First Sunday of Advent
One weekend in the fall of 2000, I was in sixth grade and hanging out with a friend. Soon it was about noon and my friend, Dave, asked, “Dan, are you getting hungry? Do you want something for lunch?”
“Sure,” I replied.
“How about macaroni and cheese?” he asked.
“Sounds good,” I said.
We left the living room, but also walked through the kitchen. “This is a little bit odd,” I thought. Then we walked out the back door to the backyard. “This is just plain weird,” I thought. Then, we walked up to a fairly large tin shed in the backyard and opened the door. We entered the shed and there was our lunch. Stacked from floor to ceiling were canned vegetables, dried fruit and meat, and of course many, many boxes of macaroni and cheese.
Dave’s family was well prepared to survive Y2K. As most of you remember, Y2K was a national and international scare that seized many. Virtually all computer systems accounted for the date using two numerals each for month, day, and year. January 1st, 1999 would be 01/01/99. The fear was that when we reached the year 2000 all of the computers would think that it was 1900 and not 2000. For reasons that I don’t really understand, there were also rumors going around that led many people to believe that this could lead to a sort of apocalyptic scenario. National defenses would be compromised and economic institutions would be utterly incapacitated all because the date was wrong on our computers.
Obviously none of this came to pass. Year 2000 came and no nukes were detonated and the financial infrastructure of the world did not crumble. Dave’s family had feared this doomsday Y2K scenario and planned accordingly. When it didn’t come to pass they were left with a lifetime supply of boxed macaroni and cheese and canned green beans.
When the world looks like it is ending, how should we respond? “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth distress among nations…” says Jesus. We always seem to think that the world is on the brink of destruction. Sometimes it is and sometimes it is just a projection of our own fear and panic. In Jesus’ time, his disciples had to deal with the destruction of the Temple of God in Jerusalem and widespread persecution of the church. Before Jesus’ words that we read today he warns his disciples about how their world is going to fall apart. He tells them, “…they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name… You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name…” (Luke 21:12-13, 16-17).
The world always seems to be on the brink of ending, at least our world as we experience it. Last Tuesday night Elvin Kimble, a 19-year-old young man was shot to death on Division Street. For many of Elvin’s friends and family, and for his auntie who took care of him since he was in diapers- their world is ending. On Wednesday afternoon, Breion Greenfield was shot and murdered on the other side of town. For Breion’s mother and his children, their worlds are ending too.
The world of many families in Syria, Lebanon, Paris, Palestine, and Israel are ending as terrorism and war sows chaos and death.
Many American Muslims fear that their world is ending when presidential candidates and many supporters suggest a systematized, religious profiling program as something “certainly something we should all start thinking about.” Such a system that would end their world of being able to practice their religion in safety and respect in the same manner that Christians and Jews enjoy.
When our world is ending how do we react? When loss, fear, sickness, and the threat of death loom, how do we continue on?
Tig Notaro is a standup comedian whose world fell apart. Tig was exploring how she might have a baby with medical assistance and her comedy career was picking up with gigs on late night shows, a TV pilot, and a movie. In the midst of filming she collapsed and was rushed to a hospital where she was diagnosed with C. Diff. This gastrointestinal illness caused her to lose over 20 pounds in a couple weeks and she nearly died. By some stroke of fortune or grace, Tig recovered, but soon after her mother unexpectedly died. Shortly after that, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A short time later she was scheduled to do a stand up act at the Largo in Los Angeles. Tig felt afraid and defeated. She had just received her diagnosis and had no idea whether she would survive the ordeal and telling jokes in front of a room of strangers did not seem like the most natural thing for her to do given her circumstances.
Tig chose to rewrite her set and go on. She wrote a whole 45 minute comedy set about her very recent cancer diagnosis and the other tragedies that had come into her world recently. She walked onto stage and as the crowd applauded, she said, “Hello. Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you?… Is everybody having a good time? I have cancer.” It took a few minutes, but the crowd eventually realized that she really had cancer and was going to do a standup comedy act about it. She did her comedy set and admitted to her fears, but also made jokes in face of her tragedy. What she did was very brave. She could have put her head down and hid until she got better or until her world ended, but she did not. She shared her story of pain and fear with humor and passion. By doing so, she gave hope to others whose world had ended because of cancer or who were afraid that their world was going to end because of cancer. By her testimony she had shown many people that whatever tragedies threaten to end your world, you can still keep your head up and go on living.
Jesus tells us that when that day comes when the world is ending- when the earth is in distress and the seas are roaring, when people are fainting from fear, when nations rise up against nation, when Y2K comes, when a 19-year-old young man or a 30-year-old man is gunned down, when the rise of terrorism terrifies us, when Islamaphobia terrifies our Muslim neighbors and dismantles both our Christian and American values of welcoming all, and when cancer shows up uninvited- when your world is ending you can “raise your heads for your redemption is drawing near.”
God has promised to be present with us and deliver us from all evil. Therefore, when those signs of terrible things that are on their way to end our world arrive, we can lift up our heads. When war, sickness, fear, and death come to us we can remember God who has promised to save us. Through faith, those signs of the world ending are transformed into signs of God’s presence and redemption. When you see the world ending around you, know that God is surely coming too.
Our response to the world ending is not to hide and stock up on macaroni and cheese. We are told that we have such a sure hope in God’s salvation that we lift up our heads and face the world ending tragedy face-on. We respond in love and faith. We continue to love as God has loved us and we have confidence that no world-ending force in heaven, earth, or hell can stop the love of God from bringing hope, peace, and life into the world. Christ is coming even if the world seems to be ending.