Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, November 28, 2021
Luke 21:25-36

    What is your favorite Disney movie?  Mine is Sleeping Beauty.  A year or so ago, for a family movie night, I was excited to watch Sleeping Beauty with my kids for the first time.  I was disappointed when we couldn’t make it through the movie.  They were too scared.  “I can’t watch! I can’t watch!  Turn it off, Mommy!” they cried.  It had been awhile since I had seen the movie, and watching it through the eyes of my then three-year-old, I could see how it in fact IS pretty scary in parts – the evil queen Maleficent turns into a fire-breathing dragon who has to be slain with a sword by Prince Philip.  Still today, my children prefer to watch shorter TV cartoons that in my opinion have very little plot or conflict at all  because they don’t like the level of suspense of a typical Disney feature film—it’s just a bit too scary.  This is the case with many movies, especially Disney movies.  It CAN seem like the evil villain will win for a time.  It’s terrifying for a few minutes.  We’re trying to teach our children that we need to keep watching so that we know the end of these stories, and it’s always a happy ending:  the good will triumph, evil will be defeated, and it’s easier to watch a movie again and enjoy it once you know it’s a happy ending.
    Jesus’ message to us during scary times is to remind us over and over again that in Christ, we have a happy ending.  “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near,” he says in our gospel passage for today.  And later on, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Our faith in Christ assures us of a happy ending.
    This morning is the beginning of a new church year, as I mentioned, and while the stores have moved on to Christmas, some even before Halloween, we’re not to Christmas yet here in church time.  We’re in Advent, a season of spiritual preparation, watching, and waiting similar as Lent is to Easter.  We remind each other that we’re not just getting ready to celebrate Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem 2000+ years ago in the past, we are also celebrating that God is with us, Emmanuel, right now, and that Christ will come again; his second coming.  Our focus word for today is “watch.”  Jesus stresses looking for signs of his coming again in our gospel for today.  What will we see?  Some of it may be scary:  sun, moon and stars, distress among nations, roaring of the sea and waves, things passing away.  But Jesus also talks about signs that a happy ending is coming – the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory, spring leaves sprouting on trees-- a righteous branch out of the dead stump of David is the prophet Jeremiah’s prediction.  But what does this mean for us?  What are we looking for?  And how do we watch faithfully, especially when scary things are happening around us, continuing to trust that Jesus coming again is in fact a good thing?
    Martin Luther, perhaps in thinking about Jesus’ message to look at spring leaves on a tree as a sign the end is near, famously said that “If I knew the world were to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.”  This is a statement of hope that God’s future for us includes life and growth, even when the end of all things is near.  As people of faith, we have hope.  We have hope that even if everything else passes away, God’s word will not pass away, and that means life triumphs over death.  Watching the news has become a scary thing for many of us.  It seems on any day of the week, on the TV or on our other electronic devices we might see headline news of a car killing and injuring Christmas parade goers.  Protests that turn violent.  Natural disasters devastating whole communities.  Drug overdose deaths increasing.  It’s hard to watch.  It’s hard to make sense of a world that is not as God intended it to be.  It seems to me that as we strive to live faithful lives in difficult times with hope, we watch for different signs.  We watch with the end of the story in mind. We watch for signs of hope and life.
    We watch for signs of God’s grace and holy presence among us ESPECIALLY when much of what we see is scary and confusing.  God gives us eyes to see differently, and look for spouting branches of new life and growth when the negative and bad news headlines try to dominate our attention.  Would any of you be willing to share aloud where you’ve seen God at work in the last week or month or even in the last year?  For those of you joining us online, you can put where you’ve seen God in the comments.  For example, just this past week I saw God at work when I had the privilege of attending our annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and saw our community getting together despite the cold and our differences in beliefs to worship God and serve our community by raising funds for our Afghan Refugee Support fund as well as collecting food pantry donations.  I see God at work as we welcome new members to our congregation today – new branches of a growing tree of faith with Christ as our root.  
    This is how we watch and wait this Advent. It’s an active waiting.  Jesus urges us to watch so we’re not weighed down with worries or misusing or abusing substances to numb the pain around us or apathetic.  Rather, he encourages us to pray for strength, for redemption, for hope.  We look for where God is doing a new thing, growing in us.  And we remember, we know the ending. Christ is with us when we’re scared, and Christ will come again, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  Thanks be to God.