“The End of the World As We Know It”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 30, 2014 – The First Sunday of Advent

Scripture:  Mark 13:24-37

 

It used to seem strange to me. It used to feel discordant, awkward, just plain odd, that the creators of the lectionary would choose a text like this at the start of the season of Advent.

At the start of a new liturgical year, I used to find it weird to read about the apocalypse, the end of the world. At the beginning of a season that’s supposed to be about hope, peace, joy, and love, I used to find it jarring to hear about heaven and earth passing away, the end times coming like a thief in the night. At the time of year when people all over the northern hemisphere, people of just about every religious and non-religious tradition you can think of, gather to light candles against the long, cold night, I used to find it uncomfortable to read about the stars falling from the sky, the sun and moon going dark, the powers in the heavens being shaken.

It used to seem strange to me—discordant, awkward, just plain odd—that the season of Advent would start with a text like this.

Not this year. This year, I think it sounds just about right.

 

Haven’t we seen the stars fall from the heavens as we absorbed the shock of the accident that befell our beloved Ted and Diane four weeks ago? Haven’t we felt the stable foundations of our lives tremble as we struggled to make sense of something so senseless—to figure out why this could have happened, and how this could have happened, and what on earth God was doing, and what on earth we should do? Haven’t we witnessed how quickly and unexpectedly an end can come—without warning, without preparation, without negotiation, without recourse? Haven’t we been reminded of just how ready we are called to be?

Haven’t we received news that makes it feel like the sun itself has ceased to shine? Haven’t we felt the ground drop out from underneath our feet when a boss says, “Clean out your desk”? Haven’t we felt the air go out of the room when a doctor says, “There’s nothing else we can do”? Haven’t we felt our foundations crumble when a spouse says, “I don’t love you any more”? Haven’t we been reminded that even the things that seem most solid in our lives are not immovable, that even the things that seem most stable will not always be there? Haven’t we been reminded of just how vulnerable and impermanent we are?

Haven’t we seen just how deep the night is, just how far we have to go before God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven? Haven’t we witnessed the killings of Eric Garner, and John Crawford, and Tamir Rice, and Dante Parker, and Ezell Ford, and Michael Brown, and countless other young men and women of color? Haven’t we heard from parents of black children who fear that their sons will be the next to die because they “look suspicious”? Haven’t we seen the hopelessness that grips communities for whom the system fails, over and over again? Haven’t we felt the width of the chasms that divide us from one another, that move us away from solidarity and toward suspicion? Haven’t we witnessed how deeply the demons of racism have sunk their talons into our society, and how hard we all must work in order to remove them? Haven’t we been reminded of just how thick and persistent those shadows can be?

Haven’t we seen the world torn apart by violence and terror, by poverty and disease? Haven’t we seen the Ebola outbreak devour the poorest and most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers? Haven’t we seen airplanes disappear from the sky, some leaving wreckage, others leaving not even a trace? Haven’t we seen ferries full of passengers sink and tankers full of crude oil run aground? Haven’t we seen wildfires and mudslides and earthquakes and tornadoes? Haven’t we seen schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram and cities demolished by ISIS? Haven’t we seen more than enough suffering, more than enough pain, more than enough tragedies that mean the end of the world for the people involved?

 

It used to seem strange to me—discordant, awkward, just plain odd—that the season of Advent would start with a text like this.

Not this year. This year, I think it sounds just about right. In fact, I think it sounds hopeful.

 

Here’s the hopeful part, the good news in this strange scripture.

It is in the midst of all those sufferings—in the midst of the grief and loss, the vulnerability and impermanence, the fear and despair, the illness and disaster—it is in the midst of all those sufferings that we will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” It is in the midst of those times when the sun and moon seem to go dark that the Light of Christ shines brightest. It is in the midst of those times when our stability is threatened that we discover our firmest foundation, our Rock and our Redeemer. It is in the midst of those times when the world as we know it seems to end that the new, in-breaking realm of God begins.

 

In this Advent season, here is our call: not to turn away from the suffering, not to pretend we do not see the shadowed corners of our world, not to skip over the waiting and run right to the light and cheer of Christmas morning… but to stay in the hard places, to sit with the people who are suffering, to face straight into the vulnerability and fear.

In this Advent season, here is our call: to name the ways in which this world does not reflect the realm of God, to speak up and speak out, to call for Christ to be present there.

In this Advent season, here is our call: to exercise the muscles of our faithful imaginations, to envision a world where the wolf really does lie down with the lamb, where the tears really are wiped from every eye, where swords really are beaten into ploughshares, where love really is victorious at last—where prejudice really is no more, where hate and bigotry really are no more, where mourning and crying and pain really are no more, where every one of God’s children really, truly knows that she is precious, and beautiful, and beloved.

In this Advent season, here is our call: to go to those places where it seems like the world is ending, and to look, and to look, and to keep on looking until we find hope there, until we find Jesus there, until we discover the ways in which God is making all things new.

In this Advent season, here is our call: to keep awake, to keep vigil through the night, to scour the horizon for the first streaks of light, to pray and to sing and to work and to hope until the dawn comes, until the day breaks and the shadows flee away—until the end of the world as we know it becomes the beginning of the world as God would have it be.