Stand Up! Be Alert! (Advent 1C)
“Stand Up! Be Alert!”
1st Sunday in Advent, Year C
Fr. Guillermo Arboleda
14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
25 “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. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
What do you do when the chaos begins? Jesus’ words in Luke 21 (and elsewhere) are often read like a crystal ball prediction of the future end times. But here, Jesus is speaking less like a fortune-teller and more like a Hebrew prophet.
Biblical Prophets are not primarily future-tellers, but truth-speakers. They pay attention to the world around them and they speak God’s message (i.e. “The Word of the Lord”) for that time and place. In the Bible, prophetic words are delivered in times of crisis, or in the calm before the storm, before crises set in. Because during chaos, it is easiest for God’s people to lose their way. When life gets hard, it’s easier for us to lose track of what God has promised and to trust that God will take care of us.
Jesus lived in troubling, chaotic times.
Nationally - Caesars established a new form of government (weakened Senate and republican rule)
Locally - Herod and Pilate vying for power.
Ethnically - Jews regularly trying to organize violent revolts against Roman rule (Romans mistook Jesus for one of these revolutionaries; Jews were frustrated that he was either too liberal or too conservative for them).
We also live in troubling, chaotic times. (Do I need to say more?)
In the face of crisis, disorder, injustice, and sin, in all its forms, Jesus speaks the word of the Lord to us. In our passage from Luke 21, Jesus gives us two specific commands to help us resist the waves of world’s chaos and whims: “Stand up” and “Be alert.”
1. “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28b).
Jesus says to stand up because God is in control. The chaos will not win out. God’s love and justice will prevail. This is a way of saying, “Do not be discouraged.” The world will be trying and painful and it will be easy to give up, but hold fast. Stand up. Persevere because you trust in God’s goodness and justice.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promises to “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (33:15b). This promise is so certain that Jeremiah gives God a new name: “The LORD is our righteousness” (YHWH tzidqēnu).
We don’t stand because we are confident in ourselves. Human beings have never been able to manufacture a perfect society. Each political system, and each politician is flawed because human nature is flawed. We are all tainted by sin. We can certainly grow in love and justice toward our neighbor, but the fight for righteousness never ends; it begins with every new generation because we’re always sinners. So instead of hoping in a new form of government, the latest revolutionary trend, or the latest people elected to office, we hope in God.
We hope in a God who loves everyone and everything. Our God is perfectly fair and balanced. Our God is our righteousness. We can trust God to set things right. We can trust God to give us the moral compass we need to stand for what is right against the chaos of fear, ignorance, hatred, neglect, and moral relativism. God can lighten and direct our paths. And we can put our trust in Jesus, even when everything else falls apart. Jesus shows us the true ways of God. He communicates the Father’s heart to the world by living among us.
So with confidence in God’s character, in God’s righteousness, Jesus says to stand, even when you feel tired. Stand when the troubles of the world get you down. Stand in the power of the Holy Spirit and know that injustice and evil will lose, for God is victorious.
2. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life … Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34a, 36).
“Be alert.” Pay attention. Stay focused. Keep your eyes on the prize. If the first command was hard, Jesus’ second might be harder. Don’t be distracted by the glitz and glamor of the world. Don’t lose sight of what is important while you’re trying to survive the ordeals and chaos that surround you. As the old hymn says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full on his wonderful face.”
In theory, this is simple. But in practice, this is much more difficult. Because Jesus specifically says that way to stay alert is to pray to God for strength to stand before Christ when he returns.
In the Church, Advent is the season of waiting and preparation for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We wait and prepare for his birth on Christmas morning, and we wait and prepare for his glorious return on the Last Day. But our culture pours tons of energy and money into making December and the buildup to Christmas be about everything else but Jesus.
In The Message, a popular paraphrase of the Bible by Pastor Eugene Peterson, Luke 21:34-36 reads, “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man” (Courtesy: Girardian Lectionary).
If you got your theology from TV, movies, and commercials (like I’m convinced that most Americans do), you would think Christmas is all about “parties and drinking and shopping.” These things dominate our time and attention in December, and can easily distract us from our true calling to be alert before God in prayer.
I’ll be honest. When I was on vacation last week with relatives in Maryland, it was easy to enjoy leisure, eating, drinking, and shopping. But it was hard to pray. It was hard for me to remember each morning to take just a few minutes to speak with my Creator and hear God’s Word from the Scriptures. Maybe that was just because I was out of my normal routine, but it was a helpful reminder for me of how busy everyone’s lives become trying to keep up appearances around the holidays. There is pressure to do so much.
And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t rejoice and fellowship together in Advent and Christmas. We have a lot to be thankful for and lots of Good News to celebrate in Christ’s coming. But without Jesus, the celebrations, carols, and gifts are hollow. Without a righteous God who can lead us out of the chaos, our festivities are simply distractions from the world’s troubles.
So Jesus calls us to stand up before the chaos, but also to be alert and focused on why we have that faith and hope. It’s because of God’s love that we can be steadfast when faced with so much pain. It’s because of God’s righteousness, that we can hope for and work toward a more just and loving society. God is the ground of our being, especially in the busy and wonderful season of Advent. So stand up and be alert. Amen.