I have a confession. I struggled, I mean sincerely struggled with tonight’s message. I began reading, studying and praying this text about 4 weeks ago, and up until yesterday I couldn’t figure out how to make this stuff coherent, I’m not sure if I really ever got there.
Most of my struggles revolved around two issues I kept having. First, I didn’t choose this Scripture, nobody would choose this Scripture; rather in a way this Scripture chose us
…Mark 13 is the first Advent reading from the lectionary.
And did you hear the Scripture?
Okay, here we are entering into the Christmas season of joy, peace, and love. This is Christmas for God’s sake, where most of us have already broke out our trees, decorations, and hung our stockings. We’ve uploaded our Christmas playlists, made shopping lists, and figured out our travel arrangements.
…but this is what Jesus says:
"But in those days, following that distress,
" 'the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light; -
We don’t need to read any further, “But in those days, following that distress” see, we fortunately didn’t read the entire chapter where Jesus talks about insurmountable violence, wars, famine, natural catastrophes, false or Anti-Christ’s, and how his followers would be hated for Jesus’ sake.
I mean this is embarrassing material, doesn’t Jesus know, didn’t somebody tell Jesus what Christmas was about.
But it doesn’t stop there, Jesus then talks about his 2nd coming:
"At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
Then Jesus, the God we worship, admits:
"But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Then what are told what to do in light of this impending Apocalypse:
“If he comes suddenly”,. Jesus says… “do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!' or “Be Alert.”
Be Alert- I don’t think we have any problem with being alert in our caffeine addicted culture!
Hopefully you can see why I had a hard time with this text, doesn’t quite line up with the expected warm, fuzzy feelings of Christmas. As a matter of fact, it’s just plain confusing and discomforting.
But you know what, our culture loves this stuff. We are an Apocalyptic culture…we obsess about the end of the world…how will it end, what great war, meteor, or global crisis will ruin the earth.
A quick search of the Internet Movie Data Base, IMBD reveals in titles alone, not plots and storylines, but just in names there are over 350 movies of Apocalypse including Apocalypse Now, Apocalyptico, The Matrix trilogy, the XMen trilogy, and Children of Men, all these movies…WallE is centered on Apocalypstic ideals.
Alternative rock band, the Muse devotes an entire album, “Absolution” to Apocalypse with titles like “Apocalypse Please, Time is Running Out, and Thoughts of a Dying Atheist.”
Iron and Wine almost always carries their songs forward with an apocalyptic undertone found strongest in, “Our Endless Numbered Days.”
Nas raps about it and Rage Against the Machine rifts about it.
One of the greatest selling pieces of Christian fiction is the Left Behind series which narrates the end of the world through the perspective of its authors, not the Bible. You can go to almost any Christian book store and see shelves full of titles about the End of the World, prophecies, and Christ’s return.
So, is God to blame for this obsession with a violent, catastrophic hope for the world?
Is it God’s fault that Christian Zionists like San Antonio mega-church pastor, John Hagee pushes for war and genocide in the Middle East because he believes it will usher in the 2nd coming of Christ?
Does Jesus words here mean we have to compile lists of potential Anti-Christ’s like the Nazareth Association of Prophets who 2007 list placed: (I have to share some of these with you)
2. Hilary Clinton
3. Tom Cruise (new to the list)
4. Vladimir Putin
5. Barak Obama (new to the list)
6. Osama bin Laden
7. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (president of Iran)
8. Pope Benedict XVI
9. Bill Clinton
10. Stephen Colbert (new to the list)
11. Rosie O'Donnell (new to the list)
12. Pervez Musharraf (President of Pakistan, new to the list)
13. Nancy Pelosi (US Speaker of the House, new to the list)
14. That guy from the Verizon Wireless commercials
15. The United Nations
16. Mikhail Gorbachev
17. Bill and Melinda Gates
18. Saddam Hussein
19. Spongebob Squarepants
20. Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II (tie)
Is that what Jesus means in this Apocalypse in Mark 13. If so, I’m embarrassed to call myself a Christian…I want no part in a god who warrants destruction for the sake of peace, an amoral deity who runs amok in his own creation, that creates co-conspirators with god enabling global disasters and mass genocides.
