Saturday, November 29, 2014

Come Again? (Advent 1, Nov 30 2014)

Homily:  Yr B Advent 1, November 30, 2014, St. Albans
Readings:  Is 64:1-9;Ps 80:1-7,16-18; 1Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:24-37

Come Again?

Have you noticed that it’s getting darker these days?  

I have friends, newlyweds in their first year of marriage.  He goes to work early in the morning; she gets home from work late in the afternoon.  Last week he said to her, “I never get to see you in the daylight anymore.”

We can all relate to the darkness these days.  For some, it’s an inconvenience, but for many it’s more serious.  It affects our mood, it curtails our activities, it increases our isolation.

The gospel reading is set as the sun is going down.  Jesus has gathered his disciples on the Mount of Olives just outside the city of Jerusalem, and they are worried.  They can see the gathering darkness.  They’ve witnessed first-hand the confrontation between Jesus and the authorities, a confrontation which will result in Jesus arrest the following night.  They’re worried, and so they ask about the future, about the end times spoken of by the prophets.  And Jesus answers them, using the apocalyptic language and images of the times:

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from heaven”

Yes, he tells them, you’re right, it’s dark and it’s getting darker.  Then he makes them a promise:

“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

What do you make of the promise that the “Son of Man will come with great power and glory?”

It’s not the first time we’ve heard it.  We say it whenever we recite the creed, “he will come again to judge the living and the dead”.  We proclaim it every time we celebrate the Eucharist together:  “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

What do you make of it?  Is Christ coming again?

I think for many of us, this talk of a future coming of Christ is all a bit unsettling.  

“But in those days, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

These are words that were spoken as promise and they were heard by those gathered around Jesus as words of great hope.  So why is it that many of us hear them and feel so unsettled?

I think it is in part because we live in an affluent society.  21st Century Canadians as a whole are wealthy by historical and global standards.  Most of us do not know oppression. We live, for the most part in peace.  Many of us are satisfied with the status quo.  And so our hope for the future is, often, what might be called a negative hope.  We hope that nothing will change.  That we keep our jobs and homes.  That violence will not come to our land.  That our kids will stay in school.  That the university will not go on strike.  That our children’s lives will be as good as ours have been. No need to call on God to shake things up.  That would be unsettling.

But in Isaiah’s day, at the time of our first reading, there was no such satisfaction with the present times. At one time, Israel had been a mighty kingdom under the Kings David and Solomon.  But in the 6th century BC, the southern kingdom of Judah had been defeated by the Babylonian empire, and the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and taken the people into exile.  It was a time of desolation, and a time of questioning.  Why has this happened?  Are we still God’s people? It was a time of uncomfortable darkness. 

Finally, when the people were allowed to return to Jerusalem, they found their homes in ruins and the Temple destroyed.  They were still oppressed.  They still felt abandoned.  And so the prophet and people turn to their God and cry out “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down so that the mountains would quake in your presence”.

In Jesus’ day too, there was a dis-ease with the present times.  The people of Israel lived under military occupation, and we know only too well from the images that come to us from parts of Syria and Iraq what that can look like.  The people gathered around Jesus had known war in their lifetime, and they knew what it was like to be poor and to worry about whether this day would bring enough food to feed their family.

And so when Jesus talks about the future and the coming of the Son of Man in power and glory, his words are heard not as a threat to a comfortable status quo, but as words of comfort and hope. God sees your desperate situation, God hears your cries for help and God will act to make things right.

So stay awake and be ready, cause when Christ comes, you don’t want to miss it.  There is a sense, an expectation that God has something great in store for us and for all of creation. Wait for it.

Last Sunday, the Sunday we call the Reign of Christ, we talked about what things would look like if Christ was King, if our lives and our communities and our world were the way that Jesus wanted them to be.  And it didn’t take long to discover that a lot of things would have to change.  Because, despite our affluence and our comfort, as soon as we start to dig a little deeper, any sense of satisfaction we have with the status quo begins to erode.  We realize that our relative affluence depends on the consumption of a disproportionate and unsustainable amount of the earth’s resources.  We realize that in the midst of plenty there are those who are in need.  We scratch below the surface of our daily interactions and discover the world of hunger, illness, violence and desperation that underlies our status quo.  We too live in a world that needs to be put right.

So what do you make of the promise that Christ will come again?

For me, the first thing it does is remind me of the truth that the way things are right now is not good enough, is not the way that we want them to be and not the way that God wants them to be. We need to acknowledge this, it’s good to talk about it, we can lament, and our lament will be heard. In our present reality, we may get glimpses of the divine, but the fullness of God and of God’s hope for this world has yet to be fully realized.

But, the promise that Christ will come again also reminds me that God has a dream for us, a dream that has yet to be realized  That dream is a dream of peace and justice, of joy and belonging where we will become, individually and collectively, the people that God created us to be.  Where every human will be honoured as a child of God. That is our future, that is where we are heading, and God will act to make this great vision a reality.

How will we get from here to there?  That I don’t know.  I don’t get too fussed about whether there will be clouds or not.  The timing is certainly not mine to know.  I don’t know whether this will all take place on this earth or in some spiritual recreation of the world we know or in some place we can’t yet imagine that we might want to call heaven.  I don’t know if it will take place all at once, or day by day. But I can wait for it, I can watch for it and I can work for it.

I believe that Christ will come again, and that God will set things right, and that the pain and suffering that is part of our present reality will one day be no more, and that God is calling us to get on board and to be part of the solution, to participate in the in-breaking of God’s reign in our world.

Sometimes I wonder why it is that every year we begin the season of Advent with these apocalyptic readings about the end times and the return of the Son of Man.  I mean, isn’t Advent all about getting ready for Christmas?  Well, sort of.  But if Advent was only about getting ready to celebrate something that happened 2000 years ago, that would be kind of backward-looking.  Advent is meant to be forward looking.  Advent is a time of waiting in expectation, a time of preparation, a time to renew our hope in the wonderful future that God has promised us and is getting ready for us.

That’s important because the future has the potential to shape our present. We are a people who have hope. We know where this train is heading.  It’s time to get on board.


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