Saturday, December 1, 2018

Wait for it. . . Year C, Advent 1, Luke 21.25-36,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
The world in which we live is warming.  Global warming is not some future event that might one day happen.  It is happening now and is evident in concrete and measurable effects.
Here’s a bit of information from NASA’s website:
“Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner.
Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.
Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.
According to the IPCC, the extent of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time and with the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change.
The IPCC predicts that increases in global mean temperature of less than 1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3 degrees Celsius) above 1990 levels will produce beneficial impacts in some regions and harmful ones in others. Net annual costs will increase over time as global temperatures increase.
"Taken as a whole," the IPCC states, "the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time." 
Some of the specific effects of this warming are:
·         Rising temperatures
·         Longer growing seasons
·         Changes in precipitation patterns
·         Droughts and heat waves
·         Stronger and more intense hurricanes and other storm systems
·         Rising sea levels
·         Melting of the polar sea ice
Here in the Northwest we can expect ”changes in the timing of streamflow reduce water supplies for competing demands. Sea level rise, erosion, inundation, risks to infrastructure and increasing ocean acidity pose major threats. Increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks and tree diseases are causing widespread tree die-off.”
A couple of personal observations:
If you visit Glacier Park, one of the things you’ll immediately become aware of is that the glaciers are themselves almost gone.
My own cousin is feeling the effects of global warming.  He farms in  Northeast South Dakota, where the rising levels of the lakes has claimed over 1/3 of his farm, which is now underwater.
And finally, all you have to do is watch the high water level of the spring runoff just down the road on the Spokane River.  Thirty years ago the high level of spring runoff occurred well into June.  Now that is happening earlier and earlier.
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. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Now, just when we are duly uneasy and concerned about the effects of global warming, there is another potential disaster on the horizon:
People who are into apocalyptic predictions of the future point to the Yellowstone super volcano.  A massive eruption such as has occurred about every 600,000 years could bring about a volcanic winter, where the ash shades the earth from the sun, causing in the worst case scenario a total failure of the crops worldwide.  This, these futurists muse, could be the end of humanity.
What doesn’t make the tabloids, is that the chances of this happening are very remote, and may never occur again.
Feeling good about the world and life in general, yet?
What do we make of Jesus’ ominous warnings of the tribulations that are to come?
Well, for starters, the good news is that what Jesus was likely warning his disciples about occurred shortly after his words of warning were uttered.
“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.”
What indeed happened just forty years after Jesus was that the Romans destroyed the temple, and then in another forty years, thoroughly destroyed the nation of Israel.  Israel remained scattered across the face of the earth until the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in 1947.
So, take a deep breath, and a sigh of relief.  Jesus wasn’t predicting the end of the world, but rather the end of the nation of Israel.  That happened.  Old news.
There’s another thing to give us hope when faced with the dire warnings and predictions of cataclysmic events on the horizon.
Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
These words remind me of the Exodus and Moses’ words to Israel.
They had just left Egypt and were at the shores of the Red Sea.  Pharaoh’s heart had been hardened and he sent his chariots after the Israelites.
And so there they were, caught between the Red Sea on the one side, and the advancing armies of Egypt on the other side.  They feared their death was imminent.
Moses said:  "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.  The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still."
One of the major themes throughout the Bible is “deliverance”, and God’s saving his people from one calamity after another.
It’s like a good news/bad news joke, though it is no joke.
The good news is that God will deliver you.
The bad news is that there will be difficult times ahead as we await that deliverance.
It’s like when a pregnant woman shows up at the hospital in labor.  The good news is that the pain she is experiencing will soon be over.  The bad news is that it is going to get worse before it gets better. 
You see the thing about this theme of deliverance in the Bible is that God does not promise to spare us the suffering that is an inevitable part of this life, but rather that he will bring us through the suffering to a new day.
We will face many struggles in this life, some great and some small. 
Some of these struggles will be our own personal struggles, some will affect our families, and some will affect the community as a whole.
There may even be epic times of great difficulty that impact the whole of humanity, like world wars, or famine, or diseases and the like that render us all vulnerable.
Sometimes the difficulties we face will be of our own making. 
When that is the case, it is possible that what we have done we can also undo, but not always. 
At other times we will face suffering and crises that come upon us through no fault of our own whatsoever.
There is innocent suffering in this world.
But the promise remains the same.
“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
The one issue that all of us will experience in due time, is our own deaths.
Sometimes that will come without warning.
At other times the signs that the end for us is coming will be clear and foreboding.  It may be a cancer diagnosis, or heart disease, or Alzheimer’s, or any number of other things that affects our mortality.
No one is spared that day.
An old saying is “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.”
The bad news is that there are no exceptions.
But there is redemption and new life.
In Romans 8 Paul writes:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Labor pains.  Suffering.  Redemption.
That’s the cycle of life.
One final thought.  One of the deepest regrets that I have regarding the pastoral care I offered over the course of my career was the counsel I offered to my youth director and her husband.
They were in my office one day, alarmed because Ben was losing his strength in one leg.  I tried to reassure them that most often we fear the worst, and yet it ends up being not nearly as bad as we fear.
It turned out that Ben had a glioblastoma, a fast growing brain tumor, and in a few short weeks he died.  Yeah, it was that bad.
Sometimes the signs we see are indeed warning signs of a great and looming tragedy.  Denying that possibility is not where we find ultimate hope.
Our hope is in the redemption that Christ has promised.
We will not face the worst that life has to offer, or death itself, alone.
But the sufferings that we will endure are but birth pangs, and the hope that we have is of the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus.

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