Jesus - A New Hope 1
Passage: Revelation 12:1–12:6, Mark 13:24–13:27
So here’s something I need to admit right from the start: Advent is weird. Today is not technically the first Sunday of Advent, but because Christmas Eve is a Sunday we are starting Advent today. Advent is the four week season where we wait and anticipate the coming of the Savior. We remember what is was like for Israel to wait for their Messiah as we prepare to remember and celebrate the Messiah’s birth. But boy oh boy is it kinda weird.
The first thing is that it’s been the Christmas season since mid-October. Ok that might be hyperbole, but I know Wal-Mart has had a Christmas section since before Halloween. The halls of the malls have been decked for weeks and Occoquan got holidayed up long ago. And here we are, weeks after everyone else decided it was Christmas time saying hold up….WAIIIIIIIIIT.
The other weird thing about Advent is that the Scripture reading for the first Sunday always begins with “Jesus said.” It’s strange to begin a four week season that’s all about waiting for the birth of Christ to begin with things Jesus said.
So I’m going to begin this weird season in a totally weird way. But before I tell you what that weird way is, I have to talk about the final book of the Bible. And yes, this too is weird because here we are talking about what it was like for Israel to wait for the birth of the Messiah and I’m starting not with something from the Old Testament that would be about, ya know, Israeli waiting for the birth of the Messiah, but the last book in the New Testament which is not seemingly about waiting for the Messiah and more about what happens at the end of the world. But trust me, it’s about the Messiah.
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
What the seer is seeing here and reporting here is a way or retelling the story about the birth of Christ. We are going to tell and retell the story that the Gospels tell of the birth of Christ over the next few weeks. They tell the story as it happened here on earth. But part of what we believe as Christians and the crux of Advent is that the birth of Christ isn’t just the birth of a baby. And it’s not even the birth of a great man the way we might tell a story about how George Washington was born. No, this was not merely a great man, a great teacher, and important figure that was born. The significance of this birth is not purely historical.
So what we see presented in Revelation is a retelling of the birth of Christ that attempts to signify the meaning of this birth. We are taken into the heavens where not just any woman is about to give birth, but the woman. Clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet. This was written in a pagan culture and if this woman is talked about in similar ways of Greek and Roman mythology, there’s a reason for that. Remember, this is done to convey meaning. This woman is important, this pregnancy is important, this birth is important. She is crying out in labor pains. And just as she is about to give birth, a dragon appears ready to steal and devour the child. Evil does not want this child to be born, does not want this child to grow. There’s something about this baby that is going to be dangerous to the powers that the dragon serves. So the dragon is there to oppose the woman and the baby. But the woman gives birth and the baby is saved, snatched up to God and his throne, so that he can rule over all the nations. The dragon will be dealt with and the woman is hidden away, protected by God.
Now what is this all about? It’s about a lot of things. It’s about Moses, the baby who was destined to be killed by Pharaoh but was saved through tragedy. It’s about Jesus, the baby who was destined to be destroyed by Herod but was saved through tragedy. And it’s about what it means for the Christ to come into the world with the devil trying to stop the Christ from coming into the world but God delivering Christ through the tragedy of the cross and death.
What we see here is that while there are many stories, they all serve the one story. The one story of God’s redemption of the cosmos, the one story of light triumphing over dark, good triumphing over evil. This passage from Revelation presents this one story as a grand battle between the light and the dark that takes place in the heavens or in the stars. A battle between light and dark taking place in the stars. I️ think I’ve heard another story along those lines.
DUH DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH (sing Star Wars theme)
Star Wars can be another story that reminds us of the one story. And so this Advent, just as Revelation presents the birth of the Christ as a war set in the stars, we’ll look at Advent through the lens of the Star Wars saga. And we’re going to begin this morning with…Episode 6 Return of the Jedi.
Yep, I told you Advent is weird. We’re starting at the end…kind of. But it’s all done so that we can understand why we as Christians in 2017 celebrate a season of waiting.
Return of the Jedi starts in a pretty hopeless place. Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and is held captive by Jaba the Hut. Luke has fled after having lost a battle against Darth Vader and is reeling from the revelation that Darth is Luke’s father. The Empire is building a new Death Star and seems like an impossible enemy to defeat. Literally the only hope at the beginning of Return of the Jedi is that we have 2 hours of movie where something could happen. Could.
As we come to celebrate Advent this year, there are reasons to despair. Our country is more polarized than ever and we are losing our ability to talk to one another. Natural disasters, mass shootings, and other tragedies have become a monthly event. More and more we are becoming more isolated in our relationships and have greater reason to fear one another. We were created for relationship with God, with one another, and with the rest of creation. Those basic relationships are continuing to get more and more and more out of whack. Our only hope is that God doesn’t appear to be done with us. Our only hope is that God has more story to tell.
