Winter is Coming

Winter is coming.

Temperatures are falling, leaves are just starting to change colors; we can all feel instinctually the changing of the seasons. One day, not so far from now, we’ll bundle up with our jackets and face the cold, winter, wind.

Winter is coming.

Winter is a time of foreboding, a stark time of grays and whites and signs of decay and even death; the world awaiting renewal. The phrase winter is coming hits home within us on a spiritual level as it refers to the coming of challenge, difficulty, and suffering.

Things like: The dark night of our soul. The season of discontent. The deepest valley. A time of suffering.

Winter is coming.

So says Jesus in our scripture for this morning.

Let’s hear the next part of the little apocalypse in Matthew, a continuation from last week’s look at the same as we asked that question, “are we living in the end times?” We said no, we’re living in normal times; times that are always characterized by chaos. And our response should be to boldly walk into the chaos, bearing the name of Christ, witnessing that the Kingdom of God is among us, today, for those who are suffering because of that chaos.

We are to suffer with others.

But sometimes, that suffering comes and visits us personally. It’s then we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that

Winter is coming.

Our scripture begins with verse 9 in chapter 24 and continues into verse 14.

Scripture

Winter is coming.

Jesus makes no bones about it. This is a continuation of the scripture we looked at last week. There, in verses three through eight, we saw how the world is a place of chaos with much suffering. The news this week of wildfires burning out of control and Hurricane Sally only bring this to the forefront of our minds.

Jesus mentions these things to tell us that they’re normal, they’re part of living life on this planet, they’re to be expected. External problems, external difficulties, things out in the world that sometimes affect us.

Here, beginning in verse 9, he shifts to inward things, personal suffering. We Christians will be betrayed, tortured, hated by others, hated by nations, and killed. Other Christians will be led astray by false prophets, growing lawless in not keeping up with the demands of our faith because their hearts will grow cold to it. They’ll look like we have religion but, in their hearts, they actually don’t.

That certainly resonates with our current era. We have liberal Christians and evangelical Christians who are at odds with each other, and that’s just in this country among Protestants. There are divisions within the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Then, there are those protestants who say that Catholics aren’t real Christians and vise-versa.

Often, this leads Christians to fight each other. Christians persecute Christians around the globe over differences of opinion, both believing themselves to be the true keepers of the faith, accusing the others of being false prophets.

Christians persecuting Christians. Talk about chaos.

All of this sounds like exactly what Jesus is describing here; what we want to think are signs of the end times. But, of course, as we examined last week, they’re the normal state of affairs. Indeed, Christians have been divided and persecuting each other since Paul and Peter had their spat some 2000 years ago. Even though Jesus prays in the garden before going to the cross that all his followers would be one, Jesus here is saying he expects us to be divided, fighting each other, our actions lawless and our hearts cold.

Cold, like the winter’s wind. Cold, like a morning walk on a winter’s day. Cold in our hearts, turned away, lawless, chaotic.

Such is the state of affairs for the world, even for our own faith; it has been, is, and will be.

For Jesus is saying here:

Winter is coming.

The dark night of our souls. The season of discontent. The deepest valley. A time of suffering.

But this is not all Jesus mentions. There’s personal suffering involved here, too: betrayal, hatred, torture, ridicule, setbacks, and even death.

In our lives, we’ve also known personal suffering. And, perhaps, that’s more relevant to our conversation today because it’s more relevant to our lives right now. We’ve known dark nights of our souls, seasons of discontent, the deepest and darkest valleys, times of suffering.

We’ve known family divisions, disputes, and the loss of relationships.

We’ve known betrayal, just like Jesus mentions here, of those supposedly closest to us or those who we thought cared for us.

We’ve known the particular kind of torture that is being the subject of the gossip train in this town.

We’ve known what it is to be hated by others for what we’ve done or said.

We’ve known financial downturns.

We’ve known shattering medical diagnoses.

We’ve known times of despair because of tragedy.

We’ve known winter.

Winter isn’t coming. It’s been here. It’s stayed a while. Maybe you’re living in a winter in your life right now: a dark night of your soul, a season of discontent, a deepest valley, a time of suffering.

Jesus says to expect this. Jesus says this is normal. Jesus says this is how the world works. Jesus says there will be suffering because of wars, natural disasters, Christians fighting Christians, and personal tragedies. Jesus says suffering, even personal suffering, has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen.

Jesus says this is good news.

Winter is coming.

Jesus says this is good news.

