A sermon by David Hughes, Pastor First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.
December 2, 2012
The summer of 1939 was a very scary time for Great Britain. Nazi Germany was preparing to invade a number of European countries, including Britain, to extend its empire. Just before the outbreak of World War 2, the British government agency known as the Ministry of Information decided to raise the morale of the frightened British people by printing and distributing propaganda posters around the country.
The first poster read, “Freedom is in Peril. Defend it With All Your Might”. The second poster said, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory”. The third poster read, “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
For reasons unknown to me, the third poster—“Keep Calm and Carry On”—didn’t get nearly the circulation the other posters got during the war. In fact, it was largely forgotten until a copy surfaced in a British book store in 2000. Suddenly the posters became wildly popular, and thousands have sold over the last twelve years. Copies of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters now appear at the British Prime Minister’s residence and Buckingham Palace, as well as in buildings belonging to other governments the world, including our own. The poster has also inspired some clever parodies like “Keep Calm and Go Shopping”, and a poster in reverse that says, “Now Panic and Freak Out.”
Nobody knows for sure why the “Keep Calm” poster has suddenly become such a hot item, but it’s hard to believe the current state of our world doesn’t have something to do with it. These are anxious time we in live. In fact, the poster “Now Panic and Freak Out” might seem more relevant for today.
Some people are panicked these days because the ancient Mayan calendar predicted thousands of years ago that the world as we know it would end on December 21, 2012. As we close in on that date, be on the lookout for the media to cover this prediction.
But you don’t have to be a fan of the Mayan calendar to be shaking in your boots. Some of the very phrases used by Jesus in Luke 21 to describe the end times seem so real and relevant today. Like the distress among nations evidenced between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip—the predicted region for the infamous, world-ending Battle of Armageddon. And after Hurricane Sandy who can ignore Jesus’ reference to the people confused and frightened by the roaring of the sea and the waves?
These days we Americans are edging closer and closer to the proverbial “fiscal cliff” that threatens to topple our still fragile economy. And none of our institutions—including our banks and businesses, governments and schools, not even our churches—have escaped unscathed from moral scandals and tectonic shifts ongoing in our society.
Never have I seen so many people so tempted to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. No wonder the “Now Panic and Freak Out” posters are gaining in popularity!
But right smack in the middle of Jesus’ gloomy predictions of the end of the world stands a command that glimmers with hope. Normally when danger is headed our way we tell people to duck and take cover. That’s why it’s surprising to hear Jesus say, “When these (scary) things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
“Stand up and raise your heads” says Jesus because God is at work even in the scary stuff. That’s the message, by the way, of this Advent season. No matter how dark or scary things appear, God has come, God is at work, God is in control, and those who have eyes to see will see.
To illustrate Jesus tells his frightened listeners a parable. “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout their leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
If we are paying attention, vegetation can give us a clue about what’s actually going on, and where God actually is. And today isn’t that especially true! What do the holly and ivy and evergreens and poinsettias and Christmas tree tell us? That despite all that seems to be going wrong God is at work, the future is in God’s hands, and the kingdom of God is nearer than we think.
That’s why our hearts need not be weighed down with the worries of this day. That’s why we can raise our heads and keep calm.
But that’s not all…we also carry on. Jesus does not call us to crawl into our beds, take a sleeping pill and hope that all is well in the morning. “Be alert at all times,” he says. “Keep praying,” he says. “Keep plowing and sowing the seed of the gospel,” he says. “Keep loving and serving and forgiving and feeding and clothing and consoling till the cows come home,” he says. “Keep on keeping on.”
I can’t help but wonder if Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II, was inspired by Jesus’ words when he stood to speak before a group of high school students in October 1941. Britain had been badly battered by German bombs and many Brits were fainting with fear and foreboding.
Churchill noted in his speech that appearances are often deceiving, that imagination often “makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done”, and “we must pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-ranging imagination.”
And then he added these words for which he is so well-known: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in.”
Brothers and sisters, that ought to be the motto of every Christ-follower on the face of this earth. In the midst of the darkness, Advent declares that God has come. Christ is born. The Holy Spirit is moving. So never, never give in.