Jesus, Our Emergency Broadcast System

St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: Adrienne R. Hymes

First Sunday in Advent/Year C: November 28, 2021

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36

Jesus, Our Emergency Broadcast System

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer—Amen. 

Well into my third year of living in Los Angeles, CA, a region of our country that is prone to severe earthquakes, I was ready for “the big one.” I had fully-loaded earthquake kits stashed in places for easy access should the floor inside my apartment, or the ground outside of my dwelling, begin to rumble and move. 

There is no Emergency Broadcast System for earthquakes to warn people to prepare.  After experiencing a few tremblers, I can say that the only true preparation for such an event is to resist the complacency that sets in when the earthquakes seem to be dormant.  It is not a matter of if there will be another earthquake; rather, it is a matter of when. 

Floridians, like Californians, live with the reality of when, not if, during hurricane season. Yet, even the most experienced weather professionals with the most advanced technology cannot predict, with certainty, the number of hurricanes that may emerge, their strength or their paths; they can only watch and wait, and predict the potential threat to human life and to structures made with human hands, while those in the path of the storm stock up on water, batteries and check the generators.  The reality is that no amount of preparation can truly prepare human beings for those encounters when the forces of nature confront man’s mortality. 

In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus said, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap” (vv. 34-35).  Jesus’ admonition challenges the believer to search their soul to reconcile their statements of faith with the day-to-day realities of the 21st century Christian.  With all of life’s demands, and very real threats to our health and safety, competing for our attention, prioritizing Christ can be a struggle as discipleship demands soul preparation with intentionality.

Human complacency, from the time when God’s kingdom came near to humankind in the person of Jesus to the not-yet-fully-realized kingdom-come, might be likened to letting one’s guard down when earthquakes seem to be dormant or when hurricane season has passed.  The sense of urgency for soul preparation has dulled. As a result, many of God’s faithful have been led to believe that they have all the time in the world to get ready for Christ’s return.  

In Luke’s gospel, there are no ifs or buts about Jesus’ prophecy regarding the signs of the God’s coming kingdom. But there are a couple of definitive “whens.” Embedded in the gospel passage is the critical word, “when,” used as a conjunction in verses 28 and 31.  Two things are implied in the use of the word “when” throughout this passage. First, the word “when” indicates that something will certainly happen.  Second, the word “when” functions as a concept of undefined time that cannot be defined until something actually happens.  Jesus stressed the significance of the cosmic and natural signs saying, “When these things begin to take place…” (v. 28) and “When you see these things taking place…” (v.31). The message that God’s kingdom will certainly come, at a time that cannot be defined, is at the core of this passage. This “when” factor makes Jesus’ warnings to be ready and to be prepared all the more urgent.

I am reminded of one morning at my final corporate position. The morning was like any other morning, people were eating breakfast, drinking coffee, laughing or commiserating at the water cooler.  Everything was business as usual until the CEO, in an unexpected conference call with the entire office, announced that 50 people would be laid off that very day.  Having observed the signs of the impending demise of the company, over several months, I had been preparing for “the end” at the time of my choosing, but I was not ready for “the end” on that day. 

How does the busy 21st century follower of Jesus, “ready” the soul—beyond Sunday morning—for the unexpected hour of Christ’s return?  Three possibilities come to mind: First, we can remain in a prayerful state. Prayer is the way that we intimately communicate with God to listen to God’s will for our lives and to discern what God is commanding of us so that we, like Jesus, may act in full obedience. Second, we can be vehicles for the Gospel message, making Christ known to those who do not yet know him. For those who already know Christ, we must re-evangelize ourselves through the regular study of Scripture, so that we can strike down complacency when it emerges to sabotage soul preparation. And, we must take seriously our responsibility of re-evangelizing the Church so that the Church’s mission always remains the mission of God—to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. 

Third, we must reject complacency by integrating our faith in Jesus into all parts of our lives by becoming peaches.  I first learned about this concept while reading, “The Great Divide,” a book about the sacred-secular divide in the lives of the faithful authored by London Institute for Contemporary Christianity’s Mark Greene.   Greene’s fascinating metaphor is that life is a peach, not an orange. A peach represents an integrated whole. Life, in its fullness, is one where there are no noticeable divisions that separate you from God, people or activities that impact who you are becoming in Christ.  

By contrast, when you peel an orange, there are defined slices that can be easily pulled apart.  Many faithful people live orange-like existences where their lives are characterized by “slices” of things that are deeply important to them, and are held together, but rarely integrate.  Living like oranges compartmentalizes God into that one Sunday slice where God neatly fits.  Readying the soul for the coming kingdom of God is living life like a peach—where there is no part of your life where the delicious gospel message is compartmentalized, and where there is no part of your being where the deep abiding presence of Christ is not.  

The Advent season is about making space in your heart and in your life so that Christ may be born anew in the depths of your soul.  Jesus is, for us, the urgent sign. He is our divine emergency broadcast system.  And, as unpredictable as Jesus’ return is, we know, by faith that it is certain. 

As we sing, hymns of hopeful expectation, “Come, thou long expected Jesus,” “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” let us do so with the assurance that Jesus’ return, with God’s kingdom come, is not, and never has been, a matter of if, but when.