talking about here is hope. It takes hope to stand up when everyone else is hiding in fear. It takes hope to raise your head when people around you are ducking under the covers. It is a courageous kind of hope that stands up and raises its head to the promises that love wins and that forgiveness changes people and that there is a peace that surpasses all understanding. And it is in that hopeful confidence that we look at people and the world through God’s eyes of mercy and beauty and grace and model it as best we can before others.
This is how we begin Advent. We begin not in fear, but in hope. One of the pastors in our weekly study group was telling that she remembered learning at the seminary that the reason this ominous reading was chosen for the first Sunday of Advent back in the sixth century when the liturgical calendar was established was because there was an earthquake that devastated the community of one of the early church fathers. And the reason he wanted to use this reading was to help his people find hope in their desperate situation; pointing to the fact that it is in the midst of disaster that God draws near, and God’s redemption is at hand. Of course, after this reading was used for some time, it just became a tradition to read it on the first Sunday of Advent even though the immediate context has changed. But the fact is the overall state of the world has not. More than ever, we need to be alert to the sometimes, small ways that God moves among us and blesses us with goodness and hope.