Advent 1 November 29, 2015 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Christ Episcopal Church
Sunday November 29, 2015
The Rev. Samuel Torvend
For a few moments if not longer, the people gathered in the Bataclan Theater in Paris on the evening of November 13, just two weeks ago, surely thought that their world was coming to an end, that there was no way out of that dimly lit hall as the attackers began to shoot into the crowd gathered for a concert. Indeed, the terrorists could have shouted, “The End Is Here” or “Too Late: No Way Out.” If anything, this is the experience of time marked by shock and awe, by fear and trembling, by passivity in the face of a deadly and overwhelming force. It is the future now, abruptly, in your face; life as out of time with tragic regret that there are no more minutes to express one’s love, make amends, ask forgiveness, and put things in order. Did you hear it in the gospel reading? “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for [all] will be shaken.”
Scripture scholars speak of this experience of time as apocalyptic
, a term that means “revelation,” the revealing of what is imminent, of what is coming right now – not in the far distant future – but within moments. They also invite us to recognize that apocalyptic sayings – and we might add apocalyptic novels, films, images, and music – emerge in times of high social anxiety frequently caused by rapid and frightening change. At the end of the19th c., my grandparents arrived in the Pacific Northwest by train and horse-drawn wagon. Yet within their lifetime, they saw a man walk on the moon. In their childhood, they knew only of bullets and cannon fire as weapons of destruction and yet they witnessed what all previous generations in human history thought was a power held only by the gods: the ability to destroy and contaminate an entire city with one bomb no larger than a suitcase. They could not have imagined that a pilot, seated in an air-conditioned office in a Maryland suburb, could rain destruction on an Afghan or Syrian village with a military drone. I wonder: Might there be some relationship between a drone strike and the attack on a Parisian concert hall?
But there is another sense of time in our 3000-year tradition, what Scripture scholars call the eschatological,
derived from its root word, eschaton
. While the apocalyptic sees the immediate future as downright dismal and looks for, even demands miraculous intervention, the eschatological regards the future as open, undetermined, and capable of being changed if people alter their behavior in the present. While one view is consumed with anxiety over the End, the second focuses our attention and energy on shaping the future of humanity and the world. In this second view of time, there is hope
: hope for the future grounded in an actual change of behavior in the present. While you and I may well hear loud voices announcing that “the world is going to hell in a hand basket,” the urgent yet more reasonable voice of the prophet needs to be heard clearly: that is, the Son of Man, the agent of God, the righteous Branch of Jesse, is with us and this world now, in the present; yet not only with us but also urging us to abandon the politics of fear and embrace the politics of courage and focused action. The scary voice of apocalypse says, “Duck and cover.” The righteous Branch of Jesse says, “Stand up. Raise your head. Act now for the sake of the future.”
It is of considerable interest to me that tomorrow, in Paris, the city of light and sorrow, the nations of the earth will meet to consider collective action to diminish the terrible effects of climate change, human-generated activity that is altering and destroying the earth: the earth and all its life, what you and I confess in the Creed is God’s gift to us: given to us, as the Prayer Book notes, for our wise care and conservation. Were I a millionaire, and that’s an attractive fantasy, I would hire 100 slow-flying planes to traverse the Parisian skies, each plane trailing these words drawn from today’s collect: “Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” [page 211]. But, then, fantasy has had far more to do with escaping the challenging realities of life on earth. Would it not be better for us to pray at this Eucharist and in the days ahead that the leaders of the nations would receive God’s wisdom and strength in order to Stand Up and Act Now for the sake of the future? Would it not be better for us to engage, through prayerful discernment, the ways in which you and I might sustain rather than diminish what the Prayer Book calls “this fragile earth, our island home” [page 370]?
Dear brothers and sisters, you and I know the end of the story: we know that Jesus was born in ancient Palestine some 2000 years ago. Our Advent weeks do not need to given over to pretense, to pretending that we are waiting for the birth of an infant who has already been born, lived, died, and raised into a form of existence that is present to you and to me and to this beautiful and wounded earth. Desmond Tutu, the beloved archbishop of South Africa, asks us, “Do you really think you are waiting for God to come to earth?” “No,” says Tutu. “Rather, the God who created all and sustains all ever waits – at times impotently – for you and me to be his collaborators, to be God’s partners in preparing for the future.”