Texts: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8
These are very real threats to human existence and growing more real every day. Compared to these, the promise of the coming Day of the LORD seems ethereal: a fairy tale or an anesthetic to keep us from panicking over the danger we face. When faced with the facts, it is much easier for me to believe that we are going to make ourselves extinct in one of these ways than that we will suddenly be saved from ourselves by divine intervention. Many days, I’m not sure if I believe that Jesus will suddenly appear again and magically herald the dawning of a new era; but I do hope for it.
That is what these scripture readings during Advent offer us: a message of hope. Hope that the story doesn’t have to end the way it seems it inevitably will, hope that things can turn out differently. Instead of a seeing only a world where might makes right and a few powerful men can dictate the fortunes of 8 billion people, the promise of God helps us to hope for a world where peace and justice reign, a world where righteousness is at home.
It is this hope that offers us the opportunity to live differently, to expect the unexpected. It is hope that invites us to reject the very real ways we are contributing to our own destruction through the lifestyles we live and the choices we make and choose a different path: a path of holiness and godliness. This change of direction is what Scripture calls repentance; it isn’t so much a command to change what we’re doing as it is an opportunity to examine ourselves and our world and finally realize what is truly important—a chance to hitch our wagon to a star.
The hope scripture offers is not empty and baseless, but founded on generations of stories of God’s past faithfulness. As we gather to worship, we remember all the ways God has been faithful: from saving Noah from the flood to giving Abraham and Sarah descendants; from delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt to leading them through the desert; from the return from exile to the coming of the Messiah. I find it much easier to believe that we will destroy ourselves than that God is going to swoop in and save us, but these stories of God’s faithfulness give me hope, and sometimes hope is believe enough.
As disciples of this savior, we live off of hope. We imbibe hope. It is our hope in God’s promise against all odds that sustains us in the face of certain doom, that allows us to choose a different path because we can imagine God’s alternative. This is the hope that sustains us as we gather around table and font, the hope that washes the sins and cares of the world from us and gives us strength to live lives of righteousness in the face of great resistance. We proclaim the mystery of this hope every time we share in this meal: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Advent is apocalyptic. That is not to say that Advent deals with the end of all things, but the revealing of all things. “Apocalypse” is a Greek word that means “revelation.” When we talk of the apocalypse, we are talking about the time when the truth will be revealed and the world will finally see what God has always intended for it to be. In short, it is the revealing of everything for which we have hoped.
In days like these it is easy to wonder what’s taking so long, why God can’t bring about this revelation now. In these days scripture reminds us that God’s delay is not slowness or laziness or forgetfulness, but grace—salvation, even. God is giving us a chance to live into the hope of God’s promise, to turn away from the death that entices us to our destruction, and to instead choose life. God is patient with us because God isn’t interested in saving the handful of individuals who happen to be ready now; God’s goal is no less than to save the entire universe. Thanks to God’s patience, we still have a chance to change the story and choose a new direction. With God’s help, we may just be able to continue growing together into the people God has created us to be. With God’s help, we may just avert the disasters we are now creating. With God’s help, we may just grow beyond our pettiness into a world that looks more like the one God has in mind… I hope.