Fear and Hope
First Sunday of Advent, Year C
November 29, 2015
In the name of the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
I know that most of us are astonished by how quickly the fall sped by. Thanksgiving came and went too fast. Now it’s Advent again, with greens and wreaths in the parish hall, with different music and approaches to liturgy to prove it. Liturgical junkies are thrilled to begin a new Church year today—it’s Year C now—and that means that we’ve left behind Mark’s gospel, and we’ll be dwelling in Luke for much of the year ahead. So we begin today reading Luke, and not in chapter 1 like we may think; but in chapter 21.
For Advent always begins with an end. The end to history as we know it with the Second Coming of Christ. The beginning of a new phase of existence, when God will again dwell among us permanently, and we will dwell within him.
So let’s begin with the end. Earthquakes, eclipses, supernovas, brilliant comets, superstorms, climate changes, terrorism, warfare, hunger and deprivation, mass fear. It’s not a pretty picture, is it? Jesus predicts many of these things. And we know many of them already just by opening up our computers and tablets, and hooking into what’s going on in the rest of the world.
These are REALLY frightening occurrences for most of us—the things that threaten to overturn the rather peaceful life we have now and threaten to bring in chaos. Oddly enough, I love these readings. I love apocalyptic Scripture, predicting the end, and then the beginning that is guaranteed to follow. And what’s not to love in Jesus’ reassuring words to his followers in today’s gospel, “Now, when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” [Luke 21: 28]
Jesus doesn’t say “don’t be afraid.” But it feels as if he’s inviting us to participate in and then to rise above the fear that these events carry. That can happen—we can rise above the fear. That’s because our faith—our relationship with the Holy One—is what will take us over, and through the end, and onto the new beginning.
This is much the same teaching we have around death, too, isn’t it? We believe we will go to be with God in some special and different way. And yes, we are afraid of dying. But we also know from our relationship with Jesus, that we’ll be ok. In the end, everything for us will be ok.
I once had an interesting conversation with a 92-year old woman living on the other side of Connecticut. She told me she was preparing to die. Now, that’s not the kind of thing you hear everyday from people. So I took a risk and asked a further question of her. “Evelyn,” I said, “what do you think it will be like to die?” She answered, “Well, I think I’ll just slide off, and Jesus will catch me.”
Wow—that says volumes about the love and trust in that relationship. It’s one of my favorite pastoral stories—ever. That’s hope overcoming fear. It’s hope born of decades of personal relationship with the One who will never let us down.
And so we identify now one of the most urgent tasks of this Advent season. It’s to remember that in Christ we have a bridge to take us from fear over to hope. We would do well to think about our fears of the Second Coming of Christ and invite Jesus to help us grow in hope that out of the chaos, out of the judgment, will come good.
Here’s a great quote I rediscovered this week that speaks to this task of ours: [quote] “Some say that the great tragedy of human life is that we struggle so hard against that which, once yielded into, becomes the immediate fulfillment of all we have longed for.” And, further, “Only after the terror of one’s own diminishment and annihilation, after the last scraps of clinging to life at any cost have been left behind forever, is it possible truly to live in hope.” [Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God, pp. 68 and 69.]
Living in hope is predicated upon our knowing firsthand—not just from a book—that the mercy of God is deeper than the oceans. And there’s a wideness in God’s mercy that is wider than the sea. Once we know God’s mercy, we know that God is there to catch us when we slide off. That all we need to do this season, and every season, is to say “yes,” to relax back into those everlasting arms of love that are there to catch us.
Knowing the Mercy comes from knowing Christ. From knowing the Father, from knowing the Holy Spirit. It comes from the deep interconnection we may develop with God if we only say yes to it, and nurture it with prayer and practice.
So think for a bit, where you may be standing on that scale whose one end is Fear, and whose other end is Hope. Is it time to dare to move?