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November 29, 2015 - Luke 21.25-36

“You Say You Want a Revolution?”

Luke 21:25-36

November 29, 2015

 

25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34“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, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

 

What’s your idea of good news?

 

Just before he checked himself into the treatment center, Rush Limbaugh said, "The trouble with the news media is that they are not reporting the good news out of Iraq. They focus on everything that's going wrong without doing justice to what's going right. I believe in letting you know the good news."


Shortly thereafter Rush went off the air, which is the definition of good news for some of people!
 

The man was screaming into a reporter's microphone. The man did not speak English that well. Still, you could well understand every word that he said.
 

"I tell you," he said screaming, "we had it better under Saddam! At least we had water and electricity! Did we ask you to come 'liberate' us? Who told you that we wanted a revolution?"
 

Not one bit of gratitude in this man for the country that has wrecked its own economy, sacrificed hundreds of lives, and risked much, not one bit of appreciation for the American-induced revolution. Easy to win a war, we are finding hard to win the peace.
 

I've read of a man who labored long and hard, at great personal cost, in the removal of racial apartheid from South Africa. When the evil of apartheid was finally removed from that troubled land, there was dancing in the streets.
 

Yet, in a recent account from him, he said, "Now is the hard work for us. It's one thing to begin a revolution, even to win the revolution. It's another thing to finish it. The creation of a truly just, truly compassionate society is not easy. Isn't that what your country found out after its revolution?"


I'm pointing here toward a dynamic to which history testifies. We say we want change, the solution to our problems, but do we really? A new world brings new challenges. At least in the old world we know what is expected of us. The system under Saddam was cruel and unjust; but millions learned to work it well. Racial apartheid was regrettable, but there were many, white and black, who managed to profit from it.
 

The gospel means good news. Yet, the gospel is not just any old good news. It is very specific news about a very specific sort of Savior. This Savior saves by disrupting the old order of things and bringing a wholly new order. His reign is so adversarial toward our dominions, so against the grain of our natural inclinations, that we are justified in speaking of his work among us as nothing less than a revolution.
 

We are in Advent; let’s prepare as best we can for the coming of the Christ among us by pointing at the peculiar nature of this good news. This news about Jesus is good, but before it is good it is also bad. It is the bad news about the end of the world as we have known it, the beginning of a whole new world that we could not have known had we not been encountered by God in the flesh, Jesus. Advent, and the festival of the incarnation that follows, is nothing less than a revolution. 
 

But usually, revolutions are much harder to deal with than we’d like to think.

 

The promised Advent of a Savior is not unadulterated good news. A revolution, a fundamental sweeping change in our situation, is not always welcomed by us.


We were warned. At the very beginning of Luke's Gospel, mother Mary sings a battle cry. Her song is the storming of the Bastille, the shot heard around the world, the raid upon the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg, the uprising of the slaves.
 

"My soul doth magnify the Lord." Mary learned her song from Maccabees: kings are being cast down from their thrones, the hungry are taking over, and the rich are being sent away empty. Her song is nothing less than a battle cry.
 

The technical term for what Mary was singing about is "gospel." Trouble is, gospel has become a rather shopworn and limp sort of word. When some say gospel, they mean "something of individual significance, the forgiveness of a person's sins, a ticket to individual eternal life."
 

For other Christians, gospel means the "right thinking about the teaching of Christ." Gospel is the body of doctrine that Christians are expected to believe. For other people, gospel means a "particular style of music."
 

If you take the Greek word evangelion that we translate as "gospel," theologian John Howard Yoder says that it would best be translated as "revolution." In the classical world, it meant simply "good news." But evangelion is not just any old good news. It is news that has political and social significance. When one city was at war with another, fighting for its civic freedom, evangelion, "good news" was the report that a runner brought to the city. "Good news! The battle has been fought and won!" Or when a son was born to the king, ensuring the political stability of the kingdom, "gospel" was what they announced to the public. "Good news! A child has been born to the king. Our reign is secure." Today, if we heard a proclamation that the war in Afghanistan was not only over but that peace and tranquility had come to that troubled land, that announcement would be called "gospel," "good news."
 

