Monday, December 4, 2017

Do Not Be Afraid - Advent 1

Mark 13:24-37
Advent 1
December 3, 2017

This chapter in Mark is called a little apocalypse.
Every first Sunday in Advent, we read these little apocalypses.
Just in time for Christmas, it may seem contrary
to the spirit of Christmas that popular culture tries to evoke.

The Starry Night
Vincent van Gogh 1889
Each of the synoptic gospels
(Matthew, Mark & Luke)
have these little apocalypse.
They all talk about things that we fear.
Terrible suffering, wars, hatred, persecution,
vitriol from family, natural disasters
and then, after that 
things don’t get much better,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will not give out light
the stars will fall, and the powers of the heaven will be shaken
Very dark indeed.

Each one of these passages talk about signs
to watch out for to know that this is coming.
They don’t specifically enumerate the signs,
but they say you’ll know it when you see it.
And you shouldn’t miss them,  so you should keep watching.
If you’re keeping alert, it should be obvious,
like every year when you see the leaves on a tree come out,
you know summers about to come,
the events that we see in the world will tells us
that this scary stuff is about to happen.

Now I know we sophisticated Christians
like to poo-poo all those  Left-Behind rapture Christians
who have been telling everyone since the 1920’s that
the this is the year. In the past, I’ve tried to relativize everything
and say that things have been worse.
And things probably have been worse,
but doesn’t it feel like something is happening now?
Something not good.
And not just in our country, but everywhere?

Neo Nazis have become almost main stream,
hate of all sorts seems to be acceptable.
The climate is becoming more and more erratic
It seems very possible that our coastal cities
might be permanently underwater one day soon.

It seemed like every week this fall there
was one another disaster after another,
either a natural disaster or human made disaster,
People have been terrorizing the country with guns
and all sorts of other  creative methods of
violence meant to wield fear and power.
And we’ve got immature, erratic leaders
who are playing chicken with nuclear weapons.

I mean we’re living in a time when left is right,
and up is down. There is no real truth any more,
just what I think and what you think.
Something’s going on.

For so many people today, a mini apocalypse has already
happened, with unbearable wide-spread
poverty and the hopelessness that comes with it
so much that many have checked out
through addiction to drugs or alcohol
and an enormous rate of suicide.
For many of them, the situation is already
unbearable, it’s completely out of their control,
and it’s just seems bound to get worse
since our governments don’t seem to
care about anyone but themselves.

Many of us can, of course, just decide to turn away
and ignore what we see.
The view out my back window is nice,
I could just look at that and drink my morning
coffee, and tell myself that everything is fine.

But Jesus has asked us to be awake
be aware and to look at the signs.
But the signs fill me with a dread when I do think about it.
A despair at the present and fear of the future.
Even if it’s not the end of all creation,
it certainly feels like the end of what we’ve
known and come to expect out of this world.

There is  much to be afraid of.
But  our theme for this Advent is  “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus says “Do not be afraid” more than anything else. 
The phrase,  or phrases like it, are in the bible 365 times
once for every day of the year, if you like neat packages like that.

So Jesus leaves us with stories of suffering,
tells us to notice all the scary stuff around us,
and still persistently tells us not to be afraid?
Maybe the two things don’t seem to add up.

But all of these little apocalypses end the same way,
there is fear, there is suffering, and then there is Jesus.
The suffering and fear are just a preamble to God’s presence with us.
They are an assurance to us that God is near us.

When the sun is darkened and the stars are falling,
and things seem to be getting seriously worse for all involved,
that is the time that the son of man will come in his greatest glory,
and really feel and know God’s presence.

Just like many of us have felt the presence of God the most
during the worst times of our lives.

Now some look with dread on the prospect
of Jesus second coming, but what if we didn’t
think of that with fear, but with joy?

Our expectations about Jesus second Advent
should be shaped by what we know about Jesus first Advent.
When he came to us as a child, lived and suffered with us,
and finally poured out his love for all creation on the cross
when the sun was darkened and the powers in heaven were shaken,
when God took the worst of creation and gave us the best.
The coming of Christ is a welcome presence,
the arrival of our dearest friend.

No one knows the time or the hour,
It might be a surprise, but we should be
waiting in anticipation not in dread.
When terrible things happen in this world,
we will mourn, we will get angry, we will do our best to help
the situation, but we can also ask and notice what God is doing,
how God is using the situation, what new life God is creating out of the old.

Christ was with us then, Christ is with us now, and Christ will come again.
In our greatest hours of suffering and fear Christ will be there.
Fear not.

We know that even in the worst of times,
God ‘s power will prevail, somehow some way,
the end of the story will be better than the beginning
or the middle and that ending will never end.
Do not worry.

The season of Advent is a time for us
to wait for Christmas –
the remembrance that Jesus was born and God came to us –
but it’s also a time of hoping for the time when our deepest prayers
for this world will be answered.

When the sun is darkened, and the moon doesn’t give light
and the stars fall from the heavens and all seems lost,
we know that God will be nearest to us then.

Do not be afraid.

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