Advent and Apocalypse

IMG_2278Have you ever had this experience: You decide to watch a movie, and you’re in the mood for something light, something happy. So you choose your DVD at the library or video store or redbox, you make a big bowl of popcorn, and you settle in. You are ready for something fun, something comforting, something that will not require too much mental effort.

But as you settle in for this light-hearted romp, a preview comes on for an “edge of your seat” horror movie. Then comes a preview for a “heart-breaking historical saga.” Then there is a preview for a movie about the atrocities of war. And you begin to worry that this movie you have selected might not be the mindless, happy escape you were hoping for.

That’s about how I feel on the first Sunday of Advent every year. We finish up Thanksgiving, turn on the Christmas music, go see some lights. I start looking forward to Christmas–fun time with family, a few days off, happy music, and that nice little story about a baby in a manger.

With these visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, I enter into Advent and . . . whack!

“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.” (Mark 13:24-25)

If we’re paying attention, this Lectionary reading for the first Sunday of Advent should be a clue that the main feature may not be quite what we are expecting. Is it possible that Mark’s apocalyptic vision serves as a more accurate precursor to the birth of Jesus than twinkling lights and Christmas music?

Christ’s first coming, like his second, proclaims divine judgment against structures of oppression and injustice in our society. The Incarnation–the enfleshing of God–is an utter inversion of power: invincible turned vulnerable.

This is the hope from which Mark’s apocalyptic vision emerges–a hope that the world will be made right; a hope that the Kingdom values of peace and justice are, in fact, the ultimate reality and are a reality we will somehow be able to experience.

The birth of Jesus is the beginning of the fulfillment of this hope. The second coming of Christ–in whatever form and at whatever time that it occurs–will be the consummation.

As we live in the in-between time, we should not be satisfied with a few warm fuzzy moments and some presents under the tree. God did not become flesh so that we could throw the Divine a big birthday party every year. God entered the world as Jesus to assure us that the powers of this world–the powers of corporate greed and economic inequality and individual selfishness and mass apathy–are not the strongest powers at work.

The story of the baby lying in a manger is not in the scriptures in order to give kids an excuse to dress up in church once a year and look cute. The story is there to assure us that the reality of injustice and oppression and environmental disaster and gross consumerism is not the ultimate reality.

So as we enjoy the warm fuzzies, the singing, the parties, even the gifts, let us not be so taken in by the happy news of the season that we neglect the Good News: in Christ Jesus the love and justice of God has prevailed and is prevailing and will prevail. Amen.

[This post is excerpted and adapted from a sermon I preached in 2011.]

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