I’m using for my title a well-known phrase; it is, in fact, the frightened cry of a certain Chicken Little. There are many variations to the story, but they all begin with an acorn—an acorn which comes plunging from far above and whacks Chicken Little (plop!) on the top of her head. She panics, “The sky is falling! I must go tell the king!”
So off goes Chicken Little, encountering along the way such individuals as Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey—not to mention the infamous Foxy Loxy, who’s more than happy to help Chicken Little, while licking his chops at the sight of all those birds.
Luke 21 might have us thinking that Chicken Little was onto something. The description of “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars” sounds like everything’s coming apart. This may be just me, but if you notice the paranoia that so often surrounds us, you’ll see that some people already think the sky is falling. Maybe some of us feel that way!
We are well into Advent. Advent is as much about the second coming of Jesus as it is about his first—as the baby in Bethlehem. The idea of a returning messiah has appeared in various religions and mythologies all over the world.
For example, there was the Aztec belief that the god Quetzalcoatl would someday return to them. When Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico in 1519, many thought their hope had been realized. He had come from the east—from the sea—just as Quetzalcoatl was supposed to do, and it happened on the same date as Quetzalcoatl was to appear. However, when the Spanish started killing the Aztecs, it became pretty clear that Cortés was not their savior!
I should add this story has now largely been considered a fabrication. But it is a great story!
We’re looking at part of a passage that goes back to verse 5, as some folks are “ooh-ing and ah-ing” over how beautiful the temple is. I don’t suppose many of us have ever been in a temple. Banu and I have been inside the model of a temple. There’s a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Nashville—a really impressive structure—complete with a 42-foot-tall statue of the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena.
In the scripture, Jesus proceeds to pour cold water on the admiration of the temple. He tells those who are simply breathless over its beauty that “the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (v. 6). Not one stone will be left upon another. (Note to self: do not hire him as a tour guide!)
The first part of today’s reading, verses 25 to 28, actually may have people saying, “The sky is falling!” Besides disturbances in the heavens, there’s a reference to what’s happening on earth. Confusion will be caused “by the roaring of the sea and the waves” (v. 25). The sea and the waves are symbols of chaos. “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world” (v. 26). We’re looking at some scary stuff.
I suppose many generations could identify with this. Case in point: in the mid-fourteenth century, a pandemic of bubonic and pneumonic plague (alias the Black Death) swept through Europe, killing about one-third of the population. It was commonly believed the end of the world was at hand.
These last three years might have stirred up similar feelings.
Despite all of that, we aren’t to do imitations of Chicken Little. Verse 28 says “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads.” Stand up and raise your heads—even if it seems like the sky is falling. Why are we to do that? “Because your redemption is drawing near.” That’s the response of the faithful: those who look for the Lord’s return, as opposed to those who pay no attention to such things.
The second part of the passage, verses 29 to 33, is a parable taken from nature. Besides the image of the fig tree, Luke includes “all the trees,” since his audience includes those not familiar with fig trees. When they sprout leaves, summer is near. In the same way, when the signs of the preceding verses appear, the kingdom of God is near.
Here’s a question. Has there ever been a time when people did not see these things? That would seem to suggest—and this can be found elsewhere in the New Testament—the kingdom of God is always at hand. When we consider the kingdoms of Christ and Caesar, the difference in the two isn’t a matter of location. Both are always with us. Instead, it’s a difference in worldviews—a difference in vision.
The third part contains warnings. They seem to question the way most of us live our lives. Verse 34 says, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”
In his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, Eugene Peterson put it this way: “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.” What’s his deal? He’s like Arnold Schwarzeneggar in Kindergarten Cop: “I’m the party pooper.”
Bruce Prewer spoke of those who, in effect, only recognize the first advent of Jesus by wanting to ignore the season of Advent and race ahead to Christmas. “If you don’t believe in the Final Coming of Christ,” he says, “then I suggest that you don’t really believe in the first coming of this True Child of God. They are inseparable as thunder and lightning… If they are not inseparably linked in our faith, our Christmas activities are in danger of becoming a sentimental excursion into fantasy…
“Unless we see Christ as the Alpha and Omega, the One who will certainly come again, then Advent and Christmas can be a brief sentimental diversion; time out from the hard suffering and desperation of this world. It may offer a bit of temporary escapism. But mere tinselled sentiment will not provide a liberation for anxious souls who fear they are living in doomsday times.”
The world doesn’t need the church to mimic its empty portrayal of Christmas. The world needs the church to be the church. What I mean is: the world needs the church to show that there is a better way. Too often, it is the reverse!
One way to put these thoughts into a question—and if you haven’t figured this out by now—I like to ask questions. Probably much more important than having the right answer is asking the right question. So, what does it mean, in Advent 2022, to wait for the Lord?
Verse 36 gives the warning, “Be 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.” The New Jerusalem Bible renders that last phrase as “to hold your ground before the Son of Man.” How do we hold our ground?
What does it mean to be alert? Or how about this: how do we look for the second advent of Jesus, even when the sky is falling?
There are probably as many different ways the sky can fall as there are people. Disaster need not happen on a public scale, with many witnesses. The sky can fall, as we all know, in our own lives. That only underlines the need to encourage each other in the faith, to strive to see Christ in others.
The Bible says we are to pray for the strength to escape what causes us to say, “The sky is falling!” We are to pray for the strength to stand before the Son of Man.
“The Son of Man”: in simple terms, it means “human being.” To the extent that we imitate Christ, to the same extent we become human. Christ is the new Adam—the human of the new creation.
That touches on a key aspect of Christmas itself. There is the reality of incarnation, literally, “in the flesh.” It is God being embodied, appearing as a human—that is, as the baby of Bethlehem. The uncreated revealed as the created. It imparts a limitless affirmation of who we are as humans. The sanctification of matter, of physicality, presents us as children of God.
the pillars of creation
Holding our ground before the Son of Man is an acknowledgment of, and celebration of, the great gift of being born as human, and what’s more, adoption into the family of God. It’s a great gift even when we feel like the sky is falling.