I don’t know when the world will end but I could tell you stories about when my worlds have ended. They would be stories of loss and grief, stories of disappointment and failure, stories of broken relationships, stories of sin and guilt, stories of shattered dreams and hopes, stories of when life seemed empty and bereft of meaning. I’ll bet you could tell similar stories about the days your worlds ended. We all have them.
Every day the world ends for someone. I don’t mean their physical death but that the physical, emotional, or spiritual environment in which they live is destroyed, the web of their relationships is torn, and their world seems barren and desolate.
Sometimes these stories are public. We read and hear about them in the news. The world has ended and continues to end for the people of Syria. In some way Governor Romney’s world ended with the results of this year’s election. Hurricane Sandy has left many with end of the world stories. Other times the ending of our world is a secret kept in the depths of our heart, known only to God and our selves.
The end of the world is your story and my story. It’s the story of every generation and today it is the gospel story. It is a story of cosmic proportions, involving the sun, moon, and stars, the roaring of the seas and the waves. It is enough to shake the powers of heaven.
This isn’t so much about the end of the physical world as it is the end of our inner world. It’s not just about what is happening around us but within us, the world of our soul. The outward signs described in today’s gospel point to an inner reality. Think about a day your world ended and you will recall it most intensely in your gut and in your heart. On that day the stars no longer pointed the way and the sun offered no light or warmth. Your mind was filled with confusion, your heart with distress, and you were scared to death.
For us, that day looks like an ending, a finality, a termination. That is not, however, how Jesus interprets these signs. The end of our world is not a time to fall down or hang our heads in despair. It is, Jesus says, a time to stand up and raise our heads in expectation and hope. It is the day our liberation and redemption are drawing near.
We must be careful that we do not focus solely on the end of the world. That is not the ultimate reality. There is more to be seen. We must see through the ending of our world. It is a window through which we can see the greater reality, “‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”
The end of our world, Jesus says, is like a tree putting out new leaves. We see the leaves and know that a new season is approaching, a season of new life, growth, and renewal. So it is in our lives. What looks like the end is the coming of a new season. Every ending gives way to a new beginning. That doesn’t make the ending any easier or less painful. It makes it bearable and us hopeful and expectant.
Jesus does not say when any of this will happen, only that it will happen, and that we need to be ready. We do not get to control or choose when or how our world will end but we can choose and control our response and readiness for that end. That’s what this holy season of Advent is about.
Today’s gospel is our entry into Advent. Together, they hold before us two realities: our world will end and our redemption is drawing near. In Advent we do not just live with those two realities, we live on the threshold between the two, betwixt and between, neither here nor there. Advent is not limited to the four Sundays before Christmas. It can happen anytime. It happens any time there is significant loss or change.
Advent is a time of waiting and watching: waiting in the darkness and watching for the coming light; waiting in a world that has ended and watching for the world to come; waiting in the not-knowing and watching for the one who knows; waiting with a promise and watching for its fulfillment.
The reason we can wait and watch is because God is always faithful and fulfills every promise he makes to us. God will come to you, to me, and to every generation. For every world that ends there is a coming redemption. Our’s may be a story about our world ending. God’s is a story about his coming.
Our spiritual work in Advent is not to prepare for the ending, but to prepare for our coming redemption, the coming of Christ, the Kingdom of God. We must allow our ending world to give way to the one who is coming. This means we are to be on guard, be alert, be watchful, and awake. Don’t be distracted by the trivialities and superficialities of life. Live in prayer. The question is not whether redemption will come. It will. That’s a given. “It will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth,” Jesus promises. The only question is whether we will see it when it does come.
The above sermon was based on Luke 21:25-36. The collect and readings for the day, Advent 1C, may be found here. Other Advent sermons for this year are as follows: