Text: Luke 21:5-19
If I were to say to you, “figgy pudding,” would you know what I was talking about? Maybe it would help if I sang it. “Oh, bring us a figgy pudding; Oh bring us a figgy pudding; Oh bring us a figgy pudding, and a cup of good cheer.” Yes, it’s the second stanza of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”:
But does anyone actually know what figgy pudding is? Thank goodness for the internet! It turns out that figgy pudding is an English Christmas pudding made with…figs. Baked or boiled, it was popular in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries which means John Knox, who died in 1572, even though he was Scottish, not English, might have eaten it. But I’m guessing few of us have ever even eaten it ourselves, let alone served it to carolers.
We are coming to the end of the church year and so we are hearing texts about the end of the world and the day of the Lord, or of Christ’s second coming. We will hear more of these apocalyptic texts as we move into Advent.
This the thing about apocalyptic texts. Texts like today’s gospel lesson from Luke in which Jesus predicts persecution for his followers, is kind of like singing about figgy pudding. We encounter it every year when we sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” so it has a certain ring of familiarity, but we don’t actually know what it is or what it tastes like. It’s an artifact we accept but don’t find especially relevant.
You know what? In a certain way, this prophesy Jesus made, this lesson from Luke chapter 21, really doesn’t have much to do with us either. Jesus predicted great trials, both natural and political, earthquake, famines and floods, nations rising against nation, wars and insurrection.
But before all this occurs, Jesus said, you, my beloved followers, will suffer. You will be handed over for trial and prison, you will be betrayed by family members and friends, some of you will even be killed.
And you know what? All that did happen. The Romans put many Christians on trial and martyred them. The gospel of Luke was written after the siege and fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, which was an conflagration as bloody and violent as the world has ever seen.
Luke was writing to Christians who had lived through terrible times and who were trying to make sense of it and needed words of encouragement.
As a preacher, when faced with texts about trial, tribulation and martyrdom, I often try to sort of “make them fit.” I say, “Well, even though it is highly unlikely that any of us will find ourselves literally on trial for our faith, still we do suffer a little for our faith. Sometimes people think we’re weird and won’t talk to us at cocktail parties.” Gosh, that’s really suffering for the faith, isn’t it? I always feel that that rings a little hollow.
But maybe there’s another way to encounter this text that neither diminishes the experience of people in the past, nor tries to make our experience into something like theirs.
The way to make figgy pudding real and relevant to us now is not to ignore it or just to research it, but to make some, and to taste it and eat it. If it’s good, make it into a tradition.
So with these texts. We need to read them and allow them to be the Word of God for us, now, today, in our time, in our context, in our lives here in Northern California, 2019. Now is the time of the trial and tribulation, now is the time of divine deliverance.
Sometimes we do find ourselves in the midst of the end of the world, our world, anyway. Sometimes a structure we’ve carefully constructed, brick by brick and stone by stone is shaken, and sometimes the whole ceiling comes down.
For example, some among us are facing declining health or the onset of a disease that is not reversible, and you can feel your world closing in.
For many in California, and especially those who live here in wine country, we’re realizing that we live in fire country, and furthermore, because of global climate change and poor management of wilderness lands and outdated equipment, fires are the new normal.
We thank God that no one died in the Kincade Fire, but we remember the apocalyptic landscape and the loss and death caused by the fires in 2017.
So no, we don’t know what it’s like to be persecuted for our faith, but we do know what it is like to live through catastrophic times, and to cry out to God for help, for comfort, and for deliverance.
In Luke 21, verse 14, after telling his followers that they will be put on trial, Jesus says, “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”
I don’t think this literally means to walk into tests or trials of any kind unprepared. Instead Jesus is speaking to us at gut level. Jesus is addressing us in the places where our fears and our anxieties live – the pit of the stomach, the shallow breathing, the stiff shoulders, and Jesus is saying, “It will be all right. I will be with you. Worry less. I will get you through it.”
Jesus is addressing anxiety.
As soon as I say that word, “anxiety,” we pause for a moment and let it become real here in this room, reverberating in our chests, then we realize that Jesus is going for the deep place. We feel anxiety. We know what it is.
Anxiety does nothing to change our outward circumstances, ever. But it can paralyze us, and it can lead us to make unwise decisions. Anxiety has a way of making things small. The walls close in. We get focused on the worst possible outcome and lose sight of all our other options.
Most of all, anxiety robs us of peace, and peace is one of the greatest gifts that Jesus came to give. “Peace I give you. My peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives, I give to you.”
Peace comes from trust. We are able to let go of our anxiety, or at least to not be overwhelmed or controlled by it, when we are actively trusting in God.
Active trust means trusting at a very deep, primal, gut level, that God is here, with you, with me, that God is somehow at work even in the worst of circumstances, and that eventually, even if it takes until the next life, things will be all right. God’s will will be done.
It doesn’t mean that things will turn out just the way we have in mind, but it does mean that however things go, we will still be all right. God is holding us close, walking with us, leading, guiding and giving us the peace that allows us to deal with whatever it is.
For example, money.
It’s hard not to worry about money. The congregation has become smaller in the past few years and there is less money but just as much work, right? So shall we withdraw and be anxious? Not give because we don’t trust the outcome? No. What would be the good of that?
Jesus has told us that times will be hard, and he has promised to see us through. Jesus invites us to trust him, and in so doing, experience and live in a kind of peace that nothing and no one else can give. “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict,” Luke 21:15.
Maybe this Advent we should make some figgy pudding. It seems like an Advent kind of dish. And figs are delicious, and very California! If we did that, a dish that now a relic of the past would suddenly be real and relevant. It could connect us to our ancestors and to God’s faithfulness throughout the ages.
Just so, Holy Spirit makes Jesus’ words of comfort, written by Luke to Christians long ago, to come alive and speak to us in our time, in our circumstances, when our ceilings threaten to cave in.
To us Jesus says, “Live in my peace. Don’t dwell in anxiety and defensiveness. I will give you the words. I will bring you through your trial.” Now is the time of trial, and, now is the time of divine deliverance. It will be all right because Jesus is with us. Amen.