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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Future Is A Very Messy Place

2013-12-01 The Future Is A Very Messy Place

Luke 21:25-36

"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. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

What's the future going to be like? We used to make predictions based on which direction the cows were facing. Now, we've got weather radar that can predict up to the minute and down to the square mile. You can watch it on your phone and make a very educated guess as to how long you've got before the green or the orange or the pink makes it to where you're standing.

The future is predicted for us.

Christmas is coming. I think it's safe to say that most of us can predict with a high degree of confidence how it's going to be. We base our forecast on data from the past. We generate models in our heads of how this coming Christmas will play out.

Don't believe me? Ask a 6 year-old what Santa's going to bring. More certain than Jim Cantore in a hurricane. We each have our own vision of the ideal Christmas. Sometimes we set a pretty high bar. And then we work toward that ideal. Which can create some stress. Or we fight with the ideal, mourn the ideal, regret the ideal. Which can create sadness or even lead to clinical depression. We generally make our predictions early, and then live with them for the next four weeks. For some, it's a season of good tidings of great joy. It's the hap-happiest season of all. And that's great. For some, it's a wintry mix, clouds mixed with sun with occasional scattered precipitation from the eyes. For some, it feels pretty dark and gloomy, not too far from the foreboding prophecies in the Bible.

Our degrees of certainty can work for us or against us. When you look at the different ways people predict Christmas in their hearts, the next four weeks are a mixed bag.

The future - even the near future - is a very messy place.


In the Gospel, Luke predicts the future like a TV weather-person. And the forecast is not-good.

"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."

The prophet Joel says the sun shall be extinguished and the moon shall turn to blood on the day of the Lord's coming. (Joel 2)

When the Bible talks about the coming of the Lord, the forecast sounds downright apocalyptic. Some people interpret this as a coming day of destruction sent upon the earth for the sins of Miley Cyrus twerking on television. We've let our morals go, and therefore punishment shall be heaped upon our heads.

There IS plenty of historical data to prove that you do sometimes reap what you sow. Karma's gonna get you, instant or delayed. And as a parent, I want to second that opinion. But I disagree with the doomsday weather-predictors who automatically assume every bad storm is the armed vengeance of an angry God. "I told you so," is NOT the Eleventh Commandment.

What people who like to scare you with the Bible won't tell you is that even its predictions are written in retrospect. Even when the Bible talks about the future, its words are rooted in the past and directed - squarely - at the present. The Bible is a living word. It's not an inanimate crystal ball or a Doppler radar dome. The Bible's a living word. It's directed at people who dare to live in what's sometimes the scariest reality available: the here and now.

So instead of asking ourselves what the coming of Christ is GOING to be like, or holding ourselves to how the advent of Christ USED to be, instead, I think the Bible calls us to ask how the coming of Christ is right now. Right now. In our messy, but present heart.


I follow God on Twitter. I don't think it's The Actual God. If I had to guess, I'd say it's probably some smart-aleck hipster in New Jersey. The Tweet of God is sometimes profane, but sometimes quite profound.

Last week, God tweeted the following, and then removed it, so I consider myself blessed to have seen the word while it was present. God said, "There is no such thing as the foreseeable future." I like that. When I hear myself saying, "in the foreseeable future," I remember what God tweeted, and smile.

So I read Bible passages about the great and terrible day of the coming of the Lord, and I think, "Well, OK. Maybe that's a prediction about the future. But maybe not. Maybe it's not a prediction, but a description. A description of what I - or some people not too far from me - are feeling when they look ahead - and try to make a forecast. Maybe it's description of what what people feel when they try to foresee what the coming of the Lord - what we sometimes call Christmas. Maybe this is messy truth of what people feel when they try to guess how things are going to be.

Of course everyone wants this to be the hap-happiest season of all. But what if it isn't? What if Christmas isn't perfect? What if the future is just as messy - just as messed up - as the present? The present which is always born of the past? Of course there are days that feel apocalyptic. But most of the time, even in the darkest or brightest season, it's a mix. A mix of rain and sun. A mix of anything from hap-happiest at one end to that which can only be endured.

The coming of Christ isn't so much a prediction as a description. And then, not as much a description as a promise. The coming of Christ is the idea - that in every day's mixed bag of weather, Christ is there with us. The coming of Christ is the hope that no matter whether the winds blow warm or cold, in whatever direction they spin us, Christ is here with us. The coming of Christ is the promise that God named him right, that he is "Emmanuel." God-with-us. God present. Here and now. God is with you visibly in the past, predictably in the future, but certainly in the present, messed up as you may be.


Back in the day, before and during Jesus' time on earth, everyone had their ideas of how he was going to be. Some predicted he'd be a warrior to slay the oppressors. Some thought he'd be a King. Hardly anyone figured he'd show up as a baby in a manger. That one wasn't even on the radar.

Bearing in mind the Bible's apocalyptic visions of Christ's coming, you might say what really got blown up were all those preconceived forecasts. The foreseeable future turned out to be no such thing. In hindsight, we can say, it turned out much, much better.

What's your future going to be like?

Well, probably a lot like your present. Unless something unforeseeable happens. Which it will. The game-changing promise is that when the unforeseeable does happen, Christ's presence will be there with you. Born of that which was totally unpredictable. Arising from that which looked so messy.

To our Risen Lord be the glory, now and forever. Amen.