Into this, we hear a promise. Into this we hear the faint cry of hope. Into this we hear the words of Jesus saying:
24 “But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. 28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
We begin Advent with a vision of the second coming. We begin Advent talking about the Return of the Jedi, er Jesus.
You see, the narrative action in Return of the Jedi moves forward when we see Luke come back having completed his training. We see him not as someone being trained or someone rushing headstrong into the fray before he is ready. We see him as the warrior savior we hoped he would become and that we needed him to be in the first two movies. We finally see Luke as someone ready to be the ultimate hero. With power that’s up to the task. He rescues Han, Lea, and the rest of his friends. A grand plan comes off without a hitch. And the band is back together ready to take out the Empire once and for all.
And at that point in the movie we know that somehow, some way this small band of rebels will take down the evil Empire. We know that the Emperor will get his. We know that Luke will find a way to win the war.
Because here’s the thing…and for this here’s the thing I’m gonna go way deep into the first task of the movie: save Han from Jaba. When Luke arrives at Jaba’s temple Lea is already there. Lando is already there. Chewy is already there. The droids are already there. Everyone is already there. Except Luke. And if Lea and Lando and Chewy and the droids had tried to rescue Han without Luke there you know they couldn’t do it. They know they couldn’t do it. And if the Luke of New Hope or Empire shows up, you know they can’t do it. They need Jedi Luke. He’s the thing that ensures the plan, the efforts of the others, will be successful. Right?
And as they go forward, after rescuing Han, the only reason for hope that there might be a different narrative for the rebellion than Empire Strikes Back is the fact that Luke really is a Jedi now. Luke has arrived. Luke has entered the fullness of his powers. And because of that, that might make the difference in defeat and victory.
We too find ourselves working and planning and trying to do good in the world. We want to rescue people from despair. We want to rescue people from poverty. We want to rescue people from spiritual death. We want to free people from the things that trap them. We want people to find life, healing, wholeness, vitality. We are in position. We are ready to spring to action. We are ready to fight against the spiritual forces of wickedness that keep people trapped, hurting, and dying.
But on some level we know that if we fight in our own strength we will not be successful. We know that on some level if we go about this our own way we will fail. We cannot contend agains the Jaba’s of our world, let alone the evil Empire. We know that we cannot take down all that holds are friends, our family, our neighbors, our coworkers, our children back without help. We know that on some level we are fighting a losing battle. Unless…
Unless we have a Jedi. Unless there is another force at work in the universe. Unless God, Himself, God Incarnate is coming into the world. Or more specifically for us, unless God Incarnate is coming back into the world.
I know I have quoted this here before, but a mentor of mine once said in an Advent sermon: “We are indeed surrounded by signs of darkness, of despair, and of hopelessness in our world. But as baptized Christians, as those who have been entrusted with the signs of the Kingdom, we do not live according to the way things are in the world; we live according to the way things ought to be, because we know that's the way things will be--because Jesus Christ is Lord!”
I’m sorry for recycling quotes, but this is what Advent is all about and it’s why we begin Advent with words of the second coming of Christ. We all find ourselves surrounded by signs of darkness, despair, and hopelessness. Not unlike the beginning of Return of the Jedi we find ourselves stuck in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation where the Empire is just gonna keep winning. But we don’t live according to that narrative. We have a different script, we have a different story. In our script, in our story we know what the light wins. In our script, in our story, we know that good wins. In our script, in our story we know that if we work and toil, if we strive for good it will not be in vain. In our script, in our story, we know that if we go into battle for the side of healing and wholeness, for the flourishing of all people, for the side of love and happiness and joy and altruism, we fight for the winning side.
We have a code for this story, for this script, for this narrative, for this way of thinking and living. We have a code for what it means to fight for things that are good, just, noble, and beautiful. We have a code for what it means to fight for our side: Jesus Christ is Lord.
Advent is when we remember that Jesus Christ, the baby born in a barn in Bethlehem, is the king of kings, the Lord of Lords, who holds the universe together. We remember that not any ruler, not any emperor, not any president can bring us salvation, only Christ. And we remember, in the midst of a life spent living in and fighting darkness, that Jesus Christ will return to defeat all the sin and death and evil that still exists in our world.
One day our king, one day our Christ will come back. And as we await his return, we still work to free as many of our friends and family and people in our circles from the carbonite of sin that ensnares and entraps. This Christmas Jesus Christ comes anew and can come anew in your hearts and in the heart of someone you care about. Who can you bring to Jesus? Into whose life can the Christ child be born?
Jesus Christ is Lord. So as we wage our war against the forces of evil and darkness we do so in confidence that the battle is one. Because Jesus Christ is Lord. Let us pray.