You know, I am getting in the mood for Baby Jesus. Advent starts today and I’d like to talk about preparing our hearts for the coming of our sweet savior. But before we get to the warm and cozy manger we have to spend some time worrying about the end of the world. Darn!
Advent: arrival or coming. We start Advent today preparing for two comings: the arrival of the baby Jesus at Christmas and the eventual coming of Christ at the end of the world. We know about this. We say these words: ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ Advent. In our creed we say, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Advent. We know these words. I like the idea of preparing myself for Christ but I wish we didn’t have to see the world falling apart as he predicts:
“There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the turmoil of the ocean and its waves; men fainting away with terror and fear at what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.”
Wow. This is an apocalyptic vision. I bet that throughout Christian history, people have heard these predictions and thought, “That sounds like our world right now.” “Bewildered by the turmoil of the oceans and its waves”... Doesn’t this make you think of super storm Sandy? Surely that felt apocalyptic to the millions caught in its wrath. We have seen people predicting the end of the world and the coming of Christ a lot lately; remember last year when Harold Camping predicted that Judgment Day would come on May 21? Mr. Camping knew the exact date of the Rapture when he would be called up to heaven and most of us would be left behind. Did you know that the word ‘rapture’ does not appear anywhere in the bible? Scripture says that we will not know when this will happen and Christ will come like a thief in the night. Of course, we also have the Mayan calendar predicting our imminent demise but that doesn’t even mention Christ, so we won’t worry about it.
There are many apocalyptic predictions in the Bible. These dark predictions have always spoken to suffering and oppressed people and given them hope and assurance that God is present. God dwells in the center of the apocalypse. Jeremiah wrote during a very chaotic time for Judah when the Jews had been exiled to Babylon. Luke wrote when Jerusalem had fallen to the Romans and the temple had been destroyed. Dark times call for dark literature. Personally, when times are very bleak for me, I can’t stand having someone pat me on the hand and say that everything is all right. I need someone to sigh with me and cry with me and agree that this is really awful. I need someone to help me raise up my head and see that God is still present even in the darkness, especially in the darkness.
Jesus goes on: “And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way.” How must this scripture have resonated with oppressed people throughout history? Imagine a slave hearing this. Stand up, stay awake, raise your heads. How else will we see Jesus coming back to set us free?
In the midst of fear and darkness, our inclination might be to cower, to hunker down, to hide under the bed and lock our doors. Have you heard about that Doomsday Prepper show on TV? It is about survivalists who are convinced that they can out smart whatever disaster may be coming their way. A lot of things bug me about this, but I’m most bothered to see people whose entire lives revolve around hoarding food and guns and obsessing about a bleak future.
They don’t agree about which form their apocalypse will take. One guy has 42 buses which he has buried to use in case of nuclear disaster, one guy in New York is preparing for the Yellowstone super volcano to blow up, some prepare for global pandemics, economic collapse, there are even some folks preparing for the North Pole to switch places with the South Pole. Many of these folks are heavily armed so that they can kill anyone who wants to move in with them post disaster. Who would want to hang out with these kooks under any circumstances? One guy just shot off his thumb with his gun. Yeah, he is going to thrive in a post apocalyptic world! Don’t you bet that when these people die, they are disappointed that their predictions didn’t come true and the world didn’t end?
They are hunkering down. They are only thinking about themselves and maybe their families. What if they took the advice Jesus gives us here today? Stand up, hold your heads high. Your liberation is at hand. That guy hiding in his 42 buried buses is going to miss the whole thing!
Yesterday morning, Jeff told me that there were many predictions that Montesano would lose the game for the state championship. I told him that they had been wrong all season about our Bulldogs and they would be wrong again. But, when we got to the Tacoma Dome and I saw the other team, I was pretty worried. They were big and looked strong and very able. If I had been playing for the Bulldogs, I would have just slunk back into the locker room. Our boys came out onto that field with their backs straight and their heads held high and boy, did they ever win that game!
You know, our lives are a series of end times, a series of little deaths. We die a little death when we lose loved ones, when our kids grow up and move away, when we retire, and we die again when it is our turn to go. How do we face the end of our times? Hunkered down and hiding under the bed or standing up straight with our heads held high looking toward our liberation?
We start off the joyous Christmas season with this scary, apocalyptic story. Perhaps we need to go to this dark place to truly appreciate the light of Christ that is to come. Martin Luther King said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
Today we will sing this: “Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free: from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Look around our church and Calder Hall. We have evidence all around of the travelers coming toward the manger. They are on an Advent adventure. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men with their camels; making their hopeful way to the coming of the Christ child. They are walking with their heads held high, full of anticipation of what is to come. Let us go through our Advent, and indeed our lives in just such a posture, eager to meet the liberation Christ brings.