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“Hope Amid Chaos”

November 29, 2009

Jeremiah 33:4-16 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36

My Uncle Chuck sent me a book this week and while I didn’t really intend to read it right away, I glanced
inside and was immediately hooked into the story. It is the first person tale of a young Navy doctor, Lt. Dooley,
who oversaw a giant refugee camps in the mid 1950’s in northern Vietnam. Before North and South Vietnam
were officially divided, there was a period of time before Ho Chi Minh took full control of what would become
North Vietnam when anyone who did not desire to be communist could legally flee to the south. Hundreds of
thousands of people fled, many under great persecution. Dr. Dooley estimated that nine out of ten were fleeing
for reasons of religious persecution. The communists believed that any religion was weakness and unpatriotic.
They drove nails in the skull of a priest to mock Christ’s crown of thorns, they tore a single ear off of many to
punish them for listening to morning prayers instead of their communist leader.

People who had tended to ancestral burial grounds for centuries walked away from everything familiar and fled
south in order to seek the freedom to worship. The people who Dr. Dooley treated contracted every disease he
had ever studied in his tropical medicine textbooks and several he hadn’t. They carried with them only the few
possessions they could carry on their backs. One man arrived carrying only one thing, a framed picture of
Jesus. Despite the horrors that they had witnessed and despite the agony that they had endured, these people of
faith retained an amazing possession. They retained the capacity for hope. As two thousand people settled in
for a four-day sea voyage on a cargo ship that had hastily been converted to carry this unexpected human cargo,
they were provided with food and medical care and they were offered the opportunity to attend Mass aboard
ship. These fragile people, many of them sick, many badly wounded, and all of them impoverished, these same
people took the time daily to lift their voices and to sing and worship and give thanks to God.

This morning we begin our celebration of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. As we lit the
Advent wreath today, we lit the Prophet’s candle, the candle of hope and today we hear the voices of the
prophets calling to us from scripture. Even today, the voices of the prophets cheer us in times of distress and
darkness, in times of agony and fear, as well as in times of prosperity. In Jeremiah 33:14-16, we hear the voice
of God calling to his people across the centuries…
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" 'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of
Israel and to the house of Judah.
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" 'In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
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In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.'

God promises his people that the time is coming when he will keep his promise to send a rescuer into the world.
God promises that the one who is coming will be a descendant of David, will bring safety to God’s people and
will rule with justice and govern by doing right. We live in the time “between,” the time between the
fulfillments of these prophecies. As we prepare for Christmas we are especially aware that God has already
sent his son, Jesus and we know that Jesus belongs to David’s royal family line. Amid the turmoil and chaos
that is our world, and as we watch the injustice and the wrongheaded things that earthly governments do, we
eagerly anticipate the time when Jesus will return to govern the world with justice and by doing right in the
world.

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As frightening as the world can sometimes be, and as horribly as humans can mistreat one another, Jesus tells us
that it is going to get worse before it gets better. In Luke 21:25-36, Jesus says,
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"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the
roaring and tossing of the sea. 26Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for
the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power
and great glory. 28When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your
redemption is drawing near."
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He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30When they sprout leaves, you can see for
yourselves and know that summer is near. 31Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the
kingdom of God is near.
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"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
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Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
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"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and
that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the
whole earth. 36Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and
that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."

Jesus says that the “nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” We’re not
sure what that means exactly, but since the sea has been around for a long time and since humans have watched
the behavior of the sea for much of that time, it is apparent that the oceans of the world will do something that
humans have never seen before. Likewise we don’t know what Jesus meant exactly when he said that the
heavenly bodies will be shaken, but obviously the heavens will do something that astronomers have never
dreamed of and whatever it is will cause both scientists and the uneducated to fall down in fear and terror. Jesus
says that the unchanging will change and the stable will become unstable bringing fear to the whole world.

As I mentioned, we live in the time “between.” We don’t know exactly when Jesus will return to fulfill the rest
of Jeremiah’s prophecy. We don’t know when Jesus will return to rule the world with justice and righteousness
and finally bring peace to all people but Jesus says that when we see these frightening things happen, whatever
they are, then we will know the time is soon just like the buds on the trees tell us that summer is just around the
corner.

It is difficult to understand exactly what Jesus meant when he said, "I tell you the truth, this generation will
certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Especially since the second coming hasn’t
happened yet. The best explanation that I have found tells us that the grammar makes it difficult to discern
when Jesus is talking about the generation that lived with him and later events. The best way to understand this
passage is simply to remember that the people who lived in the time of Jesus, that generation of people, lived to
see the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and many unimaginable horrors. For them, as well as
us, we can understand that this destruction can live on as an example of how the end times will look to the
generation then living. Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Jesus will not be surpassed or replaced.

Finally, Jesus warns us to be careful that we allow nothing to distract us from our focus on God. He says, “Be
careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that
day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” Jesus warns us that we will be weighed down with dissipation,
which simply means that our lives and our minds will be scattered, going a thousand directions at once. We
must be careful that amid the chaos of our lives, all our multitasking, chemical distractions, and worry will not
draw us away from a single-minded focus on Jesus or the day of judgment will close on us like a trap. In the
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end, or at the end, we must watch so that we will not be surprised and we must pray that in the end we will be
able to stand before Jesus, the righteous judge.

In times of chaos and mayhem, we are particularly prone to allow our thought to wander as we focus on
thoughts of pain and suffering and food, and fear. In dark times, humans are particularly prone to drown their
fear or to tranquilize their pain through a variety of chemical anesthetics. No matter the chaos, no matter the
pain, no matter our fear we are called to maintain our focus on God and our hope for the future.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Paul thanks God for the church and prays that it might be blessed, that it might
increase in love and courage and purity.
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How can we thank God enough for you (he means you - the church) in return for all the joy we have in the
presence of our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and
supply what is lacking in your faith.
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Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord
make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May he
strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our
Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Paul prays a prayer for the church in Thessalonica that has been echoed by countless generations of pastors for
their churches and a prayer that sounds very much like the prayer I pray for this church almost every day. Paul
thanks God for his church and for the joy that they have brought to him before God. Paul prays that they might
love each other, and love others outside the church more just as his love for them grows and Paul prays that God
might make their hearts stronger so that on the day of judgment, they will be blameless and holy, that they
might be righteous just like Jesus.

As we live in a world that is, at times, worrying and frightening and horrifying, we hold on to the knowledge
that this world isn’t all that there is. We hold on to the words of Jeremiah and the prophets that tell us of our
coming king. We hold on to the promises of Jesus to stand by us in times of trouble.

Like the refugees from North Vietnam, despite the chaos that we witness in our world, despite the horrors that
we witness and despite the agony that they we endure, we find that people of faith retain an amazing possession.
We retain the capacity for hope. Our capacity for hope is not a purely human trait that is carried in the DNA of
a few lucky individuals. Instead, our unusual and unique capacity for hope is a blessing from God, promised by
the prophets and granted to his people until that time when Jesus returns to rule over the earth with justice and
righteousness.

May God bless us with his grace so that our love might grow for one another and for everyone else, may God
strengthen our hearts so that on that day, we will stand holy and blameless in the presence of God and may our
Lord Jesus continually stand at our side so that we never lose our capacity to hope.

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You have been reading a message presented at Johnsville Grace and Steam Corners United Methodist Churches on the date
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All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.