Emoji Expositions

Published: Monday, 30 November 2015

This is the first sermon in our Advent journey in 2015 and was given by Geoff Pound at Ashburton Baptist Church on the first Sunday in Advent, 29 November 2015. 

Reading: Luke 21:25-36 Emoji GP 1115

At this season the major dictionaries are coming up with the most popular or the most overused word of the year. In recent years they’ve voted words and phrases such as ‘the mother of all’ or ‘tweet’ and ‘selfie’.[1]

In 2015 the Oxford Dictionary has selected a ‘word of the year’ which isn’t a word at all. It’s an ‘emoji’. Not just any ‘emoji’ but the most-used emoji around the globe, the one bearing a face with tears of joy. [pictured][2]                        

Just in case you’re not sure, an emoji is a ‘small digital image or icon’ used to express electronically an idea, an emotion or both. It comes from the Japanese, ‘e’ meaning picture and ‘moji’ meaning letter or character.

What a reflection of our time!

[3]

The emoji highlights our technology revolution with the rise of the smartphone and the way we communicate by messaging.

Sending an emoji in an email or an SMS transcends language and culture.

Every Friday we have Men’s Coffee on High Street. When we started, I would send the café owner on Friday morning a text message saying, “It’s Secret Men’s Business at 10 o’clock. Please reserve the first couple of tables.”

Probably because he was in the midst of making lots of early morning coffees Jim would send an emoji of a thumbs up or a smiley face.

Now, every Friday morning I send an emoji of a cup of coffee and he sends another one which may be a coffee machine. No words. No language, but he gets the message. We get the table and we get the coffee!

 

The popularity of the emoji reminds us that we're living in a visual age. To communicate effectively we need to use pictures and stories and words we can see.

Did you notice the pictures and the parables in today’s reading? Look at the opening words from this master communicator:

21:25 "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.”

Here’s the first emoji—a sky with dark clouds, torrential rain and lightning.

Watching a news bulletin in a week like this isn’t much fun. It’s punctuated by terrorism threats, and as if that’s not enough, this week we’ve got a new 5 level terrorist threat alert. It goes from ‘Not expected’, ‘Possible’, ‘Probable’, ‘Expected and ‘Certain’.[4] Currently we’re at Level 3 ‘Probable’ which is not very reassuring.

We look across the world this week to see more atrocities by ISIS, and Turkey stoking animosity by shooting down a Russian plane.

Closer to home we’ve seen incidents of racial intolerance, sexual abuse and domestic violence. However do we sleep at night after watching such a diet?

Christ’s words in v25 about the environmental chaos are hauntingly contemporary— “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea…”

 

This week we’ve seen raging fires, roaring floods, still the choking smoke from Indonesian forest fires and yet again, volcanic ash spewing over Bali and closing the airport. No wonder there’s an urgent need for united decisions and bold actions at this week’s Convention on Climate Change in Paris.[5]

And the impact of the quaking around is quaking within. Jesus says in v26:

21:26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

The emoji here is not a smiley face but faces filled with fear and gloom.

But Jesus wasn’t talking about the here and now but the signs of the end times.

As part of a New Testament course in an American seminary, I had to take a seminar on what theologians call ‘eschatology’ which is all about the end of the age and the end of the world.

The pre-reading introduced us to a welter of positions as to whether Christ would come again before or after a troubled period called the Tribulation, and before or after a thousand year golden age of peace called the Millennium. And what about the ‘Rapture’ that might take believers from all this horror?

When we met for the seminar my confusion was accentuated by the way many of the students were so cocksure about how the world would end.

Like dogs marking out their territory some argued aggressively for their view and their timetable. Some were Pre-Millennial. Others were Post-Millennial. Still others were A-Millennial. By the end of the seminar a few of us concluded that we were ‘Pan-Millennial’—that’s the belief that it’ll all pan out in the end!

Jesus doesn’t give a timetable but he simply says in v27:

21:27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.

Replacing the uncertainty of the chaos will be the familiar face of Jesus. So the look on the faces of people need not be fear and alarm but confidence and calm-v28:

21:28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

More than two hundred ago the House of Representatives in Connecticut was in session on a bright day. The delegates were able to do their work by natural light. But then unexpectedly, in the middle of the debate, the day turned to night. Clouds obliterated the sun. Everything turned dark.

