Advent 1 C: Heads-up Christianity

The lessons for the First Sunday of Advent are:

Old Testament      Jeremiah 33:14–16

Psalm                    Psalm 25:1–10

New Testament     1 Thessalonians 3:9–13

Gospel                   Luke 21:25–36

Today I had yet another conversation about yet another person quitting their calling because of nastiness. I have heard nurses, doctors, teachers, school board members, civil servants, and politicians, say that they are giving up because they have been worn down by the insults and threats hurled at them by the very people they are trying to serve.

Today the story was about the resignation of  yet another pastor who has been hounded by critics. And when I hear of this I know that the congregation where a handful of nasty people hounded a woman of God out of her calling, there will be countless festering wounds in this moment’s wake. Many people will see that, in the name of Christ, very un-Christ-like things were said and done. Many people will thus be disillusioned and discouraged about their faith. They will be tempted to join the growing ranks of the “unaffiliated”—those who would like to follow Christ, but who are put off by the horrible things Christ’s followers do.

But who are the true followers? And what is Christianity really, other than a life set like flint against the demons that haunt all corners of human life, including the church? Yes, true Christianity is, and always will be, a minority religion. It is a hard thing to keep following Christ and caring for others, when people hate you for it. And so, it will always require Christians to dig in and resist the urge to lay down that cross.

And this is what the Bible was written to address. Our fathers and mothers in the faith wandered as aliens, were enslaved, were attacked and invaded, put under siege, taken into exile, hated and betrayed by members of their own families, shunned and persecuted. The more they were faithful to the God of love, the more they suffered.

During this regular period of the end of one church year and the beginning of a new one, Christians contemplate the costs. They take a long hard look at what it means to live through crises. They consider both penultimate and ultimate ends and new beginnings.  

In our Gospel lesson (Luke 21:25-36) we hear Jesus’ advice after he has spoken of the penultimate ending of the fall of Jerusalem—the stuff of warfare and forced migrations and desperation. Then he shifts to the end of all human history that will come with cosmic signs, the raging of the primordial sea of chaos, global distress, and overwhelming fear like the world has never experienced. But the point our Lord is trying to make is that the end is the beginning. God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth requires this remaking of everything. And faith in this promise will be needed so that we can receive God-given strength to stiffen our backbones, be alert, raise our heads, and stand fast.

In times such as these our redemption is near.

The nasty ones at our school board meetings and in our congregations have something worse than blood on their hands. They discourage. They take big bites, often lethal, out of the courage for living that others need. They teach the lesson that no good deed goes unpunished, and that if someone tries to love and serve others they will get their teeth kicked in.

So, the only way for any of us to go on caring is to stiffen our backs and keep our heads up. This is the life of those who give a damn. This is the life of the Christian. It is necessary to keep on keeping on—to endure—to bear up to suffering for love’s sake—for Christ’s sake.

And, though such people will always be a minority, they will always be many, and they will always hold onto one another and lift one another up.

So, every ending is a new beginning. Every battle prepares us for the Big Finale. “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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