A reflection on the readings for Advent 1C: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36
A few years ago I was fascinated as I watched a documentary on the process by which large buildings and skyscrapers are torn down. One of the best ways to do this is to implode the building into itself. This requires careful analysis by trained professionals. They do a thorough study of the building and its construction to gage the way it will collapse. Then they place dynamite in strategic places through out the building and ignite the dynamite in a particular sequence so as to cause the building to implode, or collapse into itself, rather than explode out. The principle is simple: If you remove the support structure of a building at a certain point you will cause the layer above to collapse on the layer below the point. The explosives are just the trigger for the collapse because gravity is what brings the building down. Imploding contains the debris and protects buildings and land that surround the collapsing building.[i]
Our readings this morning from Jeremiah and Luke point to a similar process of imploding. The communities to whom Jeremiah and Luke are speaking understand what collapsing feels like – whether it’s from stress and strain, fatigue, natural disaster, illness, fear, or depression, greed, war, or famine – there is suffering in the world. The people Jeremiah is speaking too lived through a series of wars that forced the inhabitants of ancient Israel into exile and slavery in Babylon. The war destroyed the temple built by Solomon, David’s son. In our readings this morning time is on a precipice between the end of one age and the beginning of another.
On this first Sunday of Advent we enter a new season, one that is distinctive in look, tone, and feel. Gone are the flowers, the Paschal Candle and the silver - in their place are evergreens, the color blue, an Advent wreath, and our simple glass chalices and patens.
Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical church year. The lectionary moves the scripture readings from Year B to Year C, the Gospel of Mark to the Gospel of Luke.
Luke is the longest of the four Gospels, and combined with its sister story, The Acts of the Apostles, these two books constitute over twenty-five percent of the New Testament. Luke tells the story of Jesus and Acts tells the story of the formation of the early Church. Theology, “where is God” is intrinsic to the story of Jesus preparing the way for the Church.
The Gospel was written about 85CE (Common Era). The author is thought to be a physician and traveling companion of Paul. Luke was an educated Greek speaker and skilled writer familiar with the Jewish scriptures.
Luke resembles the historical writings of the times but unlike other Greek historical writings Luke is primarily “religious history.” As such it is not a chronology of historical events. Luke intends for the story of Jesus be told and retold throughout time and history.
Luke is an “apology” for Christianity meaning it explains how and why Christianity is relevant. In particular this Gospel aims connect what God is doing through the life of Jesus with the ancient Jewish Laws of Moses, also known as the Ten Commandments.
The Gospel of Luke is a text rich with imagery, metaphors, and parables. Initially parables appear simple, or sometimes, confusing. In reality parables contain layer upon layer of meaning that is revealed as one ponders, considers, and applies the text to life. Today’s text falls into the genre of apocalyptic, readings that point to the end of things as we know them.
Apocalyptic thinking was common in the years before, during, and just after the life of Jesus. Many people came to see their lives, persecuted and strife torn, as a sign that the world was coming to an end. Religious people began to see this as an act of God, God was tearing down the old ways in order to bring in something new. This was particularly true for some of the Israelites who had suffered great oppression under various rulers. And it became true for some of the early Christians who were persecuted and killed for their beliefs.
Apocolyptic thinking is common in our day too, showing up in movies, books, and ancient Mayan predications about the end of the world, a collapse of everything we know.
Sometimes this collapse appears to be happening on a global scale: hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes, all natural phenomenon that can cause great damage, pointing to the fragility of creation in the natural world.
Sometimes this collapse happens because of humans inflicting harm on other humans: war, genocide, theft…humans breaking down the boundaries of human constructs.
And sometimes this collapse happens in our own personal lives; the loss of a job, or an illness.
But the readings do something else as well - even as we hear of the end of the things as we know them - we are also reassured of the eternal presence of God who brings forth new life from the debris of the old. In fact apocalypse actually means “unveiling” not the end of things. In an unveiling, something new is being revealed.
As we begin the season of Advent we are called to ponder what is being revealed to us as individuals, as a faith community, as the Body of Christ in the world, as a global network of humanity. Jeremiah reminds us that God is faithful, will always be present, and will do everything to bring forth God’s desire in the world, a desire for wholeness and wellbeing – God’s promise in the Resurrection. And Luke reminds us that everything may pass away but God’s Word will never end – God’s Word speaks forth forever – God’s Word revealed in human flesh as a humble, vulnerable infant. God’s Word revealed in human flesh as Jesus, as love, as compassion, as bread and wine, revealed in and through you and me.
We can’t solve all the world’s problems. We can’t prevent most tragedies. We can’t control many of the circumstances of life. However, we can educate ourselves, learn about the ways we unknowingly contribute to the worlds’ problems, become mindful of how we care for the environment, be conscientious consumers, and actively strive to care for others in the world. So far this year we have done this well by using real dishes instead of paper goods at many of our meals and social gatherings. We adopted a family for Thanksgiving and helped them achieve a better quality of life. We’re tending to the girls from Vista Maria, and the men for whom we are bringing in clothes, hats, and gloves. These are just a few of the ways we work to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world, transforming chaos into new life.
The violent blasts and billowing dust clouds of an implosion may look chaotic, but a building implosion is actually one of the most precisely planned, delicately balanced engineering feats you'll ever see.
In a similar way God is at work behind the scenes whenever there is collapse and debris in our lives or the world around us. In the midst of the calamity God is present, working through each and every possible means, to bring forth order, love, and hope in the world.
There are signs all around us, waiting to reveal the fullness of God’s mercy. This is the season when we stand on the precipice between the year that was and the year to come.
Be alert. Pray! It’s Advent.