November 29 2015

1st Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Luke 21:25-36


Christ Hadfield is one of the most famous and respected astronauts in the world who was once the commander of the International Space Station. He became famous after he posted on the internet photos of planet earth taken from the space.

In one article he claimed that we are now in a “stable enough moment in civilization when everyone isn’t just scrabbling for survival....” He said that we are in “one of these momentary pauses ... And the world has never been more peaceful than now.”[1]

But for many people today peace is a distant reality. Ask people who live in places like Syria or Libya or Afghanistan or parts of Africa and they will tell us that the world is a place of never-ending violence. Even here in Australia peace is only an illusion for those who live in homes where domestic violence goes unnoticed to the outside world.

Indeed peace - human peace - is such a fragile reality. The world is rattled recently by a series of terrorist attacks: the bombing of a Russian commercial plane that killed 224 people; the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people; and the attack in Mali that killed 19 people. One thing that these attacks take from us is our innocence, our illusion that we are immune from atrocious attacks like these because we live in Australia. But just recently we heard about the news of a man who got caught with a sub-machine gun in his bag in a shopping center in Sydney. Indeed peace is no longer something that we can take for granted because it can be taken from us in any second.

We are not alone. The people of Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, also knew how it felt to live under the threat of destruction, even extinction. They were a small kingdom sandwiched between ancient super powers.  In 587 BCE the mighty Babylonians invaded Judah. They destroyed the capital, Jerusalem, and took many of its inhabitants as captives to Babylon.

But this happened not without warning. The prophet Jeremiah had warned about the invasion, but not many people in Judah believed him. Most people ignored his warning, believing instead their false prophets who told them that nothing bad would ever happen to God’s chosen people and land. They lived in a ‘bubble’, believing that the ‘bubble’ would protect them from any danger. But their ‘bubble’ burst and calamity came and Jeremiah’s warning became a reality.

But Jeremiah didn’t give only a message of judgment; he offered a message of hope as well. He wrote to the people in exile in Babylon that the Kingdom of Judah would be restored. God would raise a king from the branch of David who would rule Judah with righteousness and justice.

For us this promise sounds more political than spiritual, but for those people the king was the representation of God’s rule in their midst. The king ruled on God’s behalf and his presence was the symbol of God’s presence in their midst. To restore the king and his kingdom is to restore God’s providence for them.

Indeed Jeremiah reminded that God’s covenant with them had not been broken by what had happened. “Gods covenant with day and night to come at the appointed time every day would need to be broken fist before God’s covenant with Israel could be broken,” he once said.[2]

But Jeremiah did not offer mere words of empty promise. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon finally attacked Jerusalem, he bought a field in Judah.[3]

Now you may think that Jeremiah was either a fool or a smart investor. Warren Buffet, perhaps the most successful investor in history, once said that to be successful, one must be afraid when everyone is greedy and be greedy when everyone is afraid. But Jeremiah’s move was neither foolish nor it was an investment strategy. It was a note of faithful confidence that things would not go bad forever because God’s goodness would return to the land and restore it and its inhabitants.[4]

Indeed it was Jeremiah’s role as God’s prophet to warn the people of God’s judgment in time of peace and to instill hope in time of devastation. In a way the role of a prophet, like Jeremiah, was like a real estate agent who sells a house and land package. A good real estate agent must have the ability to show that a vacant land has the potential to be transformed into a property that will bring good value to the buyer. Jeremiah’s job was also to offer the people a vision of the future and to convince them of a reality that was different from what they had in the present. His job was to warn people of the approaching storm and, once the storm had arrived, to direct people’s attention to the silver lining in the cloud.

The passage today from Luke also talks about hope in the midst of chaos. Jesus warned about strange things that would happen to the sun, moon, stars, sea, and to the whole earth; in other words to the whole creation. The power of chaos would return and the order in the universe - which God brought at the time of creation - would unravel.

But these are not signs of the world’s destruction; these are signs of the arrival of God’s salvation. Indeed Jesus comforted the disciples by reminding them that in the midst of chaos they would see a familiar face: his own face; the face of the Son of Man. I remember being separated from my mother in a crowded shopping centre when I was a child. It was a terrifying and confusing experience. I searched and searched and searched for my mother in the sea of strangers, but I couldn’t find her. But just as I started panicking I heard her voice and I saw her face and my fear subsided immediately.

“In the midst of chaos that will befall the world,” Jesus said, “raise your head and look at the Son of Man.” “Others may faint from fear, but you have your hope in the One who has been sent to save you,” he said.

There is a story about a professor who gave a strange assignment to his students. He gave each of his students a blank piece of white paper with a tiny black dot in the middle. The professor then asked each student to write something about the paper.

All of the students talked about the black dot in the middle of the paper. Some make beautiful poems, others wrote essays, and still others wrote songs about the black dot.

At the end of the assignment the Professor told his students that they all had failed. Surprised by the Professor’s decision the students asked for the reason why they all failed the test. Calmly the professor said, “You fail because all of you focused only on the black dot but completely ignored the overwhelming white the surrounds it.”

Often it is also easier for us to focus only on the bad news and forget the good news. It is easier for us to focus only on the bad events that make us worry even more and ignore the signs that remind us of God’s perpetual love for the world. But God’s promise cannot be broken by all the tragedies that happen in our life and in the world. And we have the option either to focus on God’s promise for us, reflected from the overwhelming beauty of the world, or to focus only on the negative things.

Advent is the time for the church to remember and to proclaim once again that regardless of what we are facing today, there is still hope: God’s hope. God has not finished with the world. God is still creating a new world out of the old world where we live today.

We often hear expressions in the Bible that say, “In those days,” or“One of these days,” and we think that they were talking about an event in the distant future. But the Hebrew words of these expressions have another layer of meaning. In Hebrew these expressions were a way of saying that, “This will surely happen.”[5]

Indeed just like what Jeremiah said the time will come when God’s justice and righteousness will rule the world. The world still belongs to God and God will not let evil prevail forever. This is not an empty promise. Just like Jeremiah put his money where his mouth was, God sent God’s only Son to the world as a ‘note of confidence’.

So throughout this Advent season and beyond, we are invited to look into the manger. There we will see the face of the baby who has been given to us not for our destruction, but for our salvation. In the midst of fear and chaos let us always remember the face of the Son of Man because his face is the face of God who has promised to be with us no matter what.


Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Harry Wallop, Christ Hadfield on the Great Space Discoveries of 2015, on The Telegraph (posted 03:00 PM GMT 06 Nov 2015)

[2] Jeremiah 33:20-21

[3] Jeremiah 32:1-15

[4] Jeremiah 32:15

[5] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFusion Advent.Christmas.Epiphany 2015-2016 (November 29 2015), p. 53