Excerpted from A Season of Hope. An Advent Guide for Lectionary Year B from the North Carolina Council of Churches.
“But in those days, following that distress,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”
On the Sunday we light the hope candle, the Gospel lesson describes “the end of the age.” How appropriate since many of our current events could be read as the end of the age:
- A hostile foreign country influenced our most recent presidential election, not through voter fraud, but by precise infiltration of our news sources (yes, facebook is a news source);
- New government scientific reports confirm what previous environmental scientific reports have been claiming for decades, human behavior is causing climate change—and it’s going to get worse; and
- The renewed threat of nuclear war, which lends a whole new meaning to the end of the age.
Those might be considered “signs” for our modern minds. In today’s gospel reading Jesus has offered some first century Palestine signs, which over the years have captured the imagination of dispensational premillennialists (end of world provocateurs, most famously John Darby). Then Jesus goes on to state the real purpose of thinking about the end of the age. There’s going to be turmoil. It seems to me that Jesus has a lot more to say about the turmoil leading up to the end of the age than he does about the actual end itself. The end of the age is not really the issue; the issue is how we respond to the turmoil. Christianity is less about what happens when we die and more about what happens while we live.
How will we live as sea levels continue to rise, food becomes more scarce, and nations revert to nationalism? Will we live by God’s truth, embodying a countercultural witness to nativism, accumulation of wealth, and military engagement? Consistently, scriptural witness instructs us to welcome the stranger, redistribute our wealth, and devise forms of resistance that do not include violence. This is hard work. It’s far easier to lock our doors (build a wall), repeal consumer protection laws, and drop bombs.
The hope for either of these scenarios is God’s reconciling promise to us. God will have us back either like the lost sheep that God must go and find or the prodigal child who eventually comes home to open arms. One way or another God will gather all of creation into God’s goodness. In the meantime, we choose how to react when turmoil comes our way.
Jesus shows us through his life, death, and resurrection that the possibility for living into God’s promises is limited only by our imagination. Want to enter a world rife with fear and greed—come as an infant born into poverty. Want to upset the military-industrial complicity between nation and religion—refuse to fight. Want to show the all-encompassing reach of God’s love—find your life in losing it for others. We can barely fathom such behavior, but God believes this is who we really are. I hope so . . .