I feel two equally strong yet directly opposed forces pulling on me this week.
First, there’s the joy that comes with knowing that Advent starts on Sunday. Advent means expectation. Advent means four weeks until Christmas. This is a season of wreaths and candles and greenery. It’s a time to celebrate St. Nicholas and the smiles on children’s faces. Yes, I know it’s a season of quiet longing and waiting, but, at the same time, we also know that in part we’re preparing for the celebration of something wonderful that comes at the end of these four weeks. How can that not be a good thing?
And then there is the lectionary from which I will be preaching on Sunday—a set of readings that suck all the joy and smile and fun out of Advent. As the preacher already knows and the parish will soon remember, Advent isn’t just about waiting for Christmas. It’s also about waiting for the end of the world. So, bring all of your joyful expectation to church on Sunday and let the preacher ruin it by proclaiming, “Keep watch—for you do not know when the master of the house will come…or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly!”
Oh boy. I can see it now: a church into which people with that post-Thanksgiving satisfied glow come but from which they trudge with heavy hearts after hearing a sermon about the apocalypse. Hooray for Advent.
So what’s the preacher going to do about it? I think it’s time for biblically literate Christianity to redeem eschatology from the scary preachers who use a poorly developed “turn-or-burn” theology to ruin the world’s understanding of what the end is really like. I think it’s time for high quality, evangelical preachers to celebrate the good news that the end promises to bring.
Jesus’ mini-apocalypse in Mark 13 is scary and dramatic and confusing. But that’s how it must be. Jesus was promising a total remake of the world. Everything wrong was to be set right. All of the powers were to be turned on their heads. Those who were struggling would be lifted up. God’s reign would supplant the tyranny of the earthly authorities. In the end, when all of that work gets speeded up into one exciting moment of transformation, those kinds of changes don’t happen incrementally. They happen all at once in an event that has the potential to scare us. Of course it’s about the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood red. How else could a first-century prophet describe the kind of event that succeeds in ripping control away from everything ungodly and evil and restoring it to God and his authority?
And how is that not good news? Don’t we believe that the world needs God to turn it on its head? Don’t we wait for that day when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness? If that’s really our hope—if we wait on the return of our savior—we look forward to that moment when the stars fall from heaven and the Son of Man returns in the clouds. We’re waiting and hoping for those cosmic signs that point to the imminent destruction and recreation of this world. That’s good news. Don’t be scared of preaching it as such. Now I just have to figure out how to convey that in a sermon that doesn’t last 45 minutes. More on this tomorrow.