Beginning with the End – Advent Meditation & Prayer Stations
Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, & Mark 13:24-37
Sunday, December 3, 2017 – The First Sunday of Advent
Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
Read Mark 13:34-37 here.
It feels like an odd way to begin a festive season…
…the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven…
It’s not uncommon to hear the readings on the first Sunday of Advent, and ask —where’s Mary? Where’s Joseph? Where’s the Angel?
Where’s that dearly loved story, we’ve been waiting to hear?
Instead, we light a candle of Hope, we get the Apocalypse.
It’s not a very comfortable welcome to Advent. Instead of beckoning us across the threshold of the season offering a warm mug of hot chocolate — it throws open the door, tosses a cup of cold water in our face, shouting WAKE UP! and shoves us in.
This is way that it goes every year, each cycle of the Lectionary begins with a version of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount of Olives, the night before his betrayal – often called “the Little Apocalypse” a comparison to the book of Revelation which employs such imagery throughout.
Jesus paints a complex picture, full of ancient layers of symbol and meaning, and in so doing offers his hearers a vision that disrupts their everyday world, and then tells them to keep their eyes open and to be watchful.
Many factions of Christianity have made a lot out of decoding such passages – interpreting them as something that one day will be a physical reality. A few years ago, the American Academy of Religion reported that 77% of white Evangelicals surveyed believed that increases in Natural Disasters; earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes, are not linked to climate change – but are signs of the impending end of the world. Mainline usually churches respond by ignoring these passages.
Not to wade to far into the specifics of the debate, let me say that these readings aren’t inspiring me to stock up on canned soup, because I don’t think that what we’re reading is a prediction of the end of the world.
In the 21st century, we are not so accustomed to apocalyptic literature, of which, this is a prime example, but in the Ancient world, it was very common – particularly amongst those facing oppression.
Our Old Testament Reading comes from a period when the people of Israel were living under captivity in Babylon, and the book of Mark, is written during Roman occupation, and according to many scholars likely during or shortly after the siege of Jerusalem —the future Emperor Titus Flavius, is camped around Jerusalem having marched upon the city with the full might of the Roman Army, and the Temple, the centre of religious life for the Jewish Community, and the fledgling Christian Church is possibly already destroyed, an unthinkable event in their cosmology.
And so images of that which is immutable – sun, moon, stars – changing and crumbling; might such images, in fact be hopeful, or at least cathartic when one is living under the foot of a superpower?
What if these images are not being offered to frighten, but rather as assurance that the healing of the world is coming – that seemingly immovable forces are merely part of history, and will pass away? That even in the midst of this, that God is present?
Is this also a challenging reminder, that yes, the unthinkable does and will happen. But that the world wakes up again tomorrow, and life continues.
Is this prediction, or an invitation to embrace a deeper mystery?
Now mystery isn’t always comfortable we may be more inclined to want clarity. But each year, Advent comes around, and that is what we get- mystery, vision, dreams, and as our days literally get shorter, we are invited to walk into the growing darkness, and be embraced by hope, but only as we face that which calls hope into question.
The reality is that we all face apocalypse on a personal level time and again —for things that we feel —I can’t imagine life without it/without that person in it —don’t always last. Relationships end, lay-offs, redundancies or cutbacks happen, people we love and rely upon pass, a test result comes back with the news we feared, our bodies change, robbing us of ability we once had – the world, as we know it, comes to an end, again and again.
The sun is still up there, but in such times, Jesus’ words rings true within.
I could name any number of examples taken from current events, locally, or globally, and we could pause and think of person stories, our own, or those associated with people we love.
Jesus’ words begin with rich, and terrifying imagery, but they end with an exhortation to be watchful, to imagine even then – that we are not alone.
Hope is not always comfortable, because hope is not a guarantee that things will get better — but an invitation us to try again, love again, keep going, pick up the phone again, not because this time might be different —Hope, I would argue can be more about focus than optimism —Hope may be about fully attending to, naming and embracing the dark, the challenge, the hurt, and finding that it can be held, it can be carried. Perhaps hope is not a denial of tragedy, perhaps hope is allowing tragedy to focus us.
Sometimes hope asks us to open ourselves to what we do not know, to pray for illumination, to imagine what is beyond imagining, and to bear what seems unbearable. Hope doesn’t tell us that when one door closes another opens, but it sits with us when the door feels locked, or even nailed shut.
Hope calls us to keep breathing when beloved lives have left us, to turn toward one another when we might prefer to turn away.
Hope draws our eyes and hearts toward a more whole future and propels us into the present, where Christ waits for us to work with him toward a more whole world even now.
The sun and the moon stop shining, the stars fall from the sky. But hope points towards the horizon, whispering that dawn does follow, even if we need to carry it with us for a while until it comes to be —we join Mary in bearing that which is promised, but as we begin Advent, we have to embrace the waiting, before it can be cradled in our arms. We are called to hope.
Some here have seen the world cave in around you, have known the cold of the darkness when it feels like the sun will not shine, you have known what it means to wait in the midst of this, and have, even though you could not have imagined it sooner, seen a new day begin. Some here are waiting in that darkness, some here are feeling the world cave in, even as we gather this morning. Some here rejoice in the light of the sun, and to us, we are invited to turn our hearts outward – for all of us, this is the invitation of Advent – the invitation to hope.
I wonder what you think of when you hear the word hope? I wonder what is your hope for yourself right now? For those you love? For the world?
At the front, to either side, are two tables. On one, a place to offer a prayer of hope – for yourself, for someone else, for the world. On the other a prayer for healing in brokenness, for someone physically ill or in pain, or for an intangible internal hurt, or a prayer for healing for something of brokenness in human society.
At this table, you are invited to take a tea light, write the name of a person, a people, a place or situation and to light it as a prayer of hope.
At this table, you are invited to take a bandaid, write on it the name of someone hurting, or of somewhere that many people are hurting, and stick it down.
The table is covered with pictures of places in pain, Quebec after the Mosque Shooting, an Egyptian Coptic Church after the Palm Sunday Bombing, Concert goers in Las Vegas and Church attendees in Texas, Puerto Rico amidst flooding, Mexico City after the earthquake, Bangladesh after the Monsoon —and of course, sadly, there are a great many other places I could have included from this past year.
I have also included pictures of Parkminster and Emmanuel United Churches in Waterloo, ON, both LGBTQ friendly churches who were vandalized by other Christians in the past few weeks, declaring anger against their state of acceptance of queer folk.
You could pray for any of these places, or anywhere or anyone else.
If you feel lead, you may also put a bandaid on yourself, as a reminder that we each carry with us, parts that are hurting, parts that are broken.
For the next 5 minutes or so, we’d invite you to come forward, down from the balcony and the choir loft, and visit one or both of these tables. If you would prefer to stay seated please do so, and if you would like to offer a prayer, but are not able to move up here, please signal me, or an usher, and we can offer that prayer for you. As we do this, Hart will play some music, and we’d ask that while we move, or stay seated, that we maintain the quiet of the space for those offering prayers.
After about 5 minutes, I will bring us back together for our offertory hymn, and to move us into our Liturgy of Communion.