December 3, 2017 – White Bluff Presbyterian Church
Those of us who were able to come together for our Bible Study of Revelation this fall have talked a lot about apocalypse. The English word “apocalypse” is from a Greek word that simply means, “revelation,” or “unveiling.” Something that was previously hidden is being shown. So, to the person who is hearing someone talk about apocalypse, or who is reading an apocalyptic writing, is getting the message from God: things are not as they seem. Right now, the story line of apocalypse usually goes, they seem pretty rough, but there is more going on than you can see. Once everything is revealed, you will see that God really is in control, that God is going to take care of you and all the others who are suffering, and that God needs you to simply do your best to be faithful in the meantime.
That’s basically what Jesus has to say to his followers in this section of Mark’s gospel we just read to begin our season of Advent. Things are going to be rough, just like things have always been rough for God’s people. He detailed the rough things in the earlier parts of chapter 13: the temple will be destroyed; “not one stone will be left here upon another.” There will be “wars and rumors of wars.” Even nature will get involved: “there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines,” which are caused when the heavens shut and the rain is so scarce that everything shrivels up and the people go hungry.
Things are going to be rough, Jesus says to us. There will be nuclear proliferation and there will be unending international conflicts. There will be violence and discrimination against people because of their race, and there will be sexual assault and sexual harassment. There will be people caught in cycles of poverty and violence, generation after generation, and there will be policies passed that seem unfair, especially to those who are already struggling. There will be rising crime, and there will be brutality and corruption among those who are charged with keeping order. There will be all manner of problems to frustrate you, to discourage you, to make you angry, and to make you afraid. That is not the way God wants things to be, but the world is going to resist God’s desires. Things are going to be rough
But, Jesus said, there is more going on than you can see. After all of that takes place, then you will see something else entirely. You will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” That is when things will be the way God wants things to be. Jesus promised his followers that he will come again. And when he does, he will reveal God’s power and God’s mercy in a way that it has never been revealed before.
Today, we begin the church’s season of Advent. We have dark purples and blues in our decorations, the colors of the darkest parts of the night. We have symbols of the eternity of God’s gifts: circular wreaths with their lines that never end; evergreen branches which do not lose their life like other trees do, symbols on the Chrismon tree reminding us of the power of God’s resurrection, and the four candles of the Advent wreath, each pointing us in turn to the ever-growing light as Jesus’ return gets closer. Advent is a season of waiting and preparing for Christ’s promises to be finally and completely fulfilled.
And I think the gift of Advent is the gift of apocalypse. In Advent, we dwell for four Sundays and the other days in between in the affirmation that there is more going on than we can see. Advent comes up in a season of darkness, when the sun goes down early and takes its time rising in the morning. But there is more to the light than we can see: God is in control of the sun and the moon and the stars, and God will use them to reveal powers which are greater than shadowy maneuverings of nations and their rulers. Advent comes to us is a time of death, when the leaves fall from the trees and the bare branches reveal a sparseness and even a scarcity that feels haunting. But there is more to the seasons than we can see: God has shown us that the season of death does not last forever, and that by the power of God new life springs forth in its time, and when it does, it will show an abundance of food and grace and health and joy that we had forgotten was even possible. If we are feeling frustrated, discouraged, angry, and afraid, then this whole season is a good time to repeat that affirmation over and over and over again to ourselves. There is more going on than we can see.
There is more going on than we can see. I want you to turn to the person next to you and tell them that: there is more going on than we can see. Then turn to someone else near you and say the same thing: there is more going on than we can see. I think we need to say that to each other over and over again in these four weeks of Advent: there is more going on than we can see. There is more light than what we get between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. There is more life than we might assume just looking at the bare branches of the trees. There is more goodness than we can do all on our own. There is more love in the world than we can share, despite our best efforts. There is more reason to hope than we can muster inside our tired spirits. There is more going on than we can see.
But in this season of waiting and anticipation that more is about to be revealed, we can’t just fall asleep. It is tempting; after all, if Jesus is just going to come and take care of everything, why do we have to do anything at all? But that’s not the way it works, Jesus said. You have to watch. You have to put real effort into looking for what God is doing beyond what is easy to see. You have to be ready. You can’t let yourself fall into frustration, discouragement, anger, and fear. You have to prepare yourself, and in the meantime, while you are waiting, you still have to do your best to be faithful to the love and commands of Jesus.
We can’t let the rhythmic crescendos and decrescendos of Bing Crosby’s crooning over the car radio this month lull us into complacency. We can’t let the world’s general mood of happiness and good cheer lead us to think that this is all there is. Don’t get me wrong; Bing Crosby is on my Christmas playlist which I have cued up in my car even as we speak. But it is not enough. As the world lulls and leads us through its so-called “holiday season,” there are still wars and rumors of wars; there are still people being abused and harassed just for being what God created them to be; there are still those feelings of frustration and discouragement and anger and fear. And no amount of positive, warm glowing messages of the holiday season are going to change it; if we let ourselves be lulled and led by the world, then at the end of the month, we will go back to things the way they were before. In fact, some very wise people have expressed their worry that those messages are really just a distraction, diverting our attention and covering up the real agendas of those in power and the ways they are stacking things to benefit the rich and make things even more difficult for the most vulnerable among us.
No, we can’t just be lulled and led to sleep. We have to keep alert. We have to watch for what is going on in the world that is troubling, and we have to pay attention as the frustration, discouragement, anger, and especially the fear rise up in us. If we don’t pay attention to those things, then they will gain a much greater power than they really should. And we have to watch, too, for what else God is doing that answer those feelings with a vision of light and life, goodness and love, and hope. We have to continue to tell each other, in what we say and in what we do, that there is more going on than we can see. We have to continue to proclaim to the whole world, in what we say and in what we do, that God is in control of the sun and moon and stars and life and abundance.
This morning, as we launch our season of Advent, we gather once again around Christ’s table to receive a meal from him. But, of course, our very act of remembering here is an act affirming that there is more going on here than we can see. What we see is some bits of delicious bread and some small cups containing the fruit of the vine. What we hear is that the bread is a symbol of Jesus’ body, which was broken on the cross, and the juice is a symbol of Jesus’ blood, “poured out for you,” he said. But as we receive his body and his covenant, we also know that Jesus himself is present in real ways here. You don’t receive this meal from me or from the Elders who cut the bread and opened the bottle of juice. You receive it from Christ himself, present in real ways here and now. And that is what makes this celebration more than just the bread we see and the little cups we drink from. This celebration feeds our bodies and our souls in ways we cannot immediately see: through our connection with Christ himself, through our connection with each other, and through our connection with all those things that nourish us and make us satisfied. There is more going on than we can see. There is light and goodness and love and reason to hope. There is nourishment for our hungry spirits. There is Christ himself, present here, welcoming us here, loving us here, feeding us here.
There is more going on than we can see. And if we are going to receive the gifts which are present here, we have to pay attention to the wars and rumors of wars, the racism and harassment, the poverty and indifference, the violence and the brutality. We have to pay attention to the feelings that well up inside of us in the face of these realities which we see all around us all the time. But we also have to keep awake, watching for what else is going on: the light and goodness and love and reason for hope we have in God. There is more going on than we can see.
My prayer this morning, for this week and for this season, is that we can tell each other and tell the world, over and over again, in our words and in our actions: there is more going on than we can see.