When Jesus comes into our world, it is an earthshaking event. All of our dominions, and the power structures upon which they are based, are in grave peril. Behind our celebration of Advent there is a threat: The Christ comes among us, not simply to help our personal lives, but also to work a cosmic revolution, to transform our world into the realm of God.

 

Mary's gospel song at the news of Jesus' birth is an example of such a good news proclamation. The song of her kinsman Zechariah at the birth of his son is a similar gospel song: "as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us . . ." (Lk 1:70-71).
 

And when that baby grew up, when John began his own preaching in the wilderness, Luke described it as gospeling, or good newsing the people with these predictions: "Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Lk 3:9).
 

"And the crowds asked him, 'what then should we do?' In reply he said to them, whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise'" (Lk 3:10-11).
 

Do you detect a pattern to this good news? When God moves against the present order, it is good news for the poor, bad news for the proud and rich political, economic, more than religious news. No wonder there were many in Judea that thought such good news didn't sound good at all. John ended up dead shortly after this sermon.
 

This was the news that Jesus himself proclaimed when, in terms almost identical to John's, he announced that the "kingdom of heaven is near" and then more precisely: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Lk 4:18-19).
 

By the way, this year of the Lord's favor, this acceptable year, is the Jubilee, the periodic economic setting things right, class warfare, taking from the rich and giving to the poor that is prescribed by the law of Moses. Jesus is saying that this promised Jubilee, this assault upon the rich, is what is happening now. It will involve changed attitudes, metanoia, "repentance," turning-the-mind-around. But it also involves actual deeds, fruits worthy of repentance, redistribution of possessions and power.
 

This is the good news that John and Jesus, Mary and Zechariah preached. Is it your idea of good news?
 

I suppose the main difference between good news and bad news is where you happen to be standing when you get the news. Here I stand, fixed atop a world of good, benefiting well from the present order, well fixed. I don't want, don't really need a revolution, particularly if that revolution comes to benefit those who are on the bottom.
 

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
 

We are uncomfortable with such speech. People who run banks, people who work in universities or for armies, people who have profited from the status quo, twitch upon hearing apocalyptic speech. However, those on the bottom, the small and the poor, those who have little to gain from the preservation of what is, tremble with delight upon hearing Bible talk about what, by God’s grace, might be.
 

Columbia, South Carolina. Mary Chestnut’s Diary of March 1865. “Sherman marched off in solid column, leaving not so much as a blade of grass behind. A howling wilderness, land laid waste, dust and ashes.” (p. 734) The end of the Old South. Mrs. Chestnut neglected to mention, in her tale of devastation and woe: the slaves were dancing in the streets.
 

See? It all depends on where one is standing, how one reacts to apocalyptic news.

 

"Good news! Messiah's coming and he's going to set right what's wrong with the world! He is going to do justice where injustice has been done!" Forgive me for not rushing over to Bethlehem for the party.
 

When Jesus was born, according to St. Luke, the powerful people, powerful political people, up at the palace missed it. The angeloi, the "heavenly messengers" from God, came to none of them. Rather, the heavens split open, songs filled the air, and an angelic army appeared to poor shepherds out in the fields working the night shift.
 

And the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to those with whom God is well pleased." The phrase on the angels' lips is an almost direct quote from the decrees of Caesar Augustus, one of the world's most powerful and ruthless dictators. When Augustus made some imperial decree to back up Caesar's occupation forces in the Near East, these words opened the decree: "Glory to the most august Caesar (otherwise known as God in the Highest), and peace on earth to those with whom the god Augustus is well pleased," the implication being that there will be hell to pay for those with whom god Augustus is not pleased. The words of the decree were uttered in order to intimidate anybody who might cause trouble for the Emperor. The Emperor is divine and woe to the person with whom this divine Emperor is displeased.
 

See what's happening here? Luke has put the Emperor Augustus' imperialist words on the lips of the Christmas angels. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was a royal decree: Glory to God in the highest. There's a new king on the throne. Jesus Christ is king. Therefore, Augustus, or anybody else, is not king.
 

Good news, I guess. The revolution has begun.