That doesn’t feel right. That doesn’t feel good. That feels contradictory at best; insensitive at worst.

But there, at the start of verse 14, Jesus says this is good news. “And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world.”

That verse, when it says “this good news,” is summative of not only the verses we read today but those from last week, too: the wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and the like.

All of this, taken together, is good news, says Jesus.

How in the world is this good news?

How is it good news that winter is coming? Especially knowing that it might stay for quite a while. And especially knowing that, if you’re a Christian, you can expect to suffer more. And all that is good news?

How is this good news?

Imagine with me Jesus, sitting near the temple in Jerusalem with his disciples. They’ve asked him about the end times. He’s pointing to the temple complex, the most sacred site of their faith, the place where God was understood to literally dwell, and saying it’s all going to be destroyed. Life as they know it is about to change forever.

But he’s not just talking about the temple being destroyed. He’s also talking about the remainder of that week.

Jesus will endure all the travesties of verses 9 and 10: betrayal, torture, hatred, false accusations and prophets leading people away from him, and finally death on a cross. For Jesus:

Winter is coming.

And quickly approaching. He knows what’s coming. He knows what he’s about to endure. He knows that the chaos of the world will soon catch up to him.

So he says to himself as much as to the disciples, he says to himself as much as he says to us today, that the facing of death, the coming of torture, betrayal, and suffering, is the “good news of the kingdom…”

How is this good news?

Winter is coming.

But after the winter has come, after the dark night of our souls, the season of discontent, the deepest valley, the time of suffering, the betrayal, the hatred, the torture, even death;

Resurrection is coming.

Like the trees and grass of the field in spring, new life blooms where old life had died.

Like the light shining into the dark valley, like the kindness of our church and community when we suffer, like the morning after a long night, new life breaks in where once there was death.

That’s the good news of the kingdom. “And this good news of the kingdom, [that resurrection is coming], will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations…”

Winter is coming.

But so is resurrection.

We will suffer. Jesus makes that abundantly clear in both this sermon and the last. Humanity is prone to suffering.

We will suffer. Christians will know more suffering in this life than others because we carry the name of Christ into a broken world. It’s another way Jesus points to this fact: religion doesn’t make our lives easier. It doesn’t lead us to avoid suffering. It doesn’t take away suffering or prevent suffering.

But it makes life better because it teaches us how to find the light in the dark night of our soul, how to find contentment during a season of discontentment, how to walk up the mountain out of the deepest valley, how to witness when the world tells us we’re fools, how to walk into the suffering of others, shining the light of Christ, even though it makes us suffer, and how to boldly walk into our own suffering, facing it head on; in sum, how to hold on to hope during winter, because we know deep in our souls

Resurrection is coming.

We live in a cycle; one we might like to avoid, but one that will come upon us whether we want it to or not. We go through seasons of winter, of suffering, into seasons of spring, of resurrection. These come and go, but for those who are in Christ, no matter how deep and dark the winter, resurrection will always come.

And so, the challenge before us is to walk headlong into our suffering. When suffering comes, it’s tempting to try and avoid it, deny it, bargain with it, get angry about it. All those things are normal human reactions; in fact, they’re some of the stages of grief. Grief sets in whenever our hearts and minds have to adapt to a new reality that doesn’t look at all like our hopes and dreams. And that’s always challenging, always difficult, always a winter season in our lives.

And the only way to get through it, to walk up the mountain from the valley, to wake up to a new morning after the dark night of our soul, is to walk headlong into the suffering; to embrace winter.

Embrace the suffering. Know the suffering. Bundle up and live into the winter season.

Winter has come.

But resurrection is coming.

There’s a great Billie Holiday song that speaks directly to this. After wrestling, tossing and turning, with suffering in her life, she concludes:

Good morning heartache, here we go again. Good morning heartache, you’re the one who knows me well. Might as well get used to you hanging around. Good morning heartache. Sit down. Pull up a chair. Get comfortable.

I appreciate these words so much because she invites the suffering, the heartache, the winter season of her life, to pull up a chair to the table of her heart. She embraces it and models for us what we are to do. She’s done denying, she’s done avoiding; she’s walked headlong into her personal winter.

We must do the same. It’s the only way to get through the winter seasons of our lives.

But the song misses a crucial fact:

Resurrection is coming.

The heartache might pull up a chair for a while, but it’s not forever.

The financial downturn might be devastating, but it’s not forever.

The betrayal might sting like a hundred bees, but it’s not forever.

