You can’t predict what will happen.
In the aftermath of the wildfires that destroyed property and lives throughout California, the readings from today’s lectionary seem to hit a little too close to home.
As I listened to the many interviews of the people who witnessed the fires and destruction first hand, I noticed one word kept popping up. Apocalyptic.
For many of us, that’s a dark and scary word that conjures up all sorts of sinister images. It’s why ministers try to avoid apocalyptic passages like these. But if we are going to have faith, then sometimes we just leap believing God’s word is good and that it will all work out in the end.
Personally, I don’t think Daniel and Jesus are giving us anything scary or sinister. I’m not sure you noticed but these verses are void of zombies. There is, however, a sense of cosmic upheaval that happens as part of God’s plan to make things new again.
Yet when we read these passages in light of what is on the news...one can’t help but wonder if those plans are now moving into the next phase. Is this the end of time, the Apocalypse?
I remember a time that I actually thought the end of the world had come. And no it wasn’t November 8th, 2016. It was April 2006. I was in Indianapolis with my dad for the NCAA final four. We had just finished a great meal with my aunt who was there as well.
Upon leaving the restaurant we noticed the streets, which had been packed with thousands of party-goers and basketball fans when we went in, were now completely empty. Void of not just zombies, but living human beings as well. In fact, the only thing left were massive puddles and a lingering errie feeling in the air.
Empty wet streets. Sirens. Hail. You could say God was giving us a pretty clear warning that something bad was about to come. We needed to get to safety. And fast.
But here’s the thing, we were standing in the middle of an empty parking lot. Even though we could see our hotel in the distance, it was still a couple of blocks away. With nowhere else to go we took off running. The sounds of sirens blaring not only heightened my fear, but also my awareness that my running days were long behind me. And so was my dad...who did his best to keep up.
As you can see, it wasn’t the end of the world. We made it to our hotel room just in time. Still wet from the rain, my dad stretched out on the bed as calm as calm can be, and began to peacefully read a book
I, on the other hand, quietly freaked out as the walls began to shake, and the window began to rattle. I didn’t really lose it until I saw the flagpoles outside bending sideways. Not a good sign. Wind. Rain. Rattling. This was it. The end of the world. I was going to die in a hotel room...in Indianapolis...with my Dad reading his Kindle without a care in the world.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, wars, fires, and yes, even the 2016 presidential election...I can honestly say have weathered my fair share of storms. And that night, in Indianapolis, I learned a valuable lesson while watching my dad sleep peacefully:
you can’t predict what happens in life, but you can prevail in how you respond.
In the reading from Daniel we learn there will be a “time of anguish that the world has never seen since it came into existence.” Believing that what happens in our day-to-day life will have some cosmic implications, Daniel points to the hope of deliverance from tough times. That hope for us is God’s faithfulness to those who are faithful to God.
Jesus, also tells us that there will come a time when some pretty weird things will happen. Oh, but don’t be afraid, he said... “they are just birth pangs” - a thing that happen right before something new is born.
Like a tornado or an out of control fire, Apocalyptic scripture is a wake up call. It is a reminder that while our work is here on earth, but our hope comes from heaven. We might not have control over what happens around us but we can can control how we deal with them. With fear. Or by putting our faith in the faithfulness of God.
Still many believers continue to wrestle with fear and anxiety. That is understandable. With all that is going on in our world, there can be a lot to stress out about. But as Henri Nouwen wrote, “The challenge is to let go of fear and claim the deeper truth of who you are. When you forget your true identity as a beloved child of God, you lose your way in life.”
When we focus our attention on all that is horribly wrong in the world, there’s a good chance we’ll neglect our mission - what God has called us to be - to be the good in the world...a living witnesses of Christ.
When our mind is stuck in fear mode, we forget that we are the healing hearts and helping hands of Christ, who was called for a purpose...to bring good news to the poor and suffering. So it is Jesus who warns his disciples about the what is to come. When they freak out, he tells them not to worry about when the Temple will crumble, or when the air will swallow us up. “They are but the beginning of something greater to come.”
But as long as there are natural disasters and human error that cause God’s children to suffer, Jesus tells us there is work to be done. We are not a building. We are people. God’s beloved children. Our call is not to protect or worry about the structures humans make, but to care and watch out for the one’s God made. And just like Jesus we must act out of faith, not fear.
There’s no reason to waste a single second worrying about the end times.It is just the beginning of something new for the people of God. Instead, we ought to remain focused what is happening now...where God has never stopped redeeming or resurrecting life out of death.
Jesus shifts our focus away from the Temple building itself, and sets our eyes on being the Temple - the body of Christ. We are the church - a living sanctuary where all people can be filled with God’s peace and love. To live in such a way for others allows God’s glory to shine in the darkness. And it allows us to find hope in the ashes of our life.
As we move from ordinary time into the Advent season, these passages remind us of God’s faithful promise...that something greater is coming. Hope. Grace. Peace. Salvation. Unconditional love. This is the good news God brings to life in that dirty, cold stable in Bethlehem.
In the Incarnate Christ, God comes to be with us. And through our faith in Christ, God continues to be here for us in all our glorious messiness. God’s faithfulness remains true, even when our world seems to be crumbling down. No fire, earthquake, or human action can destroy what God has done in the world. Nor can it disrupt what God is doing right now. In us. And through us.
We can’t predict what others will do, including what God will do but we can prevail by how we respond to others as well as to God.
We can be fearful. Or full of faith. We can hurt and harm one another, or we can heal and help and care for all.
We can worry about the end of the world...and freak out accordingly in a hotel room. Or we can trust in God’s faithful promise and get a good nights sleep.
We can place our life, all of it, in the care of God’s steadfast and everlasting love...Or not. The choice is yours. But so too are the consequences. So choose wisely.
In closing I want to remind you of the words God gave to Daniel, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will be like stars.”
It’s my hope that you will go out and let you light shine brightly. To be that beacon of hope that sits on a hill and navigates people through every storm in life. As long as there is suffering and pain, loss of life and livelihoods...there is a need for the Light of Christ to shine. Go and shine brightly as God builds the new Temple in you.