Psalm 143; Jer 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36
St Barbara’s 29.11.15
Rev Tulo Raistrick
“I can’t wait!”, goes up the cry.
Most often at this time of year we hear children cry “I can’t wait for Christmas”.
Over stretched and over worked colleagues cry “I can’t wait for the holidays”
Those tired and worn out because of looking after loved ones no longer able to care so well for themselves cry out “I can’t wait until the family arrive to give a bit of extra help, or until that extra care package begins to take effect”
We don’t always find waiting easy, do we?
We are often waiting for things that we will know will happen, we just wish they could be brought forward sooner.
Advent is a time of waiting, waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus among us. It is also a time traditionally when the church reflects on the fact that we wait for Christ to come among us again. In those words that we say as we prepare for the eucharist: Christ has died, Christ is risen; Christ will come again.
Well, the people of Israel were certainly amongst those who felt “I can’t wait”. The psalm we sang included the words: “Answer me quickly, O Lord”. And in our reading from the book of Jeremiah, the prophet is speaking to a people who must have felt utterly despairing about the present and fearful about the future. The super power armies of the East – Assyria and Babylon – were clashing with the superpower of the West – Egypt – and Jerusalem was being used as a political and military football, kicked from one side to the other, until eventually the people were simply physically uprooted from their homes, marched several hundred miles, and forced into exile.
Their existence would not have been unlike the people of Syria or the Congo, the fighting of nations of which they had little knowledge totally destroying their livelihoods and homes, horrifically caught up in the cross-fire of geo-political events.
In such times, they would have been desperate for some sort of hope, some sort of reassurance that God was still with them, that he had not given up on them.
And so the words of Jeremiah: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the gracious promise I made… I will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line… in those days Judah will be saved, the people will live in safety.”
In other words, “hold on, wait, put your trust in me. You may feel that you cannot wait any longer, but hold on, wait. A saviour will come.”
Another prophet also spoke of a branch of David, of a shoot that will come up from the stump of Jesse. The prophet Isaiah, who we will hear read quite a bit over the next few weeks, also spoke of one who was to come, a saviour.
That saviour will come from the line of King David. He too will be a King. He will be born in David’s home town, Bethlehem.
Wait – the people are told. God has not given up on you. He will send his own Son into the world.
But fast forward on thirty-forty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, seventy years after his coming into the world, and things are still pretty tough.
Some things have changed in extraordinary ways. There is now a whole movement of people, tens of thousand strong, proclaiming the new kingdom, the kingdom of Christ. Filled with God’s presence, the Holy Spirit, they are no longer tied to the Temple to offer their worship, no longer dependent on ritual and animal sacrifices to plead forgiveness, no longer unable to come into the very presence of God. Here is a movement of people that despite every attempt to squash and persecute them, both by the antagonistic religious authorities and the suspicious political powers, is growing, both in numbers and in faith.
But that growth has come at a cost. It has not been easy for those Christians to raise their heads above the parapets, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, when their leaders are systematically arrested and beaten, when their most influential teachers have been crucified and killed, and when they themselves suffer from riots on the one hand and social ostracism on the other.
That sort of context still goes on today.Its only been since the fall of communism in the old USSR, that systematic persecution of the Christian faith in Russia had ceased. It continues in such places as North Korea, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq to this day.
Those early Christians would have desperately cried out “how long must this go on… we can’t wait.”
Well, Jesus’ words recorded in Luke’s gospel would have offered some way of understanding the times, of getting a grasp on their context, of realising that not all was lost.
For times will come, Jesus says, when the great military and religious forces ranged against you will crumble, but you will still be standing. Jerusalem will be razed to the ground, the Temple destroyed. The religious system that had refused to acknowledge the change that Jesus brought will not last long. And the military might of Rome that crushes Jerusalem, just as it also sought to crush the Christian faith, will experience tumultuous upheaval too. Jesus speaks of a time of upheaval and chaos, super powers crashing to earth.
And these will be signs that the kingdom of God is near, he says. Institutions and groups bent on holding people captive to false ideology, regimes who perpetrate violence, do not last forever. They crumble and fall. But the kingdom of God, the people of God, will remain.
Our world today is In the midst of great tumult and chaos. A world where 130 people were killed in Paris by those trapped in a world of extremist ideology, to go alongside other recent atrocities in Turkey and Egypt A world where we have seen the desperate plight of refugees fleeing worn-torn countries, and now in many places all being branded as terrorists when they have been the ones terrorised against. A world where one country downs another’s airplane and before we know it we stand on the brink of yet another war.
Jesus’ words of chaos and upheaval reflect our own world’s today. And yet there is hope, as there was hope for the people of Jeremiah’s time, as there was hope for the first century church. We can be confident that God’s kingdom continues to grow through us here in this place and through his people around the world. It grows through the fruit of His spirit growing in us – the way that we love one another, the way that we show resilient joy, despite the challenges and hardships that we experience, the way we work for peace, in our relationships and in our world, the way that we show patience and perseverance. Its a kingdom that grows slowly, often imperceptibly, but it will not be deterred. And it will not be overcome. We can draw hope, inspiration, determination from knowing we are part of God’s growing kingdom. We need not despair.
And Jesus’ words offer us hope too that despite the bleakness of our own world, despite the personal challenges and struggles we ourselves may be carrying at this time, evil and suffering, struggle and pain, do not have the last word. The son of Man will return in power and great glory. Christ will come again, to bring in a new heaven and a new earth.
We do not know when. And like my children who can sometimes pray ”Jesus, why can’t you come now and sort out all the wrong in the world”, we may not feel we want to wait much longer, but the good news is that the day will come. Death, sin, evil do not last forever. But God’s kingdom of love, grace, truth and hope does
And that is something worth waiting for.