The loss and grief might shroud us with its darkness like an invisible blanket, but it’s not forever.

The ridicule we endure because we witness to our faith might isolate us in loneliness, but it’s not forever.

The hatred we experience because we stand up against the false prophets of end times predictions, conspiracy theories, and the like might wound us like a knife to the heart, but it’s not forever.

It’s not forever because in those winters we know:

Resurrection is coming.

So we can look forward with hope, we can be in the midst of our present suffering with hope, we can sit in the darkness with hope, we can invite heartache, depression, cancer, death, despair, hatred, betrayal, to pull up a chair for a while and get comfortable because we know this good news of the kingdom:

Resurrection is coming.

And that’s just the thing: we’re members of the Kingdom of God. That’s our first allegiance. When we become Christians, we pledge allegiance to the Kingdom, to labor on its behalf as I often preach, but also to expect, embrace, and endure the suffering that comes from taking up our cross daily to follow Christ.

Sometimes, that comes from personal suffering in tragedies, setbacks, and a million other darknesses.

Sometimes, that comes from societal ills, as we witness to our faith and experience ridicule, hatred, and betrayal.

Sometimes, that comes from the chaos of the world, as we experience wars and natural disasters.

We will know more suffering as Christians because we’re members of the Kingdom. We will know more hardship because we’re Christians, members of the Kingdom. We will know more winters because we’re Christians.

Paul says, “count it all as joy, my dear brothers and sisters.” Jesus says this is the good news of the kingdom. Why? Because

Resurrection is coming.

Hope is coming. Release is coming. Transformation is coming. God will use your present suffering to redeem, renew, and restore. You will be better at the end. God didn’t cause the suffering; that’s the presence of evil in the world. But God will not allow your suffering to last forever, God will not allow your suffering to have the final word, God will not miss this opportunity to redeem and renew you through the suffering.

Because that’s what God does. That’s how God operates. The world gives us winters. God gives us resurrections.

We stand in the way of that resurrection when we deny, avoid, run away, from our suffering. We hold up a hand to God when we refuse to walk into our suffering, when we refuse to offer our suffering a place at the table in our hearts, saying to God, “no thanks. I got this.” It’s foolishness, but it’s what feels like the easy way out because suffering is hard work.

But the call of the kingdom is to hard work. Taking up our cross daily is hard work. Winter is hard work.

We are Christians. We are the church. We are stronger together. We have each other’s backs.

So no matter the hardship, no matter the suffering, no matter the winters we know, through our care and concern for each other, through our encouragement and love, through our going the extra mile and going out of our way to offer love to each other, through our refusal to deny the truth of love we know, through our bearing witness to the Kingdom in these and all the ways of love, we proclaim the good news of the kingdom no matter the harshest of winters:

Resurrection is coming.

Today, where is there suffering around you? Whom do you know that’s suffering?

Call or text and check in on them. Such efforts by us mean our hearts are not cold, as Jesus notes, but alive in Christ, reaching out to walk the suffering journey with another. That compassion is the good news of the Kingdom.

Today, where are you suffering personally?

If you’re avoiding it, denying it, running away from it, embrace it. Walk headlong into it. Invite your suffering to sit down, pull up a chair, and get comfortable at the table of your heart. Embrace the suffering, for this good news of the kingdom is:

Resurrection is coming.

So reach out to those around you who love you and ask for help. That’s hard to do. It’s been hard for me to do this past week. But do it. It’s through our presence with each other in our suffering, in our winters, that we best discover

Resurrection is coming

We discover this good news of the kingdom because we get the chance to be Christ to each other.

So walk headlong into your suffering. Give Christ your heart by sharing the suffering of your heart with others. For in doing so, you share the good news of the kingdom.

So walk headlong into the suffering of others. Bring your compassion, bring your love, for in doing so, you share the good news of the kingdom.

So walk headlong into the suffering of this world. Bring the truth of love in your life, bear witness to the Christ you know, without fear, no matter the ridicule, hatred, or betrayal you experience. For in doing so, you share the good news of the kingdom.

It might be winter in your life. It might bring winter into your life. It doesn’t matter because we know this fundamental truth:

Winter is coming.

But so is resurrection.

This is the good news of the kingdom to be proclaimed to all the nations.

This is the good news of the kingdom we proclaim to each other through service, care, and love.

This is the good news of the kingdom we experience when we walk boldly into suffering, knowing that when we do, when we walk into the cold of winter:

Resurrection is coming.

So In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

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