It is the first week of Advent when we, as a church, take time (4 weeks to be precise) to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ child. Each week has an appropriate theme and this week’s theme is hope. We reflect on that hope by reading a Scripture about the end times. This year it is from the Gospel of Mark.
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.
Now the great irony is, of course, that Christians do not view the end times as a hopeful event. In most accounts there are darkness, suffering, violence, and judgment, which do not sound like a good time for most of the people involved. In spite of that, there are our uncomfortable stories lurking in our hopeful week year after year. I dutifully use the Scriptures, preach about hope, and listen to the questions (and sometimes even complaints) about the lack of hopefulness in the readings during ‘the Christmas Season’. I’m never quite sure which of those incorrect things to tackle first.
First, let me remind everyone that this is NOT the Christmas Season. This is Advent. Advent is quiet, reflective, and preparatory. The Christmas Season begins at sundown on December 24. Really. I don’t make this stuff up. We are in Advent. If you want Christmas, you can find it everywhere else. Songs, decorations, gift wrap, cards: anything you could possibly need to get yourself ready for Christmas is easy to find. However if you want to prepare your heart and mind for the coming of Christ, you need Advent.
Second, our modern understanding of Judgment Day has been corrupted. “Left Behind” is not biblical, it is fiction. People made it up based on their own idea of what will happen influenced by their own theology which, to be honest, is kind of mean. The theology of the end times (eschatology for those of you who like Jeopardy level words) has morphed over the centuries to something vengeful in which THOSE people (anyone not like us) will get what’s coming to them. Of course OUR people will be safe, because God loves us more. It’s just wrong. Those who are judged in the Gospel accounts have one thing in common. They do not do the work they are called to do in Christ’s name. Period. Which brings us to…
Lastly, the end of the world means the beginning of the Kingdom of God. This is a good thing. This is a hopeful thing. This is not only what we all are supposed to want, but it is also what we are supposed to be making a reality in our lifetimes. The return of Christ is not something we should fear. It is something that should inspire us to do more, to be better, to love fully. We follow Jesus, not some vengeance inspired action hero, but the Prince of Peace. His return to us is what we hope for because when we have lived our lives the way he taught us, how can our reunion be anything but joyful?
“Some day my prince will come
Some day we’ll meet again
And away to his castle we’ll go
To be happy forever I know
Some day when spring is here
We’ll find our love anew
And the birds will sing
And wedding bells will ring
Some day when my dreams come true”