Text: Luke 21.25–36. Advent Sunday.
Once upon a time there was a homeless man, who lived on the street, outside the enormous mansion of the richest man in the city. The rich man’s son used to walk outside the mansion, and over time he became friendly with the poor beggar. He would bring small gifts of food, or warm clothes, or the occasional festive treat. The two men, the beggar and rich man’s son became good friends – despite the difference in their circumstances.
One day, however, tragedy struck. The rich man’s son suddenly died. When the beggar heard of this, he was grief stricken. How could he pay tribute to his friend? How could he remember him? Picking up a paper bag from the street, and a piece of charcoal, the beggar drew the face of his friend, lovingly.
When he had finished his drawing, the beggar went up to the mighty doors of the great mansion, and knocked for attention. A rather snooty servant opened the door. ‘Yes?’ he said. ‘Oh great Sir!’ said the beggar. ‘Please would you give this picture to the Master of the house? It’s a picture of his son, who was my friend. I want the Master to know that his son was kind to me’. ‘Oh very well,’ said the servant, taking the picture and closing the door in the poor man’s face.
A year or two later, another tragedy: the Master of the House died. Without an heir to inherit his wealth, an auction of all his possessions was held. The beggar, seeing the sign about the auction, decided to go along out of curiosity. To his great surprise, he discovered that his drawing of the rich man’s son had been framed and placed in a prominent position in the Master’s gallery. He was stunned, and he waited to see what would happen next.
The auctioneer announced that the very first lot would be the drawing of the rich man’s son. ‘The Master has decreed it, in his will’, the auctioneer explained, ‘as a condition of the sale’. A sigh rippled through the crowd. Who would want to buy an amateur charcoal drawing on the back of an old shopping bag? There was silence in the room. No-one made any bids. The beggar felt around in his pocket, and found a couple of small coins. ‘I bid these coins!’ he announced, holding them up between his finger and thumb. Laughter roared around the room, as the relieved auctioneer banged his gavel on the desk and shouted ‘sold’.
The beggar was shuffling his way to the front of the room, to collect his picture, when the auctioneer announced, ‘That’s the end of the sale, Ladies and Gentlemen. Good afternoon’. Uproar. What?! All the wealthy art dealers began rattling their jewellery in protest!
The auctioneer held up his hands for silence, and then explained. ‘I’m very sorry, Ladies and Gentlemen, but there were two conditions attached to this sale by the Master of the House. The first was that the portrait of his son would be auctioned first. The second condition was that whoever bids on the portrait of the son gets the whole art gallery!
And that, my friends, is what I want to share with you this morning. On this Advent Sunday, as we contemplate the coming of Christ into the world, in his conception, his birth, and his promised return, we must not miss this: when you get the Son, you get everything else. Not just personal peace, and rest for those who ‘travail and are heavy laden’. But you also get a framework for transforming all of creation. Following Jesus is a personal decision – but it has world-transforming potential too!
To a world in which survival is now the question, Jesus is the answer. Listen again to his words of prophecy from this morning’s reading: ‘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”. These are words for our time, are they not?
In saying so, let me be clear. I'm not saying that Jesus was talking about our time, specifically. I don't subscribe to the idea (among many Christians) that we are in the so-called 'Last Days'. But let's think about that idea together on another occasion. What I am saying, though, is that the kind of circumstances which Jesus foresaw do look uncannily like our own times.
We don’t have to look far to see the signs in the sky. The wealthiest men on the planet are building and testing their rockets – while announcing their view that the earth is ultimately doomed. Many, like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos claim that the long-term survival of human kind is in space. Who do we think will be on those rockets? Who is it who will build new colonies on Mars and beyond? It won’t be the poor and the starving masses. It will be billionaires and their friends.
What about the roaring of the sea? We don’t have to look far to realise that the ice-caps are melting, and the sea-levels are rising – entire cities and small nations will drown, certainly within the lifetime of the next generation. Dramatically powerful weather events are increasing exponentially – Oh yes, the seas are roaring alright.
People fainting from fear and foreboding? The Fear among humanity is palpable. Fear of Covid. Fear of foreginers. Fear of conspiracies. Fear of climate disaster. Fear drives our news broadcasts, our social media, our politics and our daily conversations. And yes, many people do faint from fear and foreboding. Stress and depression brought on by fear is rising exponentially across the world.
To all these questions…Jesus is the answer. There is wisdom in all the great religions of the world. But only Jesus offers an answer to the signs in the sky, the roaring and rising seas, and to the fear: ‘Stand up and raise your heads,’ he says, ‘for your redemption draws near’!
What will this redemption look like? I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t think that we will ever see literal Jesus arriving on a literal cloud – that’s the language of metaphor, and I think we should treat it as such. But what I do know is that we serve a God whose entire being is bent towards the salvation of the world….spiritually and physically. Through Jesus, through his incarnation among us, through the unsurpassed wisdom he left with us, and through the promise of a coming new Kingdom, God inspires us to reach out to others with compassion. He calls us to lives of service to all humanity. He calls us to live lightly, treading softly on the earth. He calls us to extraordinary generosity and to works of healing – to loving God, and loving our neighbour as ourself.
It is by following these teachings that the world can and, I believe, will be saved. As the waters roar and rise, as fear expands, and as billionaires flee through the heavens, our sacred task is to keep on calling our neighbours and friends, and this whole community to live as Jesus calls us. Not just to save our own souls, but to save the whole world. For when you get the Son, you get everything else.