But let us step back and realize,
Apocalypse simply means “to reveal.”
What then is Jesus’ strange words here about destruction and suffering revealing to us?
Never mind the fact that the listeners of Mark’s Gospel lived under the oppressive power of the Roman empire and witnessed the most disturbing and violent image a Jew could witness, the destruction of the Second Temple. “No stone would be left unturned.”- Jesus said.
Never mind that Jesus words here aren’t revealing the future 2000 or even 200 years from his time, but instead were directed at the 1st Century Christian community.
Jesus here is revealing “the world’s peace and so called order” for what it really is: disorder and violence.
Civil Rights Activist, William Campbell write in his autobiography, Brother to a Dragonfly and shockingly reveals how we often mistake the disorder and violence of our world as the exact opposite.
He tells of a conversation with Klu Klux Klansman, where asks the Klansman:
"How about telling me what the Ku Klux Klan stands for?"
It was as if he had been waiting for me to ask.
"The Ku Klux Klan stands for peace, for harmony, and for freedom."
"... Now one more question. What means are you willing to use to
accomplish those glorious ends?"
"Oh. Now I see what you're getting at. The means we are willing to use are
as follows: murder, torture, threats, blackmail, intimidation, burning, guerilla
warfare. Whatever it takes."
And then he stopped. And I stopped. I knew that I had set a trap for him and
had cleverly let him snap the trigger.
But then he started again. "Now, Preacher. Let me ask you a question. You
tell me what we stand for in Vietnam."
For me, this question still carries its force, echoing into the halls of what we stand for in Iraq, Afghanistan, South America, Free Trade, a globalizing capital market, and Consumerism.
All I can hear are singer songwriter, Derek Webb’s words:
“Peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication,”
It’s like telling someone murder is wrong, and then showing them by way of execution.”
And this brings me back. Remember, there were two reasons I had a hard time with this sermon. The second of which is that I wrote and rewrote at least 5 different introductions because every single one of them came off as Grinch like. BAHUMBUG was the tone. And nobody wants to hear that, not even me and I’m preaching it.
Here’s the deal, I don’t hate Christmas, all right. You come over to our house and you’ll see a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. I’ve been listening to Christmas music for 3 weeks now, that at least a week before Thanksgiving, all right.
But for the last few years, I’ve felt an uneasiness, a weird tension over the Christmas holiday. Growing up in a nonChristian home and having spent most of my churched days in places were Advent was minimal or absent, this dissonance with Christmas began in seminary where I was introduced into the intentional season of Advent.
And for the first time in my life, I felt jaded with Christmas.
Why, because in the crib of the manger lay not a baby, but a piece of merchandise competing for our consumeristic foolishness.
Look. There is nothing with gift giving, with receiving gifts, or even bargain shopping. But there is something wrong when we justify our disorder as order, our greed as necessity in the same way Klansman justified his broken actions.
It’s foolishness that on Nov. 28, (commonly referred to as Black Friday), a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death, and a young woman miscarried in the rush of the same mob to save $50 on a plasma TV or $10 on a sweater. Or that 2 people were shot dead in a Toys-R-Us.
It’s foolishness that no one will speak up against this type of marketing, which is allowed because it pushes the market out of the red, into the black. The bottom line is the bottom line.
It’s foolish that our identities are found in what we own, and that we betray our conscience for a deal’s sake.
It is foolish that the American dream creates such disparities that CEO’s, who only made 40% more then their workers in 1980, now make 500% more.
It is foolish that Americans make up 5% of the world’s population but consume over 40% of its resources.
If there were ever two United States, that would leave 20% of the world’s resources for 90% of the world’s population.
Somehow, Christmas has become the season of justifying our greed and need for more and bathing those desires in Jesus.
It could… just be… that we’re just not satisfied with Advent. I mean that’s the point of good marketing and consumerism, this is what Christmas has really become: to make us unsatisfied so we are always hungry for more, for something new.
We don’t buy, we shop for new jeans to replace the perfectly, less hip pair, a new camera with more megapixels, Ipod with more memory, a purse for your collection, or whatever gift we “need.”
Maybe this is why our culture loves Apocalypse. As the great preacher Fred Craddock said,
“Maybe people are obsessed with the Second Coming because deep down they are disappointed in the first one.”
