Last year, in one of those car conversations that never fail to surprise and sometimes amuse me, Susan (one of my 14 year olds) informed me that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, she knew what to do to keep us safe. I learned a lot about what weapons, what food, what clothes we would need and how we’d keep ourselves alive when the zombies came. There are numerous websites dedicated to this topic and if you watch iZombie regularly, I’m sure you can learn some tips. Apocalyptic literature, movies, tv shows are quite the thing – and I’m sure any of the young people here today can rattle off titles – Walking Dead, The 100 – all feature a bleak
post-apocalyptic world where factions war, survival is to the strongest or most cunning, and where hope often seems non-existent.
Our gospel today conjures up these apocalyptic images – a shaking earth, wars and hatred, famines and plagues, warnings and signs from heaven. As Jesus’s followers talk about the beautiful temple they are in – with beautiful stones covered in gold, a dazzling edifice – Jesus tells them, these walls are going to tumble down. And his beloved friends ask, when will we know this is coming, what are the signs? they want to be prepared, they want to be ready.
Every people, from the earliest times have had stories and predictions of end times. Stories that make you quake in your boots, that give rise to stockpiling of weapons and supplies, lead to a hunkering down and closing in to protect from disaster.
We last heard these readings three years ago- the Sunday after the 2016 election, when many of us may have wondered and been terrified of what the world was coming to. And today, our feelings and our fears may not have changed much, they may have intensified. These times – in which hate crime violence reached a 16 year high in 2018, where thousands of acres burn from massive wildfires due often to climate change, when rains and winds flood coastal lands and river communities in ways never seen in our
lifetime. Where those seeking refuge and asylum are turned away to fend for themselves. Where the headlines of mass shootings that used to so arouse us have given way to stories lost amidst the back pages. We have become inured to this daily violence and heartbreak. It does feel, sometimes, like the apocalypse is near or pretty darn close. Yet Jesus calls us to see something different, and in fact, this word apocalypse, which has become so associated with catastrophic destruction of the world has its roots in a Greek word meaning “to uncover, to reveal, to see in new ways.”
So how does Jesus invite us to “see,” to respond when we want to panic and run and hide – Jesus tells us and his disciples “do not be terrified.” Do not fear. Do not be afraid. (Words that Jesus says again and again throughout the gospels – 70 times, in fact.) Don’t give in to despair. Don’t capitalize on chaos. God doesn’t thrive on human dread.
Jesus does not promise that bad things won’t happen, he does not promise that the end won’t come, he doesn’t promise a life of ease when we follow him. BUT, he does promise to be with us always, he promises to stay near.
Jesus knows that all must break and buckle before new life and new hope emerge. This gospel passage, itself, comes just prior to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus and the despair and hopelessness of the crucifixion. And yet, even out of that horror, new life, resurrection happens.
For me, I can know this in my head. I can comprehend that from the rubble of a forest fire, new life can spring from the ground. But I find it hard to imagine new life from our current situation. In these particular days, I find that despair and numbness can easily creep in, that sheer exhaustion can win the day. Yet, it is into this context, when things seem so bleak that Jesus says, “testify,” see something different than the hopelessness and despair, trust that God’s Spirit is alive and present in our acts of bearing witness.
Jesus calls us to see something different? What things will we see? In our churches? In our nation? In our world? In one another? Because what we see is what we will say. Jesus invites us to testify through word and deed what we have seen, how we have been transformed by God’s never failing love. To testify to the hope and strength we see and find through gathering at this table and sharing in the Eucharist
To testify to the way we’ve been shaped by sharing stories and food on Tuesday night with our neighbors
To testify to the transformation we experience when we gather with those across the city to advocate for justice
To testify to the solace we find through this community when we’ve experienced great loss and sadness
To testify to the joy we witness as our children plan and execute a bake auction that brings them into connection with people who might otherwise seem many worlds away.
To testify that the world as we know it today is not God’s desire or plan.
Our testimony, our witness gives voice to what Jesus sees, to whom God sees. God needs us to be the eyes of the Gospel when the world and those who have the loudest voices would have us capitulate to hopelessness and fear.
The paradox of this Advent season the now and the not-yet, suffering and hope, darkness and light – was summed up for me this week in a Facebook post by my friend Tara, who posted words from theologian Fred Buechner, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
This advent season, may be strive to testify to the transformative power of the risen Christ who comes to us as a child. Any may we not be afraid.