Haven’t we had enough, already?
I know, I could be talking about so many things. But I just did a four part series with the theme “winter is coming” mostly to cover a section of the Gospel of Matthew that talks about the end times and the Second Coming (Matthew 24-25). So we’ve been talking about “The End” for awhile, about how we should be prepared and on watch for it. It was the last few weeks of the church year and here we are at Advent, the official beginning of a new church year and you’d think we could hear a bright and cheerful story about the celebration of Jesus’ birth that’s happening in four weeks now. Couldn’t we?
“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, 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 …. But about that day or hour no one knows … Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:24-26, 32, 33)
Yeah. That’s one of the scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent. New year, same story. Suffering, darkness, destruction. The end is near. Probably. We don’t know when, so we should definitely be alert. And beware.
“Beware?” Well, I suppose so. That’s sure how we tend to hear these apocalyptic stories. We fear the end times, not just for all the horrifying destruction, suffering and death, but for the judgement. We fear the judgement most of all. It’s no wonder that, when we hear these stories and we’re suitably afraid and vulnerable, we’re willing to listen to someone who says they can save us. Someone who has all the answers to defend us against evil. Or, what they say is evil. We just have to do what they say. And probably send them some money. Or vote for them again.
So that’s not Jesus. We have to realize that. Jesus never offered all the answers. Jesus offered compassion, love and grace. And if you think that’s just more of the warm fuzzies, it’s not. It’s hard work. Nothing is harder than overcoming fear. That’s why Jesus offers hope.
Not wishful thinking, expectation or optimism. The hope of Jesus is certainty, the certainty that God is with us through all things, however you may know God. The certainty that in these end times, there is a new beginning, just as winter becomes spring and night becomes day. The certainty that life is meant to be lived with joy and engagement, not frozen in fear. Hope is life-giving.
I wonder if Jesus really said “beware.” Or, maybe, whatever ordinary human being who wrote this down, wrote what they thought they heard. Because I don’t think Jesus would have meant “beware,” with all that fearsome, be-on-guard baggage we give it. Not the Jesus who so frequently said “don’t be afraid.” Be aware, sure, but better still, be open. There is hope.