December 1, 2019
I was in Baltimore for Thanksgiving with my son, Michael, his wife Jen and my two sacred granddaughters, Izzy and Maxine. Thanksgiving Day was also Michael’s birthday and dinner was held at Jen’s brother’s house and included a United Nations’ gathering of family members — Jen’s family came from the Philippines and the various in-laws and outlaws were of every color, language and culture. Add in fifteen children and you have a festival of chaos. The food was astounding and I can tell after a dozen years of feasting with them, there is always more than any group of thirty-five could eat in a week. It is a grounding and glorious experience, and I always leave feeling deeply blessed and full of joy.
On Friday, I began the long trek across the country, landing at Seatac on time and hoping that I might just make the 4:30 PM ferry back to Lopez. There was plenty of time until I came to I-5 — the nightmare of Black Friday was before me in a vast sea of cars, not moving — every once in a while we would slip forward a few feet. I couldn’t see what was impeding the flow of traffic, for miles we crept forward, inch by inch. Finally, I spotted the culprit — South Center Mall — at the I-5 and 405 — thousands were being seduced by apocalyptic messages: Like this one, the end is here — The managers of the Bedroom Superstores have been advised that ‘this is the end’ and that these are the ‘final days’ of the Bankruptcy Liquidation.
Everywhere I looked, the last days loomed — traffic was snarled and the hope of the greatest deal ever beckoned us to leave the comfort of home and enter into the last days. Delayed and frayed, I finally arrived at the Anacortes ferry with five minutes to spare. Never was I so grateful to drive onto the ferry and sit in solitude. As we approached the landing, I then saw them, Christmas lights already up. Even on Lopez Island, we are seduced by the fear of encroaching darkness — we are already getting the lights up to keep the end times at bay, a kind of primordial fear that life as we know it doomed — we are caught in the between times of our culture, the seduction of consumption of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and we are caught in the between times of global messages of impending doom.
But here, as we gather in this sacred space and light the first candle of a season that has its roots in the fifth century Gaul there is a light to remind us that a new age is dawning, already present but not yet consummated. And on this Sunday, we are reminded to wait and watch, remembering that we are living between the ages, and should be prepared at all times for the end of the present age.
George Harrison said it this way: All things must pass, all things must pass away, all things must pass. None of life’s strings can last. So, I must be on my way and face another day. This reality for us, is one filled with hope. And that is why we gather this day to light a candle. The lessons today are filled with promise and the hope comes to us in the form that is as unexpected as it is comforting. The end may be in sight but the future is not grim.
Isaiah offers his poem to us not as a prediction, but as a statement of the certainty that history will reach its goal, its culminations, its consummation. That divine reign will involve the utter transformation of existing conditions, from nationalism and conflict to unity ad peace. This passage brings home to us the power of expectation. Who can read these lines and not have hope kindled within their hearts? We gather here to keep this hope alive in each generation. We gather here to pass this hope onto our children and grandchildren. While fear mongers and furniture vendors proclaim that the end is near, we listen to a different message.
The beginning of the end has come already. That beginning has taken human form, a baby who will carry within him, a vision of God’s reign on earth. He is the mustard seed, the leaven, the pearl of great price, the visible sign of God’s love for all creation. This vision of Jesus for the world is not apocalyptic but it is eschatological. There is a difference. Those who predict cataclysm see the world as it is. Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, see the world as it will be. This future vision comes with him and it is a vision of blessing.
We are asked to do but one thing: wait with expectant heart; wait with hope, joy, and love. That is the only debt as Paul reminds us. It s all too easy to look around and predict disaster. But we who light this candle on this day, look around in the darkness and see the light.
George Harrison might have said it the way Julian of Norwich did: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. When she wrote those words, she looked into the darkness and saw the light. We begin with the scripture today proclaiming an eschatological vision: The Son of Man shall come and we are promised: All shall be well!
The end is near. Are we ready? We must stand fast and keep our eyes on our identity. At baptismal founts, we enter into this life together, not simply baptized as individuals but baptized into the body of Christ and lifted up. Raised to new life and dying to self, we are raised to new life in Christ. We begin there and we continue that life at this table, where the body is gathered and we declare there is room for all. We experience the joy of community and communion and become one with each other and with God.
Let us always begin again!