If you have walked the church year for awhile I hope you have noticed and wondered why the Sundays preceding Advent, the appointed readings are often apocryphal or about sensational endings? I certainly have noticed and have come to my own thoughts and theories on the matter. An underlying theme in Judeo-Christian spirituality is the rise and fall of all things. Endings come, temples are destroyed, nations rise up against nation, the skies turn black, the earth quakes, systems crumble and the earth is covered in ashes.
People are fixated on these end-time descriptions known as apocryphal literature. And in every generation since books have been written, self-proclaimed seers publish their perspectives why and how the end-times are coming in their time. Dystopia sells as does religious fear and doom. Trying to make sense or predictions out of apocryphal literature has never been a thing for me. And I have found all efforts to exploit public curiosity and foreboding to be misleading and self-serving. From Nostradamus to the early church to Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth to Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins’ “Left Behind Series.” It’s all sensationalizing something that no one really understands or can make literal sense of. Do you know I once had someone call me to inform me they were leaving the parish because we were too similar to the Roman Catholic Church which she had learned from the Left Behind books, was part of the beast that would war against the true believers of Jesus in the end times. I was lost for words. And any attempt to discuss such an interpretation of scripture was summarized in her mind as “Fr. Richard, don’t you believe what the Bible says?”
I do believe what the Bible says, and I believe the Bible, along with most of the world’s sacred texts, include in their stories of redemption great tales about the crushing reality of the end of times. I believe the sacred story pulls no punches when it portrays the dark times in individual lives and in whole communities, nations, and eras, when all that has been stable and familiar, is ending. Life rises up from the earth and life returns to the earth. Systems, eras, governments, dynasties rise to their glory but ultimately they crack, corrupt, and crumble. In my life as a pastor I have seen this cycle play out before me time and time again. Naturally, through the aging process. And painfully through hard times, illnesses, broken dreams and families. I do believe the bible when it speaks of scorched earth, burning skies, and boiling waters, for this is what it feels like when your world is being turn upside down and over. I do believe the Bible when it speaks of devastation and agony and sorrow. I believe the bible when it says that all things come to an end, heaven and earth pass away… because these times come, to whole times and people, to whole cultures and lands, and into our own lives. Catastrophe falls, life ebbs away and ends, leaving us, a place, the world,… to grieve in the wake. And from the ashes…from the endings…Advent follows. Life is all about the beginnings again.
I believe our own times are filled with the sadness of life as it was once known, “passing away.” Our culture is at war between those who wish to conserve and keep and those who believe in progress and change… A modern age is passing and a virtual age is emerging. The climate is unstable, the old institutions are failing, and our government is divided. We are in one of those “end-times” ways and life as we once knew it, and as those who were before us for quite sometime knew it, most if not all that was –is changing, is ending. What are we to do? What will follow when all that was, and all that is, is no more?
The answer is Advent, we begin again. Deep in the womb of creation, the embryo of God’s love, redemption, and eternally good life, is making ready to be born again. I do believe in the Bible, and I read the Bible. And in it I see… over and over and over again…the end comes and the beginning begins again.
The Bible never dismisses the anguish and sorrow that fills those times when things are coming to an end. Nor does it take away the mourning and lament that is the void and loss-fulness amidst the wake that follows. But the stories it tells of the times that end —always, always, always go on… and they tell us of Advent. And that is why, I believe the church, in her mystical and universal wisdom amidst her ancient journey, reminds us year after year… all things come to an end… and all things begin…again. Amen.