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Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent – November 28, 2021

Luke 21:25-36

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,” Jesus said, “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.”

When we look to the sun, the moon, and the stars, we see them through the lens of astronomy.

When the sun breaks through that blessed rain shadow here on north Whidbey Island, we know that a very hot faraway star is shining on our shoulders and making us happy. When we look at the moon, we see it as a place where human beings have set foot (most of us believe that, anyway).  One of the guys who orbited the moon on the Apollo 11 mission lives over in Anacortes. I’ve seen him at the Heritage Flight Museum in Burlington. When we look at the stars, we see the beauty and wonder of distant galaxies. Our friend here at OHLC, Paul Senness, is quite the astro-photographer, and publishes breathtaking photos of the stars above. I am grateful to have one in my office.

When people in the ancient world looked to the sun, the moon, and the stars, they looked at things differently. They didn’t look at them through the lens of astronomy, but through the lens of astrology. They looked for meaning in the sun, the moon, and the stars. When something didn’t line up in ways they expected, perhaps an eclipse or a comet or an alignment they hadn’t seen before, they infused that phenomenon with meaning. They saw it as a sign.

There are remnants of this way of thinking still today. We see it in those who follow their so called “star signs” and believe things like that a Capricorn should never marry a Pisces or whatever. We see it in the ominous omen people still see in a full moon. We hear it whenever John Fogerty sings, “I see a bad moon rising, I see trouble on the way.”

And so, where modern people see a reliably rotating solar system and a moon with phases and footprints, ancient people saw these heavenly bodies as supernatural signs pointing to an inevitable future, a future for which you’d better be prepared. Sometimes these signs filled them with fear and foreboding, with existential dread, with doom and gloom.

We don’t need to look at the stars for that experience anymore because we have CNN and Fox News. Their steady drumbeat of pessimism and conflict-stoking is ominous enough! We don’t need to look up because we can look down to our phones instead, where we can doom scroll through social media as it delivers all the bad takes and all the worst news of the world right into the palm of our hands. We don’t need to look to the skies above to discern the future, because we all have our bubbles of information constantly telling us what to be fearful and foreboding about.

These are the stars by which we navigate our lives. These are the stars by which we look for meaning, by which we try to make sense of the world. These are the stars by which we look for signs.

And the signs don’t seem all that good.

The last few years have been difficult for just about everybody, and I don’t think I need to recite the depressing litany of reasons why. An overwhelming number of Americans today are anxious and stressed, frustrated and angry, so very angry. We see the signs of trouble, we see the distress, we see the confusion, and it becomes very easy for us to be swept up in the fear and foreboding.

But what does Jesus say to us about all of this? What is to be our posture in the midst of ominous signs and troubling times? Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Christians don’t cower in despair! Instead, we assume a posture of hope, a posture of confidence, with straight backs and heads held high! Jesus encourages us to hold fast to the good news that the kingdom of God is near. Jesus encourages us to hold fast to his word.

“Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says. All of it will go – the stars above and the earth below our feet, all our possessions, all our trophies, all our loved ones – all of it will pass away, Jesus says. “But my words will not pass away.” This word of God that brought creation out of chaos and light out of darkness will continue to speak life into existence. This word of Christ that forgives sins will continue to raise the dead. And so even when we see troubling signs, even when we hurt, even as we cry, we do not lose hope. Instead, we hold fast to this word. Instead, we live in the joy and peace of his promises.

When I find myself getting anxious or angry, it is usually because I’m spending too much time looking at the signs on TV or on my phone and not enough time looking at Christ and his word. I suspect that is true for you too.

My friends, we live in this generation of which Jesus speaks, this generation between Christ’s first coming and his final coming. This is a time which will continue to be filled with signs which threaten to fill us with fear and foreboding. This is a time which will continue to be marked by trouble and distress and confusion. Instead of cowering in the face of all this, instead of being anxious or angry all the time, Jesus invites us into a posture of hope and confidence.

We can live in this posture of hope and confidence as we await Christ’s final coming because we know about his first coming. We know about the star that shined so brightly in the Bethlehem sky, pointing to a newborn king who was named Emmanuel, God with us. We know about the time the sun went dark in the middle of the day in tribute to a savior who died on the cross for our sin. We know about the sunshine that fell on an empty tomb on the third day, when Jesus was raised, having conquered sin and death for us so that we would live with him both now and forever.

We know that the one who is coming again with power and great glory is the same one who came to us as the babe in Bethlehem, as the crucified savior, and as the risen Lord.

We know that the one who is coming again with great glory is the same one who is making his love and mercy known to us now through Word and sacrament.

So no matter what the signs outside of this sanctuary seem to be saying, stand up and raise your heads. Live in hope, for your redemption is drawing near.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer