Today is the first Sunday in Advent. It is the beginning of a new liturgical year where we will focus on the gospel of Luke. It is also the time we start to look forward to Christmas and the birth of baby Jesus. So how do we celebrate this day? With scary predictions of the end of the world. Yay. I’d like to be preaching 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 apocalypse.
Advent, taken from the word ‘adventus’ means “coming.” Throughout Advent our readings are full of warnings telling us to get ready, prepare, step up. 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 just wish we didn’t have to anticipate the world falling apart as Jesus predicts in this reading from The Message: “It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking. “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!”
There are many apocalyptic predictions in the Bible. The good news is that God dwells in the center of the apocalypse. These dark predictions have always spoken to suffering and oppressed people and given them hope and assurance that God is present. 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 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.
I’ve always been bothered by people who predict a rapture event where only very holy people who have ‘accepted Jesus as their personal savior’ will be lifted up to glory and the rest of us sinners will be left behind. Did you know that the word “Rapture” never even appears in the bible? I find a fatal flaw in their idea of who gets chosen. Think about this: when Jesus walked the earth, was he judging folks and only hanging out with the holiest of holies? NOPE. He chose to hang out with sinners, gentiles, tax collectors, and outcasts. Jesus showed us by his actions who really mattered to him so, by that logic, why would God choose anyone other than sinners and outcasts at the end of time?
I’m just not a big fan of apocalyptic visions. Instead, I believe that these things predicted in our scriptures, tell of the coming of the Son of Man, not at some terrible end of time but the Son of Man coming to live and walk among us every day. I believe that Jesus comes back again and again to us at Christmas when we celebrate his birth, at Easter, when we celebrate his resurrection, at Pentecost when we are grateful for the gift of the Holy Spirit so that Jesus can live amongst us always, every day.
I also believe that as we live out our lives inspired by Christ, we, you and I, become Christ in the world. Maybe, in this way, we are the second coming of Christ and if so, we are charged to stand tall and keep awake. Jesus is not telling us to be afraid of a terrible future, he is telling us to open our eyes and hearts, to be awake and aware of the needs of others around us and to act as Christ in our loving service.
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.”
Jesus entreats us to “play it well.” No matter what the end holds for us, we can use our small lives to change the world. We can work for peace and justice. We can be stewards of our environment. We can serve the poor and the hungry. We can share God’s love with everyone. In these ways, we establish the kingdom of God in our homes, our churches, our communities 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.
Our Lord is coming! Jesus is coming to help us. 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.