Calvary’s Advent theme is “Bearing the Light.” Are you for the miracle of the Light coming into the world? How does the Light already illumine your path? This Sunday, Rev. Victor finds a silver lining in some pretty dark (and timely) scripture.
Jesus said:] ’There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Advent: The Church’s Gestation Period
The season of Advent begins today and lasts for the four weeks leading up to Christmas; it is like the church’s gestation period, as our bodies fill with divinity and the light within us grows brighter and brighter. We enter Advent as the sun sets earlier and nights linger longer. This is why we light candles that grow brighter each week. We are invited to wake up, stay alert, keep watch! Calvary’s Advent theme this year is Bearing the Light. The longer nights can be hard for many us. So can waiting. That is why it takes all of us to bear the darkness—and the light. And now, together, we beckon the light. [Advent Candle of Hope is lighted.]
Jellyfish: Primordial Angels
Nine years ago, my husband Lou and I experienced a personal tragedy the likes of which I hope no one here will ever have to endure. Our dear friend, John Frum, was murdered in his Fruitvale apartment by someone we knew. I will spare you the details, only to say that it happened around Thanksgiving, and in the time that followed, our world fell apart. Nothing we did could alleviate our pain.
One Friday afternoon, hoping to distract ourselves, we wound up at the California Academy of Sciences. Why not? we thought. Maybe the butterflies will cheer us up. I tried to describe them to Lou, who is blind, but, you know what it’s like when you feel bad and then you encounter someone that’s “perky”? Well, the butterflies, I told Lou, they look like tarted-up little idiots, flapping around, I said. We were not ready for happy. You can’t skip to happy once grief sets in. So, we kept walking, and entered a dark room—more appropriate.
All around us was darkness, and floating in it were jellyfish, illumined. Now, jellyfish live at the mercy of the current. They don’t have brains, just instinct. Their bioluminescent bodies were faintly glowing—barely bright enough to see, pulsing in the water but not going anywhere, as if trying to hold onto water, hoping to embrace something that’s not there, holding onto something that cannot be held. Finally, I’d put words to it. They called me back to myself, back to prayer and real communion. Finally, I could bear the pain, thanks to those glowing blobs that bore the light to me.
Eschatological Living in the Meantime
Reformed theologian Cornelius Plantinga writes that we live “between the two advents…the first coming of Jesus Christ and his second coming, and most of us feel better about the first one.” The familiar and “domesticated” version of the first coming as portrayed in pageants, with cooing baby, singing sheep and children in shepherd-couture bathrobes. Karl Barth reckoned that we can’t even begin to fathom what the second coming will be like. I tend to wonder if the second coming hasn’t already begun, not in a scary “left behind” kind of way, but in a steady evolution of human spirituality, one that encompasses science, reality and “the old, old story of Jesus and his love.”
This already-in-progress kind of second coming encompasses the hope (and despair) that lies between the way the world is and the way the world must be—and locates Jesus everywhere, especially where the pain is greatest. Innocent migrant children teargassed at the border, thirteen government agencies warning of an epic global climate disaster—the list is long, and I’ll stop there. We are living our version of the signs: the fear and foreboding, the roaring seas, moral corruption. But, says Jesus in today’s Lukan reading, the drumbeat of disaster does not cue the end; it signals redemption.
The Hope of Redemption
The redemption found in Luke 21 differs from the kind of redemption found in some other places in the sacred text. For example, Paul defines redemption as deliverance from sin through the saving death of Jesus Christ. In contrast, in Luke’s apocalyptic writing, he looks for “a better world that can break forth at any time. Famine, drought, war, disease, still plague our world, and closer to home people struggle with greed, addiction, mental illness, and misplaced priorities. Christ’s call to be alert and constantly praying for God’s kingdom to break through into our world is as pertinent a call for us this Advent as it ever has been. …[H]ope, despite all that is falling apart in…the world around us.”
Hope in the redemption that topples unjust systems that exploit the poor. Hope in the redemption that promises shelter for the homeless, help for the helpless, power to the powerless., dignity for the aging. As in Mary’s song, the mighty will tumble and the lowly and meek will be exalted. That’s good news!
MCC theologian Mona West makes it plain:
Apocalyptic writing in the Bible was not meant to scare people into belief, but to encourage their belief in a God who is bigger than the world’s dominant powers. Movements such as # BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Migrant Caravans are a ‘lifting of the veil,’ an exposing, of the heresy of domination… God’s [arrival is] a way of transformation—everything is shaken up, laid bare. Old ways of being and the status quo are brought to an end so that something radically new will take its place.
Good News & Bad News
The apocalyptic message of Advent is that Jesus unveils God’s true nature. C.S. Lewis once wrote that God without disguise will appear so unmistakably that he will “strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.” When Christ returns, how will he find you? Curled up in a ball on the floor? Or busy being living your faith in the world?
Jesus is Coming Soon
An old story goes that in May of 1780, the session of the Connecticut House of Representatives was interrupted by a total eclipse of the sun. The light disappeared, and the delegates were unable to proceed with business as usual. Pandemonium brewed throughout the chamber. “It’s the second coming!” someone cried. “Let’s adjourn!” “No, let’s pray!” The Speaker of the House called them back to order with these words:
The Day of the Lord is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. But if the Lord is returning, I, for one, choose to be found doing my duty. I therefore ask that candles be brought.
There’s an old bumper sticker I once thought impertinent but now understand more deeply: “Jesus is coming, look busy.”
Until the bitter end, Jesus loved, hoped, forgave and witnessed to the life that does not end. He is our hope. The same God that is sending Jesus again is the God that animates the life in you, in me. Meanwhile, the jellyfish are pulsing, bearing the light in the darkest murk, reminding me to remind you to lift up your head and pray, for a new and better world is on the way. Redemption is drawing nigh.
Amen, amen, it shall be so.
 Putting it in words: that’s how God ordered the chaos in the beginning (Genesis 1). Often, words can organize our emotional chaos and make it more manageable.
 Cornelius Plantinga Jr., The Christian Century, December 6, 2000, pp. 1270-1272, accessed online at <http://www.religion-online.org/article/between-two-advents-in-the-interim-luke-2128/> (November 29, 2018)
 I Love to Tell the Story, old gospel hymn <https://hymnary.org/text/i_love_to_tell_the_story_of_unseen_thing>
 Tertullian wrote in the 1st Century CE: “The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world; already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. What room is there here for anxiety and solicitude?”
 Kathy Beach-Verhey, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1 (Advent through Transfiguration) (Kindle Locations 895-898). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
 Mona West, MCC Call to PRayer: First Sunday of Advent 2018, accessed online at <https://myemail.constantcontact.com/First-Sunday-of-Advent–by-Rev–Elder-Mona-West–PhD.html?soid=1101747410130&aid=6b3_jrT8xBU> (November 30, 2018)
 J. Thomas Whitestone, Leadership Ethics & Spirituality: A Christian Perspective, 2012, p. xxi, accessed online at <https://books.google.com/books?id=xQnIaNovqfgC&pg=PR12&lpg=PR12&dq=connecticut+Os+Guinness+representatives+eclipse&source=bl&ots=tx5STtqdRw&sig=JBM6mQ1ORf6l_673JMpGUD7V0vs&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwirua2ZwfreAhVpIDQIHTVPD9wQ6AEwAHoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=connecticut%20Os%20Guinness%20representatives%20eclipse&f=false> (November 29, 2018)
And a postscript courtesy of Sherbonné, Dale and Ellis Barnes-Anderson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iubJ-XSL9go Merry Christmas?