This Sunday begins the waiting season of Advent. As with all Christian Festivals it makes more sense in the Northern hemisphere where it came into practice. Here on the tip of Africa the days are getting longer, not shorter as they are up north. Our fore-parents celebrated the gathering gloom with an act of defiance. They lit candles against the encroaching dark. Each week an additional candle in the Advent wreath. A passive protestation of trust in the One who enlightens humankind.
Jesus warns us in Luke 21:25-36, the reading of the day, that there will soon be a time for his disciples when the whole world will seem to be thrown into chaos. In their own lifetimes, he says, these things will happen. Of course, it is easy for Luke to record this because he knows that the Temple in Jerusalem has already been destroyed as he writes his gospel. He records Jesus saying, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap….” It would seem that even though Jesus is speaking about very time specific events that have already played out in the lives of the disciples, there are also transcendental truths here that are timeless and worthy of our attention.
Personally I have never been able to get myself too excited about all the end times speculation and conjecture that seems to enthrall large sections of the Christian community. It is not that I don’t have a penchant for fantasy and wierdness, after all, I am an avid Stephen King fan! No my reluctance is that there is so much else that Jesus seems to consider important in the following of the path, that precludes me gazing whistfully into the future with my calendar and calculator in hand! I hear Jesus again and again saying, “Don’t be afraid”, “Don’t be overwhelmed” and in this Sunday’s gospel he says, ” Don’t let your hearts get weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life”. Anthropologists, Archaeologists and Biblical scholars all concur that in times of uncertainty, preoccupation with the future and the Apocalypse move onto centre stage in human awareness. It is happening today.
Climate change, eco-tragedy, global recession, viral pandemics, geo-disasters, and politcal flux create a potent environment in which fear and panic seem the only possible responses. Jesus suggests there are other ways of being in these realities.
It is true that we who live in the information age are not only able to hear of the wars and rumours of wars that Jesus speaks about, we can watch them on YouTube, Google the casualty lists, Blog our opinion and “unfriend” (there I used the word of the year) those from Facebook who don’t support our opinions of the conflicts. Yet, as informed as we are, it would be a mistake to assume that the anxiety and fear of our world is more intense than it was for our fore-parents. In this year in which we celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of “The Origin of Species”, we need to remember that the world has always been a hostile place. That is why we evolved. We are the fittest who have survived…so far…
Heavy hearts are not the way to make it through the challenges of constant change. Jesus has an interesting list of activities that weigh down our hearts. He calls them, “dissipation, drunkenness and the worries of this life” If I were to unpack those words they could probably be stated as, fragmented, numbed and overwhelmed. Are these not the traps of our culture and context in this age? Torn apart by multi-layered and multi-roled lives, addicted to whatever plugs the emptiness and boredom inside, and fearful of everything from the overdrawn bank statements to the soon to expire Mayan calendars.
Jesus calls these obsessions a trap. He counsels his followers that rather than allowing their hearts to become overladen and heavy, they should “stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing nigh“. The mistake we have made in the church is to project this coming redemption into some distant future end time and forget that Jesus had already said that his hearers would witness the things he was warning of in their lifetimes. You see, the redemption is not down some linear corridor of time. Redemption dances in the circle of time where, as in the Large Haldron Collider at CERN in France, the energies of past and future meet and in nanosecond moments of insight that remind us that it is all perfect. Right here. Right now.
So this Advent, as in centuries before, people of trust will not fear and panic. They will light candles and lift their heads just those few degrees upward, to see the dawn that is always just a rotation of the planet away.