The Message, November 28, 2021, "Darkest Before the Dawn"

The Message, November 28, 2021, "Darkest Before the Dawn"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
November 29, 2021

 

“Darkest Before the Dawn”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Luke 21:25-36

            Here is a phrase that most ministers will not make: “I LOVE it when the first Sunday of Advent follows three days after Thanksgiving!”

            We know that a certain number of our congregation travelled to be with family … or get away from family … for the holiday and did not get in town in time for church.

            A certain number of you ended up in jail because of your Black Friday shopping antics.

            Whether you spent Thanksgiving at home, or away … or in jail … the season of Advent begins in a tryptophan fog. Everyone is full of their leftovers. Did you enjoy your , stuffing waffles, turkey pancakes, and your gravy-infused coffee this morning?

            Of course, the Gospel less this morning is certainly one that could shock us out of our tryptophan haze. What a light and breezy little passage to read this morning as we gather on this holiday weekend. This passage does not exactly scream, “Happy holidays!!”

            The words that we just heard from Luke’s Gospel sound familiar. We just heard a very similar warning in Mark’s Gospel a couple of weeks ago. Luke used the same sort of word pictures to create a powerful mental image. However, as powerful as it may be for us, it was a much more powerful image for the first century listener. To truly understand the full impact of Luke’s words, we have to read and listen to these words from their perspective, because it is very different from our own.


            I will be quite honest … it is never easy to make this pivot. We just gathered with family for a wonderful holiday meal. Your families may have discussed their Christmas plans as you sat around the table. You may have already strung lights at your house, or even put up and decorated your Christmas trees. And then we talk about THIS as we begin the season of Advent.

            But we must remember what this is all about. Advent is about waiting, anticipation, preparation. This message was not originally for us, it was for them, the people of Israel. They had not heard the Voice of God for six hundred years. The prophets had been silent. Until Jesus came. He was the next Great Prophet. And as it turns out, he was the final prophet. The people had been waiting and praying for generations! And now … or then …  they heard the words of Jesus. The One who is the Word of God Incarnate spoke the Truth that they had hoped and prayed for.

            The words that Jesus spoke were words of hope and encouragement. For those First Century hearts and ears, they were the fulfillment of the prophecy in the Book of Daniel:
            “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

            The words that Jesus offered spoke directly to the hopes and dreams of the people. The signs in the sun, moon and stars might be taken literally. They often are by people in our age. But those words could easily mean that the great nations of the earth would go through great convulsions, times of great trial and upheaval. Great nations like Rome that occupied their country would crumble and fall.

            The Coming of the Son of Man would be understood by those first listeners of the fulfillment of the prophecy. It was the promise that God’s true people would be vindicated after suffering at the hands of the “beasts” … pagan nations that had oppressed them. Generation after generation of God’s people had suffered conquest, defeat and oppression. But their vindication was at hand!

            This passage is NOT about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It IS about the vindication of Jesus and the rescue of his people from the system that had oppressed them for generations. Hallelujah!

            Of course, for the modern reader, the destruction of Jerusalem is just a blip in ancient history. For many people it may be history that has been forgotten, if they even knew it at all. Some may recall the persecution of the early followers of Jesus. They may remember something about the Coliseum in Rome. However, as we gather here this morning, we are well aware of the fact that we continue to live in a world that rejects Jesus’ summons to live in peace.

            That is why the message this morning, the message that Jesus offered is so important. We must have patience.

            Jesus gave those first listeners hope. He said that the vindication would occur within that generation. No doubt the people started doing their math or ticking off the days on their “Advent” calendars. One week … two weeks … one year … two years … one decade … two decades …

            The people had waited anxiously for their vindication. They had hoped and prayed for generations. How much longer would they have to wait? Things had been difficult on and off. They had waited and prayed and waited some more. And they were still waiting … year after year.

            Think about it from our perspective. Think about how impatient we have become as we have endured almost two years of the COVID pandemic. We have lived in uncertainty and continue to live in that uncomfortable place as the virus surges again and again. We are having trouble imagining when this will end, and we can return to “normal.”

            Now imagine the Children of God waiting and waiting for YEARS … for generations. Consider what this promise meant to them. The freedom that we desire from our COVID captivity really cannot hold a candle to the freedom for which they longed, hoped, and prayed.

            Political tensions around their world had been rising. Revolutionary movements rose and fell. The Temple was still in “business” with their money-changing and sacrifices. Some people wanted the relative stability of the “peace” of Rome, while others desired their freedom. The new converts to the Way of Christ under the ministry of Paul were coming under fire because they were allowed to worship without following the old Law of Moses.

            It is easy to see how those first followers of Jesus would become weary. Their lives dragged on day by day, week by week. Where was the Messiah? When would the vindication come?!

            When indeed.

            The word “generation” can reflect our general understanding, a period of about thirty years. Or the word can refer to an indeterminate period of time that is characterized by a particular quality such as suffering, witnessing or waiting. This passage this morning places us in a period of time between the destruction of Jerusalem and that day when the Son of Man will come for all the people of the world.

            When? We still do not know. It is not as if the coming of the Kingdom of God will be foretold by a pop-up timer like we have on our Thanksgiving turkeys. We have to do it the old-fashioned way … work, wait and watch.

            Now, the words of Jesus have been used against his followers for generations. His promise that these things would occur during the “present generation” have become the basis for attack and criticism by non-believers. “Where is your God? Where is your Jesus? Huh? I thought that he was coming. I guess that your faith is misguided. I guess those words are just meaningless mumbo-jumbo. Lies, lies, lies. Just an opiate for the masses.”

            We still hear those attacks today. We still get attacked because we maintain our faith in God. We still get attacked because we maintain our faith in the Kingdom of God that is becoming and still to come. We still get attacked by those whose evidence against God is all of the horrible things that have happened and continue to happen in the world.


            They say that Christianity is outdated, disproved, boring and irrelevant. They cite all of the horrible things that have been done in the name of the church, and in the name of Christianity. They cite the charlatans and false prophets that Jesus warned about … the warning that we heard in Mark’s Gospel account.

            And sadly, their criticisms are not all wrong. The Christian Church is guilty of many of the things that they claim. But many of their attacks are unwarranted, unfounded and untrue, based upon ignorance and misinterpretation. In some ways, our “cities” are still surrounded by attacking armies. There are still “beasts” that seek to do us harm.

            And the message of Jesus remains the same … be patient. Be faithful. Continue our efforts. Pray.

            Yes, there will be times when we are exhausted mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally. But we must not give in. Rather, we should be renewed in Hope.

            Every year we light this candle. Every year we celebrate the light that breaks through the darkness.
            God is good.
            God is steadfast.
            God’s Kingdom will come! Amen.


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