The end is coming! Get ready! Imagine if that was a commercial on TV these days as we run into the most frantic season of our year, Christmas. The end is coming! Get ready! Well, for what? I mean, from an economic point of view, we are meant to get ready for the hallowed day, December 25th, the perfect Christmas morning where we all gather around our tree’s, open the perfectly wrapped gifts, wearing our perfectly matching pj’s, as we sip our perfectly warm eggnog lattes, with hints of the perfectly wonderful Christmas dinner perfuming the air -- all without breaking a sweat, swearing, or wondering if it was too early to start drinking. But from a human and emotional point of view December 25th rarely looks like that. The world becomes hushed and quiet, we stumble out of bed praying for a cup of coffee, and wondering what just happened in the intervening 24hrs of worship, wrapping, work, and family. And here in this place, we celebrate the chaos of a birth that changed the world forever. The end is coming! Prepare, our salvation is near! But how and for what?
There has been a decidedly different tone to our readings these last few weeks, as we have been moving deeper and deeper into the end times. Which does not stop just with our readings in church, even as we gather here our world is tearing itself apart in war, lies, political blumbers, and more, sometimes I wonder if Jesus will ever come back to fix our mess. This shift to the apocalypse feels weird in a season outside Advent, however we are actually in Advent, a season of marked by anticipation, preparation, and waiting. According to the old calendar, Advent was seven weeks long, with an introduction from the canonical apocalypse of Mathew, Mark, and Luke being read before we turn into the season of preparatory waiting we are used to in Advent. The end times bring us again to the Throne of Christ, a throne of wood and nails, to the cross -- the intersection of our salvation. We are here, on the cusp of that salvation as we turn next week into the celebration of Christ’s Reign in our lives, which is a recognition of Christ's abiding presence in everything, that all of this preparation is for Christ, that our times, and lives, are for Christ and God's kingdom.
The Gospel of Luke, from which this year's apocalypse is framed, continues to put us right in the midst of Christs challenge to the authorities and powers of Rome and the imminence of the crucifixion. As we move closer and closer to Advent, the crucifixion --which is our salvation, the end times are coming faster and faster. Yet, we have been preaching this end for generations and generations --with little actually happening. The early church talked of the imminence of the event, the medieval church produced liturgies and processes which were grounded directly in the end times. And then as history began to stretch and we became more and more distant from the imminence of the end times, we stopped talking about it. These passages became antiquated, as if the end times no longer matter. Yet, we have suffered two great wars, and many more in-between. Countries have been born, genocides taken place, with no end of examples where nations have risen against nation, earthquakes, and famine, as our gospel tells us, have taken place. Yet, despite our cries for an end to it all, Christ has still not come, and we still wait. So what are we preparing for? We are waiting to see God’s Kingdom --which is already here.
I wonder if it is possible for us to be able to see the work of God's providence within the space of history, between Christ’s first coming unto today. What I mean is, those moments of conflict we have had personally, or challenge, or hunger, or setback. Are we able to see and know God's presence in the midst of it? That is not to say that God gives us these challenges or that we somehow deserve to go hungry, or be kept from the freedom Christ calls us to live --that would be false doctrine. The idiom “God only gives us what we can handle,” does not apply. Rather, are we able to see the people who have helped us as heralds of Gods in breaking kingdom? The person who paid our bus fair, when we lost our wallet, or the warm cup of tea and sympathetic ear after the breakup of a relationship. The card or hug when our parents died. The visit in the hospital, and with so many more examples, is it possible for us to see God's presence in these people in our lives as the answer to Christ’s reminder to us that now is the time for us to bear testimony of God's presence in the world, by being his hands and feet in the world? Is this what God meant when he said he would be with us until the end of time --that he’s beside us right now in the pew? and that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus? Yes. Our preparation is not for some distant moment of end times, it's about breaking the cycles of fear and anxiety today, by being Christ’s hands and feet in the world we love.
The hardest thing for us to do is talk about our faith to other people, sometimes out of fear, and sometimes out of unknowing. So to hear Christ ask us to be ready to give a testimony of our faith, but not to prepare ahead of time for it feels backwards. Like going to an exam without having studied. Yet, when we think of those forces in our lives who have borne the testimony of God's immanence in the midst of our challenges, they almost never tell us about Jesus. They show us Jesus. When our pastoral team visits shut in, or our NHM teams walk the streets every Saturday, they aren’t going to tell them about Jesus --they are going to meet Jesus already alive in our world, because Jesus asked them to go and spread God's message by presence: to show up in faith and let God do the rest.
There will, however, remain moments of incredible pain which no amount of presence or hope can sort out. The genocides of indigenous people around this world, the holocaust, the stupidity of war, among others, are examples of human experience where it's almost impossible to see where God's presence could have been. Yet even within these horrible moments of human suffering there were people, testifing of Jesus in the midst of the end times of their generation. From the people who hid Jews, to the teachers who defended indian kids at schools, to the card or hug from a friend --God was at work through individuals to bring about God's kingdom today. Our challenge in the midst of these end times --as it has been for all of human history, is to stop, watch, and listen for where God's kingdom is breaking in around us today.
So Church, the end is here in the midst of Christmas shopping, preparation, anticipation and work. Where is God at work in you and how will you show the world what Jesus is doing in your life this week??