December 2, 2018 Doug Norris
It’s all about to get nice, soon, isn’t it? This beautiful season. There is a prophetic tableau of this coming niceness in the big window of the Bay store downtown. We’ve seen these for years – little mechanical figures, the kitchen is steaming and workshop buzzing, a pot to stir and a duck to pluck, toys to be made, guests to welcome… a scene of warmth and food and companionship and always a song playing which evokes the promise of peace.
In this scene is a kind of reversal of all of our exiles : where we have been apart we will be together, where we have been hungry we will be fed, where we have been alone we will find companionship. That annual window in the great temples of consumerism is precisely a recital of the dream of God. And it’s coming! It’s coming. It’s coming.
I don’t intend to mock this. I want it. I hope you will find it. Our table here today is an anticipation of it. The great ageless dream of peace, food, safety, companionship… But Advent does not begin with nice. It starts out dark. I will come back to this.
I met an old acquaintance at the dump up north some time ago, and we discussed biblical prophecy. What else are you going to talk about in a landfill, with a lazy smoke plume of burning junk wood filling the air, and seagulls picking through last night’s dinner?
In one of the few passages of scripture to make reference to hell – the word used is Gehenna, which was a small valley used as pit for garbage, often being burned, just outside the city wall of Jerusalem. So when someone in the bible says – ‘and unless you change you will end up in the fires of hell!!’ they are saying ‘you will just be worth throwing on the landfill!’
Anyhow, I hadn’t seen Phil for about 15 years, neither of us has changed so we recognized each other immediately, and we shook hands which, at the dump, you always regret a moment later. After a minute of small talk, I think he was looking for something to say – Phil remembered that I am in the church, and so he thought to himself ‘I’ll talk about a Christian thing.’ So he said that he had been visiting his mother the prior day, and she was watching Christian television. He beamed, knowing I would approve. A show about how all of the prophecies in the Bible are really about our day, our time, and it was uncanny how many are about to come true – we really are living in the last days! Look at all the signs! Don’t you find that amazing? he said…
There was a time when I would have muttered something polite and non-committal , but I said : ‘Actually Phil I think that’s all a load of crap, and they say things like that on television to scare people like your mother into sending money… ‘ So that wasn’t a very long conversation…
The Day is coming! The end is near ! Stay awake! Prepare the way! Could be trouble ahead, could be glory! We will be hearing a lot of this talk these next weeks. Because this is the language of Advent.
Advent begins not by pointing to the very nice rituals but by pointing out our longing, our aching hope for that day. We’ll get to Jesus soon enough – but first let’s understand why our hearts long for him and his ways. A short while, to understand our hungers and our fears and the spirit-shaped ‘hole‘ in us – and then to the feast… Song and dance and laughter.
And so we have this passage from Luke, Jesus telling his people that everything will be torn down, the Temple destroyed, wars and famines and earthquakes (we didn’t even read the really discouraging part at the beginning of the chapter) – but then he says – watch for the signs – look for all the evidence that the new Day is coming. Because it is. Don’t stop looking for the markers that God is always rising in us and in our neighbour and in
And when you see it – Jesus says in Luke – the Son of Man coming among us, again and again, when you see it, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!
Just so that I’m doing my job here, the proper name for all of this is the apocalyptic – the hidden story of the end of the world, and the official position of most churches is that we believe in a coming Day of Judgement and for some people there will be trouble, a whole landfill’s worth of hell, and for some people there will be glory and peace.
Frankly I think we are there every day. Already.
I know people who already, every day they wake up, have a whole landfill worth of hell on their plate, every day longing for a new day a just day a peaceful day, and they say, like the poem Merton wrote : “How long we wait ! How long we watch ! Heaven, when will you sing?”
And others of us who wake up each day to glory, with health and strength and daily food and good people around us and each day if they if we are awake we say man, this is heaven, this is a kingdom of God… Look ! It has come! At least here, now, for a time.
Point being – a world is always ending, and new worlds alway being built.
I really don’t object if Phil’s mother wants to watch Christian television that scares her with some notion that the end is near – as long we are bending every fibre to watch for and to work for an end to what is unjust and stretching every nerve to watch for and to work for every new thing the Creator is bringing to birth in us… Advent, the arriving we wait for, which has already begun…
art by Sarah Campbell