Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
This is the first week of the season of Advent. As we move into this period of waiting, we will be rethinking things through the lens of scripture. Jesus, by coming to the world as a newborn Messiah, turns the world upside down. Can we also see how our world turns upside down here and now by waiting for the coming Messiah?
During this first week, we are rethinking the rapture. When we hear this word, many of us think of apocalyptic words that mean the end of the world as we know it. Rapture conjures fear for many. We think of the version from popular culture that tells us some of us will be left behind and some will be taken up to heaven. Why in the world would be studying this at the beginning of Advent?
To quote priest Sarah Dylan, “It’s a strange accident of history that the apocalyptic texts in our scriptures were written to encourage tiny minorities at their society’s margins to greet the tribulations they witnessed not with panic, but with confidence that God was working out God’s purposes for peace, joy, and justice — and that these same texts seem to be read even more often among prosperous and powerful majorities as if they were written for people like them, and they are used mostly to point to current events with the loud message that people should panic, that God intends to bring chaos, agony, and unprecedented bloodshed to the world.”
In other words, these two scriptures are placed before us to give us a very different image than the one popular culture gives us. For the people in Jeremiah and Luke’s day, the world was chaotic, destructive, the Temple destroyed (Luke) or people were surrounded by war (Jeremiah), and hopes were destroyed. The message of apocalypse was one of where the kingdom of God comes near in joy and hope. This is not a message of fear but a message of confidence. We should lift our eyes up to see it. In addition, this kingdom is a promise of expectation just as blossoms on a fig tree. This takes patience since the fig tree is the last one to bloom in Palestine. This takes joy to see the blossoms come on in this fruitful way. Just as the fig tree signals the end of winter, we should know there will be an end to violence and suffering.
In order to fully take in Advent, we mustn’t ignore the messages of apocalypse but wait in hope and expectation. The fruit will come in unexpected ways. God is coming near. When we are ready to confront the suffering in our world in truth and serve as that hope in the midst, God gives us a glimpse of what is to come. When everything else shakes this will keep us grounded. This is the hour of redemption, an opportunity to participate in what God is doing. God is bringing peace, freedom and wholeness to the world. We get to participate in this kind of redemption. With this rethinking it makes perfect sense to kick off Advent in this way.
Quotes for the Week
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.” – Richard Bach
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” ― Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith
“When you expect the world to end at any moment, you know there is no need to hurry. You take your time, you do your work well.” ― Thomas Merton
“Waiting is certainly a kind of prayer, especially if you can stand howling, wide-open spaces.” – Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World
“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.” –Charles M. Schulz
Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NRSV)
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Luke 21:25-36 (Message)
“It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.
“And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”
He told them a story. “Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God’s kingdom is about here. Don’t brush this off: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.
“But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.”
Questions for the Week
What do you think of when you hear “the rapture?”
What are you expecting this season?
Where is God moving in your life?