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December 2, 2015, 9:26 AM

Worship Fully


Jeremiah 33:14-16, CEB
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.
 
Luke 21:25-36, The Message
25-26 “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.
27-28 “And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”
29-33 He told them a story. “Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God’s kingdom is about here. Don’t brush this off: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.
34-36 “But 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, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.”
 
“Worship Fully”
Jeremiah was a…prophet (not a bullfrog), and he didn’t have any really good friends, not really any friends at all. Prophets were not popular people.  Jeremiah was called to be a prophet when he was just a boy, just a youth, and he wasn’t terribly thrilled to be called. He knew what being a prophet of God could entail.  Jeremiah spent most of his life as the ‘doom and gloom sayer’ of the Judean kingdom. God spoke through Jeremiah to the rulers of Judah, the temple leadership, the people of God, calling them to return to living God’s way. Through Jeremiah, God warned that the path the people were traveling led to doom and destruction. Needless to say, Jeremiah wasn’t invited to many parties, didn’t travel in social circles. When he showed up at the palace with his words of doom, he more often found himself in prison.
 
But those were not the words we heard from Jeremiah today. Our reading today is from the end of the book of Jeremiah, chapter 33. Here the prophet speaks not of doom and gloom, but of hope and promise. Here the prophet’s words, gifted by God, are of restoration and redemption. Why the change? Because all is lost. Four hundred years of David rule is over. Solomon’s glorious temple is destroyed. Holy Jerusalem is in ruins. God’s chosen people are massacred in the streets or carried away into slavery. They did not heed the words of warning, the call to turn back to God, and now they are lost, but God has not given up on God’s people. The people’s needs have changed and so God’s word has as well. In the face of violence and destruction, devastation and despair, God promises hope.
 
Hope… Believe it or not, hope is what apocalyptic literature is all about. Hope. The apocalyptic style of writing arose, such as the book of Daniel, about 300 years before Jesus. A new force swept over the known world, a new empire—led by Alexander the Great. Along with a new ruler, a new empire, Alexander brought something more, a culture that sought to seduce and supplant existing cultures. The Greek culture sought to unite the empire in similar living and values, along with the same emperor and government. It was a time of great fear and uncertainty for the conquered nations. Violence and darkness abounded. Apocalyptic scripture gave voice to this darkness, acknowledged the fear and doubt of the people, and then juxtaposed it with words of hope and promise and light. Apocalyptic texts proclaimed that thought the darkness was oppressive and foreboding, God’s future of peace, security, abundance and love was still the ultimate word, and would have the last say. The people of God were called to be a people who embodied God’s hope together in the face of such darkness.
 
Look at Luke’s telling of Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching in today’s reading. Sun and moon and stars and earth and seas in an uproar. Nations in chaos. The whole universe feels like it is falling apart. Everyone experiences these things. It is not a word just for some future, but a word for right now. Our world has certainly felt that way recently, like even the moon and stars shudder in the skies in the face of such violence and loss. Jesus asks his followers, asks us, in the face of such fear and darkness, how will you, how will we as a community, live? Will we give in to fear? Will we become distracted by worldly things, pleasures and worries? Or will we stand tall, with our heads held high? Will we together be alert and watchful? Will we embody faith and compassion?
 
If we choose to be examples of God’s beloved community in the face of darkness and fear, there is only one way to stand firm, and to remain standing until Jesus is literally among us…Worship; the opposing force to darkness. The book of Revelation, the ultimate apocalyptic scripture, boldly proclaims worship as the response to devastation. The dark and disturbing images of loss and violence in Revelation are contrasted and overcome by high points of heavenly worship, gathered about the throne of God. When the darkness seems to be winning, the scripture shifts and suddenly we find ourselves before the glorious throne of the almighty singing with the heavenly host, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might.” Worship is the cure for fear and despair.
 
Where do you find hope in worship? When we gather on a Sunday, do you find hope here? Do you experience assurance? Strength? Are you nourished by love? Do you leave here filled with that hope that is Jesus Christ, to guide you through the week? Where does worship continue outside this time and space? Small groups? Family time? Personal devotions? A life lived in worship?
 
Though it may seem contrary at times, to begin the countdown to Christmas with such apocalyptic scriptures, this year, with the headlines we have experienced, the events of our world, we are in deep need of these messages of hope and promise. It is right to begin a new church year grounded in hope through worship, in our gathered community, and during the week in our lives and in our living. Though sun, moon, stars, earth, and seas are in an uproar; though nations are in chaos; though the powers-that-be quake with fear; we stand tall, heads held high. Fear will not make us forget who and whose we are. Fear will not cause us to see others as our enemies. Fear will not make us put our own safety ahead of the needs of others. Fear will not cause us to betray our cherished values as followers of Jesus. We will be a people of hope!
 
The hope candle (first candle of Advent) is lit among us. The candle of hope is lit within us. This Advent season we will worship fully—together in our Sunday gatherings, during the week with our families and in small groups, in our private times of daily devotion, and in the way we live our lives every day. This year we join the Advent Conspiracy, and conspire to spread hope wherever we go. Amen!

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