I Thessalonians 3:9-13
Anyone here like scary movies? Not the “Scary Movie” parody series of movies, because I know everyone loves those, but actual horror movies? A couple months ago Netflix released an original series based on the book that I never heard of with the same name, The Haunting of Hill House. If you haven’t heard of it, here is a bit of the trailer (feel free not to watch if you scare easily or in the presence of young children):
Scary looking, huh? Probably the scariest trailer I’ve ever seen and definitely the scariest I’ve shared in a sermon at least. I actually probably won’t have ever heard of this series if it weren’t for my wife, who told me about press it had been getting. Apparently people who saw it found it so scary that they weren’t able to sleep, were totally on edge, and some were even fainting and throwing up.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve never been scared enough to throw up. I’ve thrown up from eating too much or drinking too much, but never from being too scared. And apparently the series was reportedly so good that it even got a seal of approval from Stephen King himself. So Winnie read all this and asked me to watch it. Not with her, mind you, because there was no way she would ever lay her eyes on anything that scary. But she was curious if this show lived up the hype and wanted me to check it out for her, like I’m her guinea pig.
I’m not one for the horror genre, but I was intrigued. But perhaps more than watching it, I was more intrigued with the phenomenon around watching scary movies or shows or reading scary books or just wanting to be scared in general. And let’s be honest, we all know at least one person who loves consuming all this scary type of media.
But why? Why do those who like to watch horror, like to watch horror? There are enough things to be scared of in real life, why put yourself through that fear and anxiety intentionally? I get that there could be a thrill and some fun involved with it, but everything leading up to that thrill is quite literally terrifying. But I guess that is the point.
Because unlike real life, the fear that comes from watching scary movies or tv shows or reading scary books or whatever is controllable, in that we can just walk out of the theatre, turn off the tv, or just stop reading and put the book down… or burn it or whatever. Although we can feel scared of the images and plotlines, but we know that it will end. And even if the story doesn’t resolve in a happy ending like it seems most don’t, it still ends and we get back to our lives. We put that fictional scary part behind us and then face the real scary stuff, like going back to work or school or being a parent. Talk about scary, right?
And don’t we wish we could do that in real life? Don’t we wish we could at times just hit the pause button or close the book or just that whatever awful thing we’re going through would just end? Don’t we wish that we could control our fears, put them aside, and worry no more?
Unfortunately life doesn’t work like that. We’re afraid of a lot out there. We’re afraid of how the economy is going. We’re afraid of how society seems to be getting much more violent and immoral. We’re afraid of people and how evil they can be and how they might wrong us and hurt us. We are afraid because the news and media tells us that there is much to be afraid of. We are afraid because we just don’t have control over pretty much anything that we want to have control over.
We are just afraid.
Jesus doesn’t seem to help with our fear in today’s gospel lesson for the today, the First Sunday in Advent. I mean, this season is about hope and looking forward to God’s coming kingdom, we have the candles here to remind us of the weeks counting down to Christmas. And the candle we lit today is even called “hope”. But here we have a passage about Jesus talking a lot of gloom and doom and destruction and danger and… well… hopelessness.
It doesn’t seem to make sense, does it?
It doesn’t sound like a hopeful passage, it doesn’t sound like a really appropriate Advent passage, it doesn’t even sound like a passage that I would want to read out loud at all because it just sounds scary. And some out there would say that is the point. Jesus is trying to be scary here so to accurately warn the people of the end times, to have a sense of urgency to turn to Jesus because the end will be so horrible, and to basically remind us that life on earth is fleeting and meaningless. Wait, does that sound right?
Well, if we take this to be what it seems, a very fear-and-hopelessness-inducing passage, it seems to make sense. It seems to make sense to forget about the current situation of the world and just think that God will take care of it. It seems to make sense to embrace how temporary this world and this life is, and discard the needs of others because they are temporary too. It seems to make sense to try and control our fears of the world by holding fast to the promise that it will all be over soon, that the end credits will roll, the channel will be changed, that the book will be closed.
But honestly? That isn’t what is going on. That isn’t what Jesus was talking about. If it was, he wouldn’t do all the things that he does. He wouldn’t care for the poor and the sick. He wouldn’t feed the hungry. He wouldn’t even bother teaching and preaching about love, community, and compassion. He most certainly wouldn’t die for us because what would it matter? If the world were ending like that then really Jesus didn’t even have to be Jesus.
But the thing is what Jesus had done does matter. What Jesus taught matters. And what Jesus taught is that we as individuals, as a community, as a body of Christ joined together through the words and promises of God, matter.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that apocalyptic writing, like what this passage would be seen as, has typically been used to predict the end times, to give us a picture of signs that we can read and recognise that are warning us that the end is near, to really drive home that idea that we are so very temporary and nothing even matters. But they weren’t written for that purpose. They were written to remind us of God’s presence with us through the trying times. They were written to highlight God’s promises of justice and peace even when the world seems like it’s gone to hell in a handbasket. They were written, essentially, to instill in us hope.
Look at the passage for today, taking place as a continuation of the episode we read a couple weeks ago about the disciples admiring the temple and its really big and pretty rocks. And Jesus warns them that the temple might be pretty awesome now, but it’ll fall. This of course fills the disciples and those around with anxiety and wondering what they’d do after it falls, where will they worship if the temple is destroyed, who they will be without the lifeblood of community that this pretty rock building provided. Life would seem bleak now that they know the temple isn’t everlasting… or even the world for that matter. Suddenly there doesn’t seem to be a point anymore, thinking that such bad things will happen. Such bad things are happening. At any given moment, somewhere in the world someone is hanging on their last thread, someone else is taking their final breath, and countless someones are filled with dire hopelessness thinking that there just isn’t a point to carry on anymore.
But what Jesus is saying here is that there is a point. That they all and you all matter. That there is, there was, and there always will be hope.
In the midst of all that Jesus tells us today he says stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. He isn’t saying that the world is going to end soon, I mean it’s been like 2000 years since he said this so I think it’s safe to say that the “end” has fallen very much outside of the confines of “soon”. Rather what Jesus is saying is that while life can be very tough, while the world seems to be on a road to destruction, while we might not be able to see the point of ever caring or even being around, that God is present. God is near. God carries us with a love that filled the oceans with water and placed the stars in space. And God will never leave us or leave us alone, because we matter. What we do matters. And who we are and our relationships matter. We can be confident in that promise.
This is the hope of the gospel, the hope of redemption, the hope of this season of Advent, that we can start this new church year off right, set the stage for what is to come, and to embrace fully this promise of redemption, of justice, of a love and peace that can withstand anything that the world might throw at it, lifting us up out of the horrors and fears of life, and show us—each and every one of us—that we do indeed matter and are cherished by God and by our community as we are all connected together as the eternal body of Christ. This is God’s promise to us. This is God’s grace in action. This is God’s hope, instilled in our hearts, reminding us that no matter how bad and scary things can get, that we are not to face it alone and that God’s love for us will never end. While there are still many a thing in this life for us to fear, we can face them with confidence knowing that God is our God and will continue to hold us through whatever might come our way.
In season of Advent, the beginning of a new church year, this time of hope, may we look forward with hope to Christ’s presence, God’s love, and the indwelling of the Spirit in and all around us, now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.