Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Micah 7:11-20, 1 Peter 4:7-19, Matthew 20:29-34
The world has been ending for a very long time.
When I was a child, priests and Sunday School teachers, caught up in the atmospheric dread of the Cold War, terrified me by preaching the imminent end of the world and the threat of Russia. I confided my fears to my mother, and it turned out when she had gone to Catholic school at the same parish, the priest and nuns gave the students a specific date to expect the end. She too was terrified until the date came and went. There was supposed to be some lesson in that about being prepared, but all she seemed to learn was a distrust of the clergy.
Peter, like many disciples, genuinely believed Christ would be returning in his lifetime or shortly after, but it didn’t happen. The hundreds of predictions of the end of the world since then have been miserably wrong. One of these more recent debacles was blamed on faulty decimal placement.
On this last day of the liturgical year, we look forward to the beginning of Advent and the new year. Except we don’t traditionally welcome it with parties and feasts. It doesn’t have an equivalent of Ash Wednesday which precedes Lent. Instead, our scripture readings turn to apocalyptic themes and prophets of doom. The stores may be full of twinkling lights and cheerful music, but they represent the false promise of satisfaction via worldly accumulation. Without the rich contemplation of Advent, they offer little more than a picture of a feast offers a starving family.
The world will end someday. Until it does, we are left to contemplate how to balance living both as if it will happen tomorrow, and as if it will happen millennia after we have passed.
But how different do those lives look?
In either case, our neighbor struggling with depression will still need a kind shoulder. The bellies of hungry children halfway around the world won’t stop rumbling. We still need to forgive that person who wronged us sooner rather than later. Our sacrifices and our love and our faith are neither more nor less meaningful, and always necessary. Advent is the time we set aside to remember that while we mourn the broken nature of the world, we are also waking to the promise of its new life in Christ.
The end is near. We need not fear it, for so is the beginning.
Comfort: Christ makes the world new for us each day.
Challenge: Remember the past, live the present, shape the future.
Prayer: Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. (Psalm 63:3-4)
Discussion: Do you observe Advent in any way? If so, what does it mean to you? If not, do you see any value in it?
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