Read Luke 21:25-36
Who remembers S&H Green Stamps?
These stamps were the first customer loyalty program in the United States. The cashier would ring them out like she was dialing a rotary phone. The stamps appeared in different denominations—1, 10, or 50 point stamps. It took 50 points to fill a page and there were 24 pages to a book. That’s 1200 points to fill a book.
In the 1960’s the Sperry & Hutchinson Company issued more stamps than the United States Post Office and the rewards catalogue was the largest publication in the United States. People were filling lots and lots of books.
Well, you probably got started on your next book. Usually it took at least 2 or 3 books to get something good.
Then you finally got to redeem your stamps. Maybe there was a redemption center near you. Maybe you had to mail them and then anxiously wait for the desired items to arrive by mail. Second day air was not an available delivery option.
Eventually, after a time of accumulation, licking and sticking, mailing them away, you received your very special item. Could you imagine waiting for something these days?
Want it? Put it on the card. Get a payday loan. Use the rent money. Put it on the store account. If second day air isn’t fast enough, go with the overnight option.
Wait until you had enough stamps and postage money or gas money to drive to the redemption center and then get what you absolutely have to have? Are you crazy? Nobody waits for anything anymore.
But that’s not exactly true.
We wait for our redemption.
We wait for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to lay claim to its citizens.
We wait to live in the Kingdom of the Lord without the temptations of the kingdom of the world.
We belong to God’s Kingdom now. We follow Jesus. He is our King. We belong to his kingdom, but there will come a time of redemption. There will come a time of fullness.
But for now in this world, there will be times of distress and anxiety and there will be all manner of things designed to take the pain away. Most of these are addictive.
There will be tumultuous signs in the heavens and the earth. Things will be in turmoil. Nations will not be able to cope with the magnitude of disasters that will plague them.
People will look at what is going on the in the world and faint.
People will see the magnitude of war and drought and disease and natural disasters and governments trying to control what cannot be controlled and some will simply pass out from despair.
No one on the planet will escape what is to come upon the world. The time may be shortened for some and some will endure to the end, but the entire planet will be out of balance, out of harmony, and apparently out of control.
Yet Jesus tells us to stand up, lift up our heads, because we know our redemption is near. He gives a common analogy. Look at the fig tree or any tree for that matter. When they start to show their buds and leaves, then you know that summer is near. Things may look drab and bleak and mostly dead, but a time of life is coming soon.
We need to be aware of what is going on around us but not governed by it. Our redemption is in the Lord.
Sometimes we think that the worst thing that could happen is that OU doesn’t win the Big 12 and isn’t playing for a BCS Championship; but there are things far worse that we will bear witness to. We have already seen mega earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, and tidal waves. We see much of the world in poverty. We see recurring acts of senseless violence, debasing drug use, and loss of human dignity via our television or internet provider. In many ways we begin to become numb to these things, but they come with real hurt, and real pain, and real destruction.
The world says indulge yourself. Dull your senses to what’s happening. Play the victim and the blame game. Go find a corner and craw into it.
But we are told to hold our head up in the middle of all of this.
We are told that our redemption is near.
We are told that God’s Kingdom will be taking over soon.
But people have been on the verge of receiving this kingdom that is near, close by, in our midst for 2,000 years. Jesus even says that this generation will not pass away before these things come.
But Jesus is not talking about a number of decades or people living at a specific time on the earth. He is talking about this recalcitrant generation. He is talking about this rebellious generation.
He is talking about rebellion becoming so widespread that the coming of the Kingdom of God will not be a smooth transition from a world that did the best it could to the advent of God’s Kingdom. It will come abruptly as the most violent Coup de tat in the history of history.
Jesus is telling his followers, do not despair when things go from bad to worse, and then to even worse than you thought they could get. The coming of the Kingdom of God will be in stark contrast to what is going on in the kingdom of the world.
Hold your head up.
Do not despair.
Maintain your hope.
Continue in your vigilance.
Continue in your faithfulness.
We have some peace in this crazy world that others do not know.
We have hope when others only know despair.
We give love when others grow cold.
But we are not yet complete.
We have not been fully redeemed.
There is more in store for us.
There is more to come, but unlike the natural progression of the world, that more to come will come in contrast to what is happening in the world.
We should not visualize the advent of God’s Kingdom as two converging paths.
We should not expect to see the world getting better as a sign of the coming of the Kingdom.
We should expect the opposite. We should expect God’s Kingdom and our redemption to arrive abruptly and overwhelm a world that has reached the pinnacle of rebellion against God.
And as things appear to grow worse, we take heart that our redemption is near.
We are strangers in this world not only because we seek God’s Kingdom and his righteousness first. We are strangers in this world not only because we have stopped serving the selfish hunger that pleads with us to know the world more intimately.
We are strangers because of what we don’t know. We do not know despair. We are people of hope. We are people who do not grow faint when man and nature grapple with the destruction of all we know, for we know hope. We know that in the pending darkness we will be redeemed from the world.
And what do we do in the mean time?
We keep on saving and licking and filling those books with stamps. This is not so we can earn our redemption but because we live now as a people who are certain of their redemption. We keep on living as people who look forward to the day we will stand before Jesus. We do not shrink back from this day.
We look forward to the coming of God’s Kingdom.
We look forward to our redemption.
Do you ever wonder if you are growing and maturing as a follower of Jesus?
Do you ever wonder if you are really any different now than when you first professed Jesus as your Lord and Savior?
Try this on for size. When everything around you seems to be falling apart, do you still trust in the Lord?
When the world appears to be a darker place than it was yesterday, are you still full of hope?
When it appears that we may be near the end of our lives or the end of the age, do we shrink back and look for a place to hide or do we stand?
Do we stand and lift our heads in anticipation of the kingdom to come?
Do we hold our heads up knowing fully that God’s Kingdom and our redemption are near?
Because of a man nailed to a cross, and empty tomb, and witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, we are not entitled to despair.
The world despairs because it knows him not.
The world despairs because all of its schemes will come to ruin.
The world despairs because all of its hope is in its own devices and cleverness and plots and plans.
But our hope is in the Lord.
And we do not despair.
We do not faint.
We do not grow weary.
We stand and hold our heads up anticipating the coming of God’s Kingdom and advent of our redemption for in the calamity of the world, we see the Day of the Lord growing near.