Some legislators thought it was the Second Coming. Some wanted to adjourn. Others wanted to pray. How would they prepare for the coming of the Lord?

But the Speaker of the House said, “We may be upset by the darkness and some of us are afraid. The Day of the Lord is either approaching or it’s not. If it’s not, there’s no cause for adjournment. And if the Lord is returning, I, for one, choose to be found doing my duty. I therefore ask that candles be brought.”

With such wise counsel they all returned to their desks and resumed their debate.

Jesus then gives another picture or a parable v29:

21:29 "Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

 

21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

 

21:31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

 

21:32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

Whether a generation is 25 years or longer it seems that the early Christians believed that the final siren would sound in their lifetime.

For two thousand years there have been believers who have been certain that the world would end in their lifetime, and that Christ would come and call it ‘Game Over’.

In recent days there’s been a great emphasis on living in the moment and mindfulness: Mindful breathing, mindful eating, mindful music and mindful walking.

Jesus encouraged his followers not to hanker for the past or worry about the future but to live in the now. To seek his kingdom.

Remembering the name of that café in Warrandyte, Now and Not Yet, there’s also a biblical call to look forward. The emoji here is neither a smiley face nor a face that’s looking up but a face turned and looking to the future.

This first Sunday in Advent is for the Christian Church, New Year’s Day. We have a brand new calendar, with a brand new day and a brand new year and it’s fitting to be looking ahead to Christmas and to all that God has for us individually and as a church.

Look at the wonderful resources Jesus names as we move into this New Year:

The first resource we could summarize in an emoji of an opened Bible. Jesus says v33:

21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

The first Sunday in Advent has traditionally been known as Bible Sunday. A time to consider the work of Bible translators like Wycliffe and Bible distributors such as the Bible Society and the Gideons.

It’s also a time for us to consider how we in this new year might read the Bible regularly and systematically.

If the Bible is like daily bread, then what will be our pleasurable routine and diet for getting input?

If the Bible is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path we’re going to find guidance within it for today and a vision for the future.

The next emoji is of an athlete. Jesus says:

21:34 "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

21:35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

Last Friday in America was known as Black Friday and this day after Thanksgiving has become the day when more money is spent than any other day on the US calendar.

It’s interesting to see a counter move growing with stories of people saying, “I’m going without. I’m restricting my diet of consumerism. I no longer want to be weighed down by things.”[6]

Here Jesus calls us not to be encumbered by things and habits but to be fit for service and alert to His call. So to our last verse and final resource mentioned, V36.

21:36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

This New Year is a time for a new alertness to God, for listening, for longing, for hoping, for praying.

What will this New Year hold for us?

What will this New Year be for us as a church?

Wouldn’t it be great if each day this year we had this Advent alertness, this Advent longing, this joy because we are on a new Adventure?

I wonder what would happen if each day we all prayed the prayer:

“We look forward to becoming all that You have in mind for us to be.”

“We look forward to becoming all that You have in mind for us to be.”

Amen? So may it be!

A very happy New Year to you!

Prayer

Give us the confidence to stand before the Son of Man

To stand with gratitude for all he has done

To stand without shame

To stand without fear

To stand without cringing

To stand without hiding

To stand before you with pride

To stand at attention

To stand with alertness to your voice

To stand with eagerness to serve you in our world.

As we enter this New Year we crave that moment by moment openness to all the ways you are showing your love.

We also pray for the long view, the vision of your Kingdom when it has come in all its fullness.

We look forward to becoming all that You have in mind for us to be.

Amen.

 


[1] Word of the Year, Wikipedia.

[2] Emoji, Wikipedia.

[3] These thoughts were triggered by reading James Emery White, ‘Word of the Year’, Church & Culture, 19 November 2015.

[4] National Terrorism Threat Advisory System, Australian National Security, Australian Government.

[5] Framework, Convention on Climate Change, United Nations.

[6] For example, Michelle McGagh, ‘Why I’m buying nothing for a year—no clothes, no holidays, no coffee…’, The Guardian, 26 November 2015.