Apocalypse is revealing what Advent is about: Christ coming! God with us!
“O come, O come, Emmanuel (God with us) and ransom captive Israel.”
The Hebrew hope for Captive Israel meant a Messiah would come and upset the status quo, that the oppressor, Babylon or Rome would be overthrown and Israel returned to its glory. But in fact, the hope of captive Israel was the promotion of the status quo, the promotion of the world’s order in a violent and destructive overthrow.
But God is not in the business of supporting our human status quo’s. The Advent, the coming of God is the exact opposite.
Mary was found pregnant with the hope of the world. And God came down not in a fiery day of judgment, but burst forth from the womb: weak, frail, helpless, relying on his mother’s breast for nourishment.
Apocalypse. Revealing. Advent. Coming.
In God’s coming to us in Incarnation, we find that the peace and love of God is so radical, that the world purges and mistakes Christ’s love as a chaos.
When true peace is revealed in our culture’s disordered order, when our world’s violent peace is ruptured by Christ’s apocalyptic arrival, we find that our most human of actions become the gateway to paradise. Our means become the end.
In the sharing of a meal, words of forgiveness, a conversation of love we find that God’s future Kingdom is present.
Does anyone else find it odd that “Industrial strikes” where people are fighting for a fair and livable wage while CEO’s are making an incredible amount of money are called “disturbances of industrial peace.” Peace. Peace? Peace is somehow equated with the unjust gap between the rich and poor.
Imagine if our nation all of a sudden found itself content. What if we were all satisfied with our belongings. What would happen?
Imagine if outsourced workers of transnational corporations were paid livable wages instead of the slave like 33c or 15c’s an hour?
What would our lifestyles look like?
The implications of Advent are radical. True peace and love feel like a rupture in our societies’ order.
But that is why Christ leaves us with the command, “Awaken, Be Alert!”
Reveal, Come, Awake!
As Jesus warns:
“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!”
Later that evening, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples betrayed Jesus in their sleep while the fear of death hung over his head.
At midnight, the disciples betrayed Jesus in their shame leaving him alone at his trial, and at the rooster’s crow, Peter betrayed his friend by a fire disowning him completely.
But at dawn on the 3rd day, a new possibility of Awareness entered the world. With Christ, the beginning of the end had begun, the new possibility of Resurrection life started.
SO, between the Resurrection and the 2nd coming of Christ, a new Heaven and new Earth is made possible. It is made possible in a church pregnant with the new possibility for real hope, real peace, and real love.
Advent and Apocalypse alike impregnate the church with the imagination we need to break endless cycles of hate, fear, and injustice.
The gateway to paradise happens not through violent wars and insufferable famines, but through the church’s birth pains of ordinary, radical peace and abundance the face of violence and scarcity.
You and I are given new possibilities to invert violence with love, hate with forgiveness, dissatisfaction with contentment, brokenness with wholeness, and pain with comfort.
This journey toward the sacred in the midst of normal daily routine is a journey of suffering, just like pregnancy. In discovering the hope of resurrection, part of us must die, the part of us that can sleep in the midst of chaos and disordered order.
“Here death is a part of life, and failure is a part of victory. Opposites collide and unite, and everything belongs.” As Richard Rohr says.
Reveal, Come, Awake!
Apocalypse, Advent, Hope.
In the midst of our violent, selfish, greedy, and broken order Christ makes new possibilities, even for the church. Where do you need hope against hope? Imagination in the face of order and structures?
When the world tells you to place your hope in slander or a grudge, may you find that real hope is the uncomfortable work of forgiveness.
When our culture tells you that hope is found in spending on unneeded goods, may you find hope in the giving to those who suffer in the production of those goods. Advent is a time to experiment, find an orphan to give monthly donations to, get your family together and donate a calf or goat through the Heifer project, give half or a quarter to the poor what you spend for you family.
And Awaken to the disordered order of this world. Hope against hope.
In Advent and Apocalypse alike, we find that waiting is no longer our passive celebration of Christ’ birth, rather in God’s intrusion into the world, he awakens us to new possibilities for real love, hope, and peace in the wars within your hearts and the wars around the globe.
Apocalypse, Advent, Hope.