An Apocalyptic Catastrophic Catalogue, First Sunday in Advent, November 27, 2011 in United Lutheran Church in Oakland
United Lutheran Church, First Advent, November 27th 2011
Isaiah 64:1-9 Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Mark 13:24-37
An Apocalyptic Catastrophic Catalogue
Today we have the first Sunday of Advent, which we Christians commemorate as our New Year or our New Church Year. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin and means “coming” and on these four Advent Sundays we get ready for the coming of Christ – that means the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem, but also the second coming of Christ in an end-of-the-world apocalyptic time, when Christ comes again.
Our Gospel reading this morning comes from the 13th chapter of Mark, which is known as the little Apocalypse. The word “apocalypse” means “uncovering what is hidden” or in other words, “revelation.” But there is an end-of-the-world kind of feeling in the word. Thus signs and portents experienced in nature are felt to be God’s wrath, like the sun being darkened, the stars falling from the sky, the moon not shining any light, and finding that the foundations of the heavens start shaking.
So Christ will be returning and we are the servants, whom he has left here to take care of the household of faith and we do not know if Christ will return in the evening, at midnight, at cock-crow, or at dawn – these are the old ways of telling time. You don’t need an alarm clock when the roosters start crowing in the morning just before daylight.
Here we are in a little local congregation and Christ has bid us watch and to be alert. Christ has shaken us soundly to awaken us from sleep and wants our everyday world to drop down from around us, so that our earthly existence becomes transparent and the reign of Christ is revealed to us, and we are to be living our everyday lives in obedient service to God.
The signs of our times seem to be more apocalyptic, not only because today is the first Advent, but also the incidents and events we are experiencing seem apocalyptic, that is, they make us think of the end of the world as we pray in Advent:
“O Lord, stir up your power and come! Tear open the sky and come down.” The Psalm for today keeps repeating the verse:
“Restore us, O God of Hosts. Let your face shine, that we may be saved!” (Psalm 80: 3, 7, and 19.)
Isaiah cries, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” so that our faith might become sight and you, O Lord, took the affairs of this world into your divine hand, your Right Hand, Jesus Christ, and championed the cause of the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, the oppressed, the victims of racism, the war-torn, and brought peace to the world and brought those conditions into the world the way you intended for it to be in your creation!
We have fallen so very low. In a conference this week, the torn open sky was called the “wounded sky” and these words imply that we are living lives that are so violent and disruptive here on earth that we have wounded the heavens and caused them to rip open and our once friendly earth is beginning to turn against us.
It is easy to make a list of the many dreadful things that have been happening. We always fear that we will have the Big One here, where we are right over the Hayward Fault and many others. Such a mighty earthquake will surely make our human foundations start shaking. But an earthquake hit the East Coast and now the Washington Monument has cracks and needs repair along with broken gargoyles of the cathedral in Washington, D.C. Then they had a Halloween snow storm! Even with a cold, my sister in Massachusetts had to sit in a cold house for three days, because all the electricity was out. We need to think about the tender leaves of that fig tree and figure that we are in the end-of-the-world kind of time.
Who could list all the earthquakes that have shaken the earth? There was one in Haiti, in Chile, in Turkey, in New Zealand, and in China. We have to consider the one in Japan, which also produced a Tsunami almost as deadly as the Christmas Tsunami of 2004. Japan was hit by a triple catastrophe. The off-shore earthquake launched the Tsunami and it made the Fukushima Daiishi Nuclear Power plants melt down. There is a radius of 20 miles around the plants, where no one will be able to live anytime in the foreseeable future. Only the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986 was worse. The reactor there is still spewing some radiation and the wild animals have become deformed and people will not be able to live there again for centuries.
Wow! Restore us, O God of Hosts. Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
There have been floods that have inundated whole countries like Thailand and Pakistan and even cities. We can look at Katrina and the end of the city of New Orleans. It was making a come-back, when the BP Oil spill took place. Those kinds of events are apocalyptic. Will the Gulf of Mexico ever recover from all that oil spilled into it and all the chemical oil dispersants dumped into its waters?
Let’s pray it together: Restore us, O God of Hosts. Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
Think of all the tornadoes and the way they are wreaking havoc. They have been tearing up our cities. I heard that after one tornado, a whole section of the city of Chattanooga lay destroyed and people were hanging in the trees. Earthquakes, floods, Tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and oil spills. All these apocalyptic events mean that we have to pray that God come down and help us, that God might come and save us from our sins.
Say it with me: Restore us, O God of Hosts. Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
The natural disasters are not as bad as our economic ones and they are not as bad as our military ones. Just think of 9/11. Do you see what I mean? That day was apocalyptic. Look at our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan! Look at the wars in the Congo that have taken more than a million lives. Then there is the starvation in Somalia, where the fighting prevents the food from getting to the dying children.
Restore us, O God of Hosts. Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
Economically we have also had this catastrophic recession, where millions have become unemployed with little prospects of being reemployed. Millions of middle-class folk are losing their homes to foreclosures and now many have to join the food lines, because they cannot put bread and butter on their tables. We had the Tea Party movement and now the Occupy Wall Street movement, which seems to be like the Arab Spring. When I visited the Oakland Occupy Wall Street campsite, heard the speeches, and watched thousands march off to occupy and shut down the port, the lines from “Hotel California,” came to mind: “We have not had that spirit here since 1969.”
Together: Restore us, O God of Hosts. Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
We have to repent. We have to be shaken awake from our sleep. We have to stand watch at the post Christ has charged us with, because God wants us to care for this world, care for our environment, care for our neighbors, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. To put it into today’s language, Christ wants us to hunger and thirst for justice, to be peace makers, mourn the unfair and unjust conditions so visible around us today. We should not tear each other down, but build each other up and find new ways of being human to one another.
I’m passing out a song that is all about the verse we have been repeating. I call it the “Phoebe Bird Song,” because I got the notes from that bird, when I was in Massachusetts. You know the Aaron’s Blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” God’s shining face restores us, just like we said, “Let your face shine, that we may be saved!”
“I am calling – Jesus Savior. Won’t you hear me, O Savior and send your favor, today!”
When the sun comes out then the plants and blossoms grow and unfold in the energy of its light. So when God’s face shines over us we flourish, but when God’s face turns away, we perish:
“We languish – without you – and flourish – about you, please be gracious, O Jesus, we pray!”
“What you’ve done – amazes, – your love – just dazes, O my soul, – sing praises, all day!”
If we wake up, if get shaken awake from our sleep, if we repent and start living the lives Christ has called us to live – lives of faith service, lives of witness, lives filled with compassion, lives that are mindful and filled with forgiveness, then Christ’s return will be a wonderful sunrise! That means that the face of God will shine upon us. And in the sunshine of God’s grace, the apocalypse will be God’s new creation, making everything new. But if we live against God’s will, then Christ’s return will be a day of darkness, where our teeth will shatter because of those catastrophic, apocalyptic disasters. The sun will refuse to shine, the stars will fall, the moon will lose its light, and the foundations of the heavens and the earth will be shaken. So let’s be shaken awake.
Together: Restore us, O God of Hosts. Let your face shine, that we may be saved!
But don’t you know, if you repent, if you stand watch and witness to Christ with his forgiveness, love, and compassion, keep the faith, spread God’s hope, keep on keeping on with obedient loving service: then God’s friends become, just like the sun, rising in all God’s splendor! Amen.
Pastor Peter Krey