Here we are in a new church year. It is hard to keep up with all the calendars, isn’t it? It is for me at least. I mean we have this church calendar that doesn’t exactly line up with the Gregorian calendar that we normally use here in Canada, which doesn’t line up with the Lunar calendar that we sometimes use to get more holidays. And of course there is the school calendar that completely goes against all rhyme and reason, and the fiscal year which I don’t understand. And to make matters worse, they seem to be starting the new year of tv episodes at the weirdest times now.
But today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of the church year designed to kick off the themes of Mark’s gospel right. In a few short weeks we will be looking at the birth of Christ which is always a joyous time of year, and that will lead us to Epiphany that sets us up for Lent, which points to Easter, and then we go to Pentecost for a while and then we start all over again. I love the intentionality and logic behind the order of the seasons and how everything builds on each other to give us a complete and full picture of God and Jesus and the Spirit, that we may grow in our faith and walk with confidence in a world that often leaves us scratching our heads. What an exciting time of year this is.
And, we get stories about the end of the world.
Well, if that doesn’t burst your 1st Sunday in Advent bubble, then I don’t know what will. I mean the world ending doesn’t really fill us with hope. Relief for some people, maybe, but I’m not sure about hope. And isn’t Advent supposed to be about hope? Isn’t that why I’m wearing blue, and we have these blue-ish paraments up? Blue being the colour that represents hope? So shouldn’t today’s texts, the very first texts we get in the church year, fill us with that hope and longing for what is to come? Shouldn’t they inspire us in our waiting, motivate us in our patience, and reveal to us the joy that we get at Christmas?
And they thought apocalyptic texts were going to accomplish that?
I don’t know where the lectionary writers were when they were handing out good lectionary ideas, but maybe they called in sick that day.
But you might say that apocalyptic writings do inspire hope, because they tell us that Jesus will be here soon, that we will be freed from the hurts and pains of this world, and that we will live with God and the saints forever. But still, hearing about the sun being darkened and the moon no longer giving light is kind of scary. Reading about the stars falling from the sky and heaven tearing open isn’t exactly the best bed time story for my kids. Sure, maybe they could give hope if you really really try to find it, but for most people it is more doom and gloom language that only seems to motivate us to stop listening and allow our eyes to glaze over than anything else. (yeah, I see you)
Still, you might think, maybe I am being a bit hard on the text. Some people do see the end times as hopeful. Some people do see the destruction of the earth and life as we know it as inspiring. Some people are looking forward to the apocalypse thinking that it will be awesome to see the glory of God front and center.
I’m just saying that I beg to differ. I don’t find hope in thinking that God will one day destroy the earth. I don’t find inspiration in seeing God as an angry God. I don’t like to be comparing God to the guy in that Eminem song where he says if you make me angry again I’ll burn your house down. I just am not a fan of apocalyptic texts or language, which I guess is a good thing since I don’t think that this passage we get in Mark is about the end times.
Wait, what? You’re telling me that you spent like the last 8 minutes talking about the apocalypse and end times when that isn’t even what is going on here? Maybe it is time for a change… a change in preachers that is.
I wanted to bring up the apocalyptic language because that is the first thing most people think about when they hear about stuff like the sun running out of light and the stars dropping like flies. I felt like I had to mention it because a lot of people think that the bible is just about that, the end times, that the only point in religion or faith or God is just about feeling better about what happens to you after you die. I talked about it, because I wanted all of you to recognise what I’m talking about before I blatantly refute it.
I’m not saying that there won’t be an end to the world, in fact the way things are going it does seem like it might be soon. Concerns around global warming, nuclear wars, and crazy politicians certainly make it seem like it should end sooner rather than later. But I don’t see that as a biblical prophecy. I actually don’t see that anywhere in the bible. Rather, what I see are promises of the here and now, our current situations, and how we will always be regarded as beings full of love, meaning, and purpose. I would go so far as to say that is a central theme for the bible, that we are and always will have the love and presence of God to draw on for comfort, strength, and confidence to face all the trials and tribulations of life, here and now.
Because really, who here has a perfect life? Who here has a family like the Cosby’s or the Keaton’s or the Seaver’s or the other families oriented sitcoms of the 80’s? Who here has a life that is actually and accurately portrayed by the multitude of happy-go-lucky, beer-ad-worthy pictures we see on social media? I am willing to bet a large sum of money that none of us do, at least, we didn’t always. Everyone here has had a point in life where we had just hit rock bottom. Everyone here has experienced reaching the end of our ropes, our backs against the wall, the feeling of nowhere to run. Everyone here has had their ups and fair share of downs. You all have, I know I have, we all have.
And those are the times when we most need each other. Those are the times when we are reaching out grasping for air that we need the lifeline of community. Those are the times when we have nothing left to give that we most need to be given that strength, that love, that hope that I’m talking about. And do you think it’ll come from us reading about the world ending? Or someone telling us that God’s wrath is coming upon us? Or that we better say a special magic prayer to secure our place in the afterlife and have our problems go away? No, probably not.
But at those times, which are probably more often than we would like to admit, we need to hear that we are loved, which we are. We need to hear that we are not alone, which we aren’t. And we need to hear that God is with us, through community, through relationship, through the people in and around us that sit with us, hold our hands, and allow us to come to grips with the harsh realities of life. As we are, as who we are, and exactly where we are, God is with us.
This is the promise of Advent. This is what we look forward to with expectation. This is the hope that can bring us up out of the depths of despair and loneliness, that we might go out into the world with that confidence, looking for how God, the very essence of love, is present in and around our lives.
And I know, it isn’t easy to see the good in a world that often seems so broken. It is hard to find love in people that seem to be so full of hate and suspicion. It is increasingly difficult to know the hope of God in all the craziness and disillusionment we experience almost on the daily. But it is there, love is there, God is present.
We see God in the innocence of a child that learns something new. We see God in the patience and understanding shared between life partners through thick and thin. We see God in the changing seasons of the land, through the life, the death, and the new life as it is cycled through year after year. God is present.
We see God in our relationships with others as we laugh, cry, and even argue with each other. We see God in our communities as they grow, shrink, and celebrate the commonalities and differences of each individual. We might even see God in our worship, in the music, in the words, in the images that evoke in us the realisation that God is present.
Here. Now. In and through and around us. God is present.
And so perhaps the lectionary writers didn’t call in sick when they were handing out lectionary ideas. Because this is a great text to start off Advent, as we look forward to the story and celebration around the birth of Christ, the journey to the cross, the glory of the resurrection, and the dwelling of the Spirit, we are reminded right off the bat that through it all, God is present. Filling us with hope, filling us with joy, and filling us with the peace that surpasses all understanding.
So stay alert. Keep awake. For we don’t know when God will appear in the ordinary, in the mundane, in the quiet, still whisper of life. We don’t know when God will show up in the hectic busyness, in the stresses and frustrations of life, in the loud screams and cries for a redeemer. We don’t know.
But we do know God appears. We know that God can be recognised. We know that God is here.
In the beginning of the season of Advent which leads us into the rest of the church year, may we stay awake and keep alert to see God working in and around us and our communities, that we may readily be able to be encouraged by the hope, the peace, and the love that God so graciously gives. Thanks be to God. Amen.