“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” So says Chicken Little and so says Jesus. Here we are on the first Sunday in Advent, looking forward to the birth of our Lord and our scripture is all about end times. How does that work?
When I was a little girl, I was very worried about the end of the world which was going to come from a nuclear war with Russia. I pictured our president with a big red button and the leader of Russia with a similar big red button. If either one of them pushed that button a nuclear bomb would go off in the opposite country. Of course, there would be retaliatory bombing and the world as we know it would end in a nuclear holocaust. At school we practiced ‘duck and cover’ drills - as if a desk would save us from nuclear annihilation! My favorite book was “On the Beach” where people in Australia awaited the nuclear cloud drifting toward them after the rest of the world’s population had already died. Cheery book!
I was so worried that my Dad sat me down and told me about how he had had similar worries when he was a boy. As a teen, he and his friends snuck into a tent revival where Aimee Semple McPhearson was preaching. She was a powerful, hellfire and brimstone preacher who let it be known that the end of the world was coming and anyone who didn’t come up and get accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior RIGHT NOW was going to burn in hell. My Dad went home terrified.
Julia, my good Norwegian Lutheran grandma, sat down with him and listened as he poured out his fears. She shook her head and told him that when she was a girl she had also thought that the end of the world was at hand and had been comforted by her parents.
I could go on, back into the generations until I got back to Jesus, no doubt scaring his followers with predictions of the end of the world. “This will happen in your generation!” he thundered. Of course, he came from a long line of prophets predicting the end of the world so it makes sense that he would preach the same thing. We can look clear back to the time of Noah when God destroys everyone on earth to make a clean sweep of things!
So everyone predicts the end and the end doesn’t seem to come. Or does it? Of course, we, individually, will end. I’m almost 54 years old and I hope I have 20 or 30 more years to live. I don’t know how long I have but I do know that I will die. All of us will.
Whole civilizations die as we’ve seen with the rise and fall of the Roman empire or the British empire. We seem to be working on the death of our environment as too many species become extinct and the Arctic ice pack melts.
On a larger scale, even our earth will die in about 5 billion years when the sun expands and eventually swallows the earth.
But wait, there’s more! The universe, which started with the Big Bang, propelling everything outward, will expand until it flies apart. Or, it may reverse it’s expansion and collapse into a Big Crunch. But let’s get some perspective here: The universe is about 14 billion years old. The human race has only been in the picture for a tiny part of that time. Picture a football field. Lay out that 14 billion years across the whole field. The length of time people have been around on that football field would only be the width of a blade of grass in the end zone! Humanity is an almost invisible blip when viewed from this perspective. I find that comforting. Maybe what I do is just not all that important!
Anyway you look at it, things will end on some scale, personal, civilizational, ecological, global or cosmic. That we know. So what do we do about it? I sure don’t know what will happen after I die - I hope that I will live on in people’s memories and that I will be remembered with fondness. That’s my big goal.
C.S. Lewis writes that it is as if we are actors in a very real play, written by God. We don’t know much about the play, whether we are in the opening scene or the final act, we don’t even know what the play is about. But, the plot will get played out, as it should. Our only job is to play our parts well. Perhaps the Author of the play will fill us in later on the whole plot but for now, “playing it well is what matters.”
Today Jesus begs us to “play it well.” No matter what the end holds for us, we can use our small lives to change the world. We are to work for peace and justice in the world. We are to be stewards of our environment every day. We are to share God’s love with everyone. We are to work to establish the kingdom of God in our homes, our church, our community and the world.
This is a difficult task but we are not alone. In our gospel today, Jesus tell us: “heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.” The end will come. Darkness will fall. But I will be there. My words will be with you. When life gets frightening, I will be with you. Stand up. Raise your heads. Your redemption is drawing near.
Is the sky falling? I don’t know. But, maybe it doesn’t matter. Our Lord is coming! Jesus is coming to help us. Soon, soon we will be blessed again with the birth of our Jesus who will stand by us. Jesus who shares our burdens. Jesus who helps us act out our parts as well as we can. Today we turn our heads toward Bethlehem, toward the star in the sky. He is coming. Amen.