29And he said a parable to them, “See the fig tree and all the trees. 30When already they put forth, because you see yourselves, you know that already near is the summer. 31Thus also you, when you might see these things happen, you know that near is the Kingdom of God. 32Amen, I say to you that this generation will absolutely not pass away until all these things happen. 33The heaven and the earth might pass away, but my word will absolutely not pass away.”
34“And pay attention to yourselves lest your hearts might be weighed down in dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day might come upon you suddenly. 35For as a snare it will come upon everyone who dwells upon the face of the whole earth. 36And be awake at all times praying so that you might have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the son of man.”
Before we get started, since we may have eaten maybe a little too much on Thursday, I’ve got a little aerobic exercise. But before y’all panic, I think you can underline that word “little,” because it’s about as little as you can get. I just want you to raise your hands. That should burn off about five of the five thousand calories I consumed on Thanksgiving. OK, here we go, question number one: Since this past Friday was “Black Friday” and you could have shopped all night at Walmart, how many of y’all have done all your Christmas shopping? Just raise your hand. OK, since a lot of us had a long weekend, how many of y’all have gotten all the Christmas decorating done? OK, two more. Since Thanksgiving probably put you in the mood, how many of y’all have done your Christmas baking? And now the last one: how many of y’all raised your hands three straight times? Well, I’ll tell you, that’s probably good, because I really hate to see the season of Advent begin with violence. Of course, it wouldn’t be senseless violence, because anyone who’s done all that, well, they deserve exactly what they get.
I mean, even though Christmas stuff started going up in the stores when we were still wearing short pants, most people are, at best, somewhere in the middle of their Christmas preparations. And some of us, well, we’ve still got all kinds of time to get started. My goodness, Christmas is next month, and as long as gas stations are open on Christmas Eve, I’ve got plenty of time to do my shopping.
But you know, even if we’re calm now, the tension is going to build as we move closer to the big day. I know that’s the case around our house. My mother usually sends Maggie one of those Advent calendars that count down the days from the first to the twenty-fifth, and so every night we’ve got a reminder that we’re getting closer and closer. And you know, it seems that the closer we get, the more we become distracted by everything that’s going on. Sometimes I feel like that little girl in The Exorcist, with my head doing a 360 trying to keep tract of everything I should have done last week but didn’t.
The pressure just builds. It’s a lot like my plate on Thanksgiving. I mean, you start with the normal amount of stress, but then you start piling on all the holiday extras, you know like the sweet potatoes and the green bean casserole and of course the cranberry sauce. And by the time you eat down to the bottom of the plate, well, you’re probably seriously questioning why you started. All that extra stuff can really make you miserable. The distractions can interfere with your Christmas cheer.
And I’ll tell you something, I think the same thing can happen as we look into the future. You see, I think we can become totally distracted by all the things that are happening around us, in fact, so distracted that it can really interfere with how we live in the present. I mean, we’ve become addicted to things like CNN, which I heard a guy last Tuesday call “constant negative news.” Of course, if you watch Fox, it’s a lot more positive, right; especially after Obama was elected. Twenty-four hour news can be distracting.
But you know, you don’t even need to turn on the television to get distracted. Man, anyone who has a job or a family, who goes to school or even to church knows that we all have distractions to burn. Last week, Debbie was telling me about a conversation with a church member who hasn’t come much in the last year, and she asked him why we hadn’t seen him lately. He just shook his head and said, “Had to get away for a while. Too much drama.”
You see, I think it’s really easy to get distracted by the drama, and I talking about the drama of everyday living. And it’s interesting, when it happens, it interferes with life right now. For the guy with whom Debbie was talking, well, it’s kind of pushed him back from a place where he could hear the Word of God. And for others, it can drive wedges within families and between friends, even between brothers and sisters inside the church. And I’ll tell you, if you ever watch the news, I don’t care if it’s CNN or Fox or the Daily Show, and if the national debt and the environment, what’s going on in Iran and Afghanistan, the state of the economy and health care, declining morality or increasing intolerance, if that stuff doesn’t make you at least a little uneasy about the future, then I don’t think you’re listening. Man, distractions can drive you nuts.
And you know, I think we see the same sort thing in the passage we read from Luke. I mean, as he started to talk about the future, Jesus gave the people all kind of things that could distract their attention, you know, like “...signs in the sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth, tension among nations in perplexity at the sound the seas and waves; people fainting from fear and expectation of things which are coming upon the inhabited world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Man, this is scary stuff.
And if you don’t think signs of the end aren’t powerful today, just check out a typical Christian book store. I bet they have a whole case just on the end of the world, you know, the return of Christ. My goodness, Hal Lindsey has made a fortune writing books predicting the end, and even though he’s never been right, his books still sell. You know, you don’t have to be one of those people who go up to the top of a mountain to wait for the mother ship to come down, you don’t have to be like them to be distracted by this kind of stuff. Remember, 2012.
And I’ve got an idea that Jesus understood that, in other words, he understood human nature, and that’s why, right after he gave the signs, he said, “And when these thing begin to happen, straighten yourself up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” Now I think that’s amazing; he was telling folks who, like us, would probably obsess on what’s happening, he was telling them that in spite of all these, all these distractions they should never lose their focus: their redemption was near.
And I’ll tell you what, I think the same is true for us right here and right now. I mean, regardless of what you think about the dangers of global warming or health care reform, I’m going to tell you right here and now, your redemption is near. And it doesn’t matter what you think your boss or your mother is trying to pull, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our lives have been rescued from whatever controlled them in the past and we’re right on the threshold of being totally and eternally free. And take it too the bank, regardless of the drama that always seems to creep into the Body of Christ and probably always will, at least as long as Jesus calls sinners into his church which means people like us, we can be certain that in the vast spectrum of things, the folks whom we assume are the stars of the show are actually bit players and the ones who keep things stirred up aren’t nearly as important as they think they are.
You see, because God has authority and power and Christ rules with mercy and grace and the Spirit is constantly moving around and through us, the distractions don’t call the shots; therefore, we can move into the future with confidence and hope. That’s is, if we stay focused on redemption. And you know, if we do, man, it’s got to change how we live right now in the present. And again, I think Christ understood this too. I mean, I want you to notice how he tied up what he said about the end: “And pay attention to yourselves lest your hearts might be weighed down in dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day might come upon you suddenly. For as a snare it will come upon everyone who dwells upon the face of the whole earth. And be awake at all times praying so that you might have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the son of man.”
In other words, once we get past the distractions and our focus is clear, we can start living in the present. I mean we can start paying attention to ourselves and stop doing some of the stupid, self-destructive things we might do when our vision and our direction is all messed up. But more than that, we’ll also be awake and ready to live a life that’s positive, one that’s full of prayer and one that reflects the kind of life of which we can be comfortable when we stand before the son of man and hear his judgement of us. In other words, now that we’re not being controlled by the often petty little drama we all face and our attention isn’t being pulled in a half dozen different directions, we can start doing what we were called to do: as individuals, simply to love God with everything we’ve got and our neighbor as ourselves, and as the church, boldly to proclaim the redemption we have through Jesus Christ to anybody who’ll listen. You see, I’m convince that this is possible, if we stay focused.
And I’ll tell you something else, a little focus wouldn’t hurt our preparation for Christmas either. I mean, if we can remember that the one who’s birth we’re going to celebrate is also our redeemer, well, maybe the shopping and the decorating and the cooking won’t dominate our thoughts and drain our Christmas spirit. Instead, we’ll be able to get past the gift cards and the garland and the fruit cakes so that we can fully appreciate the reason for this season. In other words, we just might have the best Christmas ever, if we stay focused.