Jesus has been talking with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. They asked him, when and what will the end times be like? Jesus has told him that nations will fight each other – but that is not the end. There will be famines, and earthquakes – but again, this is not the end. Today we hear Jesus describe an end… but it’s not the end at all that the disciples asked about.
Eugene Peterson’s “The Message Bible” sometimes says our familiar story in such a wonderful new paraphrase. I think Peterson captures it well when he puts Jesus’ words as:
“It will seem like all hell has broken loose —sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.”
When these unmistakable, not reoccurring signs happen, when it seems like all hell as broken loose — then we will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud.
Jesus tells his disciples to then, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
When all hell is breaking loose, take heart – help is on the way.
When it seems like heaven and earth are passing away, take heart – God’s words never fail, never wear out, never pass away. When God says help is on the way: help is on the way.
Our translation says Jesus warns us against having hearts weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness, and the worries of life. If you’re not a walking dictionary, dissipation means disintegrated or over-indulgent. The word in the original language usually is used referring to the feeling after a major drunken party – a hangover, feeling out of sorts, dizzy and out of it.
But Jesus warns about not just getting drunk, and being over-indulgent or hung over, but also about being worried. Jesus says – don’t be one of those people fainting with fear, stressing out about what tomorrow will bring, and freaked out. Nor be one of those people who is out of it, focused on themselves, focused only on finding inner peace – naval gazing.
Peterson updates Jesus’ words as, “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,”
So what are we to do if we are to neither freak out, panic, and worry — nor turn to drugs, alcohol, shopping, TV, or music to ignore what scares us?
“be alert” and “pray.”
We’re told to be alert, to pray. To not stress or plug our ears. But be peaceful and present. Awake and attentive.
And how can we be this way? Because we know: help is on the way. And this help isn’t bringing an end – no, he is bringing a new beginning! A new era of peace and the presence of God!
You all know I am a fan of science fiction and fantasy. I cannot help but see the “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” when I read these passages. I picture the battle at Helms Deep. It seems all hell has broken loose. The humans are losing the battle – but then the elves come! Then the humans AND the elves are losing the battle. The evil orc and uruk hai are set to kill every last man, woman, and child. But the hero Aragon refuses to hide in fear, and he refuses to ignore the plight and focus only on saving himself. He stays calm and stays involved. He encourages the king to ride out into battle and give the humans and elves hope – ride out with their heads held high – for Aragon knows: help is on the way if they can just hold fast until the new dawn.
And sure enough – because they ride out strong and bold in spite of their fear, the warriors are encouraged, and fight until dawn – when with the rising of the sun Gandalf and the king’s horsemen arrive to save the day.
J. R. R. Tolkien was heavily inspired by the Bible. He once said his books were simply a retelling of the Greatest Story Ever Told.
And the Greatest Story Ever Told is the story of God’s love. Of reassurance that help is on the way. Of the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. Of the hope that we cherish – the hope and the promise that there is a new beginning in each ending, a new life after one has died, and a God who loves us so much to always be present through it all.
This Advent day of Hope, we reaffirm that we know Help is on the Way. The king who was, is the king now, and shall be the king again in the future.
We sang today asking our king, our God-with-Us, our Emmanuel to come and ransom we who are captive. Captive to worries, captive to stress, captive to shopping or lists or fears or sensationalist news broadcasts, captive in bodies and minds that don’t work as they ought, captive in bad relationships and bad habits, captives… our Emmanuel, our help, is on the way.
So come, Emmanuel! Take heart, God is here and yet still more awesome help from God is coming. Amen.