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1 Advent - Luke 21:25-36

What are you afraid of?

What do you worry about?

Many Lutherans would say "talking about my faith" and "what other people think of me," so for now you may keep your answers to yourselves.

What are you afraid of?

What do you worry about?

This Advent, we will share a Thursday night prayer and conversation journey with our neighbors at St. Luke Lutheran in Woodland Hills.

For three weeks, we will examine our lives in the light of a phrase that appears three times in the first two chapters of Luke's gospel, and many other places in Scripture too: Do not be afraid.

It's God's pick up line.

Angels speak it to Zechariah, Mary, and some third shift shepherds about babies, whichare terrifying, exactly as God and God's messengers throughout Scripture open most of their conversations with human beings: Do not be afraid.

Richard Rohr writes: Whenever an angel or God breaks into human life, the first words are

invariably, "Do not be afraid."

Why? Because people have always been afraid of God—and afraid of themselves as a result...

Most people in my experience are still into fearing God and controlling God instead of loving God..

When one party has all the power—which is most peoples' very definition of God—all you can do is fear and try to control.

But maybe you are a lifelong Lutheran, nourished on a healthy diet of grace, so you're not afraid or worried about God, who is either being too gracious with certain other people or asleep on the job of making life go the way you are certain it should.

The long catalog of catastrophes Jesus lists, which reads suspiciously like any recent Tuesday in the LA Times, is more than enough to make people faint with fear and foreboding.

The perils, real and imagined, possible and probable, are overwhelming.

So we turn either to distractions and escapism or to paranoid fretting—or as Jesus names them, dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.

All of them sit heavy on the uneasy heart.

We've worked too long and too hard to earn a sense of control over our lives—paid our dues, paid our bills, put in the time, invested carefully, obsessed over our kids, did what the doctor told us to do, voted correctly, lived responsibly—but the sea and the waves and the bleeding sky are beyond our control.

These doom and gloom end of the world Bible readings and movies are fascinating as long as they stay on the screen and the page...but what if they really happen?

Jesus says when, not if.

When they happen, when everything collapses and falls apart, including your fainting neighbor, do not be afraid.

When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Even if our end is not cataclysmic or cosmic--even if it is quiet and unfilmed and clinical and lonesome--bedlam or bedpan, there comes for us all a day that catches us like a trap from which we cannot escape, and the shadow of it lengthens back across our lives and touches everything and terrifies us too much to think or talk about too directly or deeply.

Lurking around some corner is distress and confusion and chaos and ruin, and the long darkness of early Advent has the audacity and kindness to name it your redemption drawing near.

We read Jesus' description of what causes fear and foreboding as gospel, as good news, because he insists that in fact it is.

We begin the church's year with readings about the end because the end is a new beginning.

The world around us, and the world we have made for ourselves, will pass away, and so will we.

The question is not how to avoid it or stall it or stop it, but how to enter it.

Saint Francis of Assisi is dead.

Before he died, he wrote a hymn exhorting all creatures to praise God, including this one:

And you, most gentle sister death, waiting to hush our final breath: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Since Christ our light has pierced your gloom, fair is the night that leads us home.

Francis found joy in poverty and friendship in death because the things we fear are things that the God of the cross transforms into our salvation.

Our deepest and darkest worries will come true, thanks be to God—this world as we know and trust it will fall apart, our bodies will fail, our plans will crumble, our fortunes will be someone else's problem, and all our other beautiful idols will pass away and we will be left with nothing but a God who loves us not for who we are trying to be, not for our carefully built, house-of-cards appearances of having our life together, not for our résumé or religion or portfolio or performance, but for who we truly are.

So instead of fainting with fear and worry, we stand and raise our heads—the posture of hope.

Do not be afraid.

You will have joy and gladness... you have found favor with God... I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.

The terrifying God you cannot control comes as a baby born to rescue you.

Good Friday is broken by Easter.

The big scary end leads to a beautiful beginning.

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