Jason Fisher, Champaign, IL

Warm-up Questions

  •  Share about a situation that seemed like the end of the world to you, but looking back now, was a bit silly.
  • What is your favorite apocalyptic novel or movie?
  • What did that book or movie reveal about humanity, or about how you would respond in similar situations?

When Your Temple Crumbles

The apocalyptic movie 2012 came out with a startling trailer that featured a Buddhist monk high up in the Himalayan mountains ringing a warning bell, as an enormous wave of water was about to crash down on him and destroy humankind in a flood of biblical proportions. The movie itself was pretty silly in places, but revealed what was most important to a variety of people as they faced the end of their world. Sometimes things in our lives can feel like the end of the world, especially when what we have relied upon for so long is being challenged.

In his book, Silence the Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about two kinds of knots. The first knot is our notions, ideas, concepts, and knowledge. These things are not bad, but when we get stuck on them we miss out on the truth of life. If we don’t hold them loosely and someone challenges them, it can seem like the end of a world we have known and loved. The second knot is our afflictions, fears, anger, discrimination, despair, and arrogance. Thich Nhat Hanh believes that until these knots are undone we remain bound up and not truly free.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes; “These two knots, which are etched deeply into our brain and consciousness, bind us and push us to do things we don’t want to do; they make us say things we don’t want to say. So we’re not free. Any time we do things not from our desire but out of habitual fear or ingrained notions and ideas, we’re not free.”  

Discussion Questions

  • What has you tied up in knots right now?  Is it some affliction, fear, anger, discrimination, despair, or arrogance?
  • Have life experiences ever made you angry or biased? Share about those experiences.
  • How can God, following Jesus, and being a part of the church help untie those knots?

First Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 21:25-36

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

For many the season of Advent is a reminder of a time to prepare for the coming of dear, sweet, baby Jesus, not a time of distress, when people are fainting from fear. When we think of Advent we don’t typically think of apocalypse! The word apocalypse means “revelation.” So not only is apocalypse about the end of the world as we now experience it, but a revealing of a new world that God is creating. The season of Advent begins with a focus on Christ’s second coming, which can be terrifying for those who are unaware of God’s redemptive work and for those who cling to the things of this world.

The three sections of the text—The Coming of the Son of Man, The Lesson of the Fig Tree, and Jesus’ Exhortation to Watch—are all meant to be words of encouragement to believers whose world has been rocked by disaster. 

The Coming of the Son of Man

This passage from Luke was probably written 10 to 20 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which, to the Jewish followers of Jesus, would have seemed like the end of the world as they knew it. Jesus encouraged people to repent and follow his kingdom way. The message of Jesus to Jerusalem wasn’t accepted and the Temple was destroyed in their lifetime by the Romans.  In the verses right before this text Jesus says the destruction of the temple will be ansign that Jesus has won and reigns at the right hand of God in heaven. New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright says that, “this passage is about the vindication of Jesus and the rescue of his people from the system that has oppressed them.” So while the world is shaken, they are encouraged not to shake, but, instead, to stand firm and look up, because their redemption now draws near.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

“Heaven and earth will pass away,” but the words of Jesus will not pass away. Some things are lasting and other things are everlasting. Seeing trees bud and bear leaves is a sign of new life in the spring. Jesus reminds his hearers that no matter how much their world seems to have changed, they should still look to those places where there is life and thus know God’s kingdom is near. Those who have not put their whole lives into God’s hands, but have instead trusted in lesser gods, will have a hard time seeing these small signs of life. They will be more concerned with what they have lost than with what God is bringing into the world.

The Exhortation to Watch

You can look around you today and find many examples of people who are frustrated with how COVID 19 has doomed their world.  They become angry, violent, and cynical. Jesus warns his disciples against this and tells them to guard their hearts. In crisis people may lose their faith in God and turn to a “let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die,” mentality. This kind of selfishness and cynicism sneaks up on believers slowly. It might begin with a smirk at someone else’s misfortune or with a subtle comment like, “who cares?” But it ultimately ends with faithlessness and hopelessness in the midst of the disasters which surround us.

Yet God’s love for us breaks through all chaos in the person of Jesus Christ, for whom we wait patiently. Theologian Fred Craddock writes that, “Amid painful and prolonged suffering, when there can be seen on the horizon of predictable history no relief from disaster, faith turns its face toward heaven, not only for a revelation of God’s will but also for a vision of the end of the present misery and the beginning of the age to come.” Patience is essential and we cannot let the world’s cares bog us down. Instead we are called to stay alert and stay awake, to hold onto hope and hang on, for our redemption draws near.

Now, in order for that to happen, we may need to let go of some of the notions or images of the world to which we hold. Some of our ideas about how the world works and how God works may need to die in order for God to reveal new life.

Discussion Questions

  • What for you are “the worries of this life?”
  • How can you become trapped by those things?
  • What keeps your heart from being weighed down by these things?

Activity Suggestions

Creating an Advent Wreath is a traditional ritual this time of year. With these apocalyptic texts about destruction and world-shattering events in mind , make  an Advent Wreath out of things that have been destroyed. Visit a thrift store or collect things that have been discarded on the ground. Wrap or glue them together to form a wreath and four separate candle holders. Maybe, instead of using new candles, find some old ones at a thrift store and add them to your redeemed advent wreath. Maybe this activity will reveal something new to you about what God is doing during Advent.

Practice the Ignatian Examen in the evening as a way to ‘be on guard’ and to ‘stay alert at all times.’ Begin by lighting a candle from your Advent wreath and give thanks to God for the world. Think about where you felt God’s presence during the day. Then think back on times when your notions, ideas, concepts, or knowledge were challenged by someone else, how did that feel? Did afflictions, fears, anger, discrimination, despair, or arrogance get the better of you? If so, simply acknowledge it and give it to God. Make an intention to work on that area tomorrow. End your time of silence with gratitude towards God. Try to repeat the process each evening in Advent.

Closing Prayer

Great Redeemer, we ask that you would help us to guard our hearts during uncertain times. Grant us strength to resist hopelessness and cynicism. Help us to look towards Jesus Christ that we might stand boldly with confidence and joy. Amen