The Days Are Surely Coming

Rev. Sarah Buteux 
December 2, 2012
Advent 1, Year C
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

You can watch the sermon on Youtube.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
- Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems

If there is one thing I’ve learned from all my years watching post-apocalyptic films and reading dystopian literature, it’s that the human race, kind of like bedbugs, is really hard to kill. Oh sure, with enough CGI at your disposal, you can take out huge numbers of us at once, wipe out whole cities, blow entire countries off the map. But in terms of wiping out our entire species, it would seem that humanity is pretty hard to annihilate.

I mean seriously, if all the crazy stuff I watch is any indication, you can plunge the earth into a nuclear winter, cede control of the planet to sentient Apes, lace the skies with rogue satellites, turn the surface population into vampires, zombies, cannibals, cyber-assassins, or -as in my personal favorite apocalyptic film of all time, “Six String Samurai” - into sword wielding, guitar riffing, Buddy Holly impersonators - and it still won’t be enough.

Society can crumble, the grid can collapse, humanity can be driven anywhere from underground to the ends of the earth, but we will still go on. (So too, apparently, will lycra, dread locks, crossbows, shopping carts, one copy of the Bible, and the persistent hope that somewhere either far out west or way up north there is a utopia full of people who have rediscovered the ancient arts of sowing seeds and washing their clothes, but I digress.)

My point here is that thanks to the United State’s industrial entertainment complex, we’ve witnessed the whole world order collapse in any number of creative ways. There have been a lot of apocalyptic stories told over the past few years, and in every one of them there are still remarkably good looking people walking around trying to make things right. So if today’s apocalyptic warnings from the gospel of Luke are leaving you feeling a bit ho hum this morning, I can understand.

The truth is, today’s apocalyptic blockbuster is quickly becoming about as passé as yesterday’s vampire romance. You can blame it on Harold Camping, Y2K, or one two many episodes of “Revolution,” but the world coming to an end just doesn’t seem as threatening as it used too. There was a time when I got pretty riled up about this kind of stuff, but now… I don’t know… I’m kind of over the whole apocalypse thing. I’m a little Armageddon’ed out.

How about you all? Anyone actively worrying about it? I mean, thanks to the Mayans, we’re scheduled for another apocalypse 2 weeks from this Friday. Is anyone doing anything differently this month the better to plan for the earth’s ultimate destruction; perhaps stockpiling duct tape, candles, or SPAM? Me neither.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In truth, I think our collective oversaturation with apocalyptic prophecies and lore might actually be a positive development. I mean if we are all about through with the apocalypse for its entertainment value and done scaring ourselves silly, then maybe we can have a rational conversation about why we tell ourselves these sorts of stories to begin with and perhaps even gain some insight into why Jesus himself would use this kind of language to describe the future.

So to that end, let’s begin with the word itself: apocalypse. How many of you think thatapocalypse literally means the end of the world? How many of you think it means something else? How many of you don’t know? How many of you hate when I make you raise your hands? Good to know.

All right, here’s the scoop. The word apocalypse now-a-days is synonymous with the end of the world, but it’s original meaning in the Greek was something more like revelation, unveiling, a pulling back of the curtain to reveal the truth.  That is what apocalypse literally means. That’s why John chose it as the title for his final prophecy at the end of your Bible, the book of Revelation, in Greek, the book of Apocalypse.  But because that prophecy in particular appears to detail the end of world in such vivid detail, the word apocalypse has come to mean exactly that… the end of the world.

Hence the confusion… which I’m not entirely sure I have alleviated, but for now, just relax and do me a favor: simply think of the word apocalypse as meaning revelation.

Try to understand that when anyone in the Bible uses apocalyptic language - when they say that the moon will turn to blood or warn that the stars will fall from the sky- they are not speaking the language of science or physics. They are not detailing the actual physical destruction of the universe as we know it, but describing in very vivid poetic language what it feels like when the world as you know it completely collapses. Describing what it feels like when the viability of the economy, the structure of society, the strength of the military, starts to crumble all around you. 

Essentially, those who speak apocalyptically are speaking in code, and they are speaking in code because they have too. You can’t talk about the present political order collapsing in the future without getting yourself in trouble with the present political order, so the prophets throughout Israel’s history spoke in metaphor to protect themselves, and Jesus was no different.

If you look more carefully at our passage for today and keep in mind that Rome’s primary symbol was the sun and that the rulers of all the people’s who had been conquered by Rome and sworn allegiance to her were represented by the moon and the stars, then all of a sudden a future where there will be unsettling signs in the skies starts to make a lot more sense  (Thanks to Kate Huey’s Weekly Seeds for this information). 

In the 21st chapter of Luke, Jesus is not talking about the heavenly bodies that rule over our atmosphere, but about the mortal bodies that ruled his world.  He was telling his people that the empire’s days were numbered and that the eventual collapse of that empire was going to freak people out. 

When “the powers of the heavens” are shaken it’s going to feel like the end of the world around here, says Jesus, “people will faint from fear,” it’s going to be bad. 

But friends, the great revelation here is not the divine secret that the Roman empire will one day collapse, because honestly that was no secret at all. All empires crumble eventually. Theirs did and so, one day, will ours.  If history teaches us anything it is that nothing lasts forever... apparently not even twinkies…which means the bleak future awaiting us all just got a little less tasty, but I digress.

No, the revelation here, is much more personal. Friends, this revelation is actually about us, about you and me, about who we are and who we would be in a world turned upside down and inside out.

The power of apocalyptic literature, be it prophetic scripture or the latest young adult novel, is not in it’s ability to help us pinpoint when or how the end will come, but to help us examine how we are living right now.

It is designed to wake us up and shake us out of our routines and our complacency. We tell ourselves these stories about the end times - we joke about our zombie plans and muse about what sort of world we’d build if we ever had to start over - for the same reason Jesus talked about these things… because the days are surely coming.

Because the world as it is, is not the world as it will always be.

Because the world as it is, is not the world as it has to be.

The world can change. The world will change.

The question is who will you be when it does? Whose side will you be on? What sort of world will you strive to create…a world where might makes right or one where justice, righteousness, and peace prevail?

And if that is who you would be then, what’s stopping you from being that person right now?

That’s what apocalypse is really all about, not revealing the end of the world but revealing the ends within you and me - the ends that justify our means - revealing our core beliefs and deepest loyalties, our greatest hopes and our darkest fears.

This is why the Season of Advent, at least in the church, begins here. You might think we’d begin with a little more Mary and Joseph: the early years, or with some back stories about the wise men or shepherds searching for a baby, but no.

Advent begins by asking us to consider who we will be on that day when the heavens are shaken and the stars fall. Because you see who we will be then has so very much to do with who we are right now and Jesus wants us to be ready when he comes, however he come, in whatever way he comes, for however long he comes, that we might help him make all things new when he does.

Will he find us, when he appears, lost in dissipation, drunkenness, or despair? Or will we be the ones on guard, the ones with our heads held high, the ones waiting and watching as our redemption draws near?

Friends, the world can and will skip straight from a Macy’s Day Thanksgiving to a Bing Crosby Christmas, begging us to think about nothing deeper than how much we will buy, where we will stay, when we will bake, and what we will wear. 

But Advent, with its dark scriptures and mournful songs, gives us the gift of much deeper questions. Advent invite us to shut out all the chatter and consider instead how we will live, who we will be, and whether or not we are acting in such a way as to usher in the kingdom.

For the days are surely coming….

Thanks be to God. Amen.