Homily for Proper 33, Year C, 2010
Sunday, November 14th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Isaiah 65:17-20, Luke 21:5-19
“For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
As the liturgical year winds its way to its conclusion, the tenor of the texts of the day begin to change. Today we feel ourselves surrounded by apocalyptic words that at once disturb and yet proclaim hope. And while it may be tempting to sidestep such words that offer frightening end-time images, it seems to me that we may be in danger of closing our eyes and shutting our ears to tidings of great joy. Yes, it is no coincidence that as the sound systems in shopping malls and television commercials have begun to ring out such tidings, the words we hear in our sacred liturgy are striking a very different tone. Indeed, as we approach the time of Our Lord’s Advent, or coming to be amongst us, we will hear words not only of a tender babe born in a stable and his mother mild, but also of a great and dreadful king who comes to judge the world. I do believe we do ourselves and the gospel an injustice when we fail to proclaim only part of the story. Perhaps this dissonance sounds loudest at this time of year when shopping mall speakers ring out carols in the midst of growing consumer frenzy.
It should be said that I am not one that gets terribly upset when the carols start playing early in the season (or even before the advent of the season!). I have a confession to make: I was always the first one in the family to pull out the Christmas LP’s (remember those?) and place a stack of them on the old hi-fi stereo (remember those?) and listen to them drop as Perry Como, Bing Crosby and so many others sang words both secular and sacred in praise of the newborn king and in celebration of the season. When the Eaton’s, or Simpson’s Christmas “wish book” would arrive my brother and I would spend hours on the floor pouring over the half dozen or so pages of toys, imagining what Christmas morning would be like with a nice selection of toys, which somehow Santa knew we wanted. The earlier the tree could go up, the better. And while selecting and cutting down the tree was a charming ritual, there was something to be said for that artificial tree we later purchased, as that meant we could start the season earlier and earlier each year. Later in life, I found myself working in retail sales, and I suppose my love of pulling out the Christmas stops early was suited well to that vocation. So you see, I don’t panic when I hear the carols playing in the mall in November. In fact, I rejoice, because they are one of the last places our faith can be proclaimed openly in the public sphere in the midst of a world that so desperately needs to hear that story.
There is another part of the story though, and that is the story we shall encounter as Advent unfolds, and they are words that call us to repentance and words that proclaim justice. The birth of a babe in Bethlehem was certainly meant to bring comfort and joy to all humankind, and especially to bring comfort, joy, and justice to the broken-hearted, the weak, the downtrodden and afflicted. Why was our Lord born into a stable in the lowliest estate? To be amongst the lowliest of God’s people. In this important detail of the Christmas story something important is revealed to us, namely, the justice of God.
And this is what apocalyptic literature is all about, the justice of God. The word “apocalypse” has become to us a frightening and foreboding word, but really, it means nothing else than “revelation.” Therefore, when we encounter apocalyptic literature as we do today in both Isaiah and Luke, we must ask ourselves what is the revelation we are receiving in these terrifying words. In Luke we hear Jesus explain how not a stone of the mightiest edifice known in Palestine, the new Temple constructed by Herod, would remain in place. Amidst the destruction of this symbol of establishment, national pride and stability, there would be dissention, war, earthquake, fire and famine. There will be prophets of hope and prophets of doom. And many will be led astray.
This sounds not unlike our own day, does it not? But of course, this is the enduring power of apocalyptic literature, in that it speaks to the angst of the people of every age. I once heard an interview with an expert in “end-times” thinking. He spoke about how the men in the trenches during the Great War, with bombs falling about them, cried out, “Is this the apocalypse?” And was it? The scholar who was being interviewed said, “of course it was, as it has been for every soldier in battle. What soldier has not cried out, ‘My God, the apocalypse is at hand!’?” Every generation witnesses the injustices of the world, the ways in which human beings treat each other, whether it be in wars, or social policy that dehumanizes the weakest amongst us, or economic systems that value capital over God’s creation, or the bottom line over human lives. Even in the details of our individual human suffering through illness, the inexplicable loss of loved ones, we witness injustice and we are prone to despair. All of us, from time-to-time, cry out, “Is this the apocalypse?”
My friends, the answer is “yes.” But we need not fear, for if the apocalypse is nothing less than a revelation of our God and of both his justice and mercy, then we can only rejoice, for the God that is being revealed is the one who comes amongst us to restore the brokenness of humanity and this world. What is more, this apocalypse, this revelation, is not simply and end-time phenomenon. I choose not to indulge in the guessing of times and dates and conditions of the ultimate return of our Lord and the consummation of history. I shall leave those things a mystery. But what I do proclaim is that God is being revealed in our midst through all our earthly days. To the conditions that seek to destroy the image of God in us, God is appearing. To the unjust systems that corrupt and destroy God’s people and God’s creation, God is appearing. To those in psychological angst, with broken spirits, or deteriorating bodies, God is appearing. It the midst of our darkest days, God is appearing. We need not wait ‘til the end; God appears now! Had we read one more verse into that little apocalypse in Luke we would have read the words, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Hearken then to the words of Isaiah, “For I am about to create a new heaven and new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or called to mind.” The kingdom of God that is breaking through, then, is one in which mercy tempers justice. The justice of God is restorative, not destructive. The call goes out to claim it; shall we our Lord’s call?
You see, my friends, God is revealing himself to us day-by-day, in the midst of troubles of this life. Each day for us, if we choose to see it, is an apocalypse. Each day, there is before us a hand that offers justice and mercy, should we wish to take it. If we listen closely, we will hear a song of justice ring out that proclaims that the things that destroy the creatures of God have no power or victory over us. If we listen closely, we hear a song of mercy that even when we have done wrong, God will welcome us home as his children.
This is why I am not worried when I hear the words of carols sung in the shopping mall in November, for they are words of revelation. They are an apocalypse that rings out in a hurting and broken world. And they are proof that God makes himself known in the unlikeliest of places and the unlikeliest of moments.
c.2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves