Dec 07, 2018
By The Rev. John Flack, member of the Environmental Stewardship Committee
One of the hardest things to preach is that Advent isn’t about Jesus coming at Christmastime. Christmas, such as it was, has already happened in Bethlehem. It’s about the end. We call it the apocalypse, which means the revealing or revelation. We call it the eschaton, which means the end, the final thing. In the case of Advent, the end we mean is the end of the world marked by Christ coming to judge the living and the dead. Advent is the expectation—no, the hope—of a cataclysm that ends the world as we know it, and makes all things new. Paul says the whole world is groaning, as with labor pain.
Advent is trembling and moaning as the womb of time stretches open. It is the feeling of watching a crisis unfold before our very eyes.
Can we really know what that feels like? It seems that Advent comes in an endless cycle now, not an anticipation of the eschaton and the new heavens and the new earth, but of presents and carol services, and solemn invocations of a cold night in Bethlehem. It seems to me, sometimes, that we have put God in a box, and tied Jesus snugly under the tree. He has become a present, opened with full foreknowledge on Christmas, and placed in a prominent place on the shelf for the rest of the year, dusting him once a week.
What if Christ were a cataclysm now? What if he were a surprise? What if his presence among us now really was the end? Would we welcome him, or shriek in fear?
We find ourselves in the middle of a crisis now, in the middle of a changing heaven and a changing earth. Carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases released by human beings now strangle our heavens. The heat trapped by them bakes the earth. The Fourth National Climate Assessment tells us that climate change isn’t something that will affect us in the future; it is something affecting us now. Right now. The end is here!
The assessment shows how the forests of the northeast are already changing, because the climate is changing. It shows how the $150 billion of consumer spending on nature-based tourism, from skiing to hiking, is under threat. It shows that the economies based on the sea are already in trouble, as fish flee to cooler waters, and acidification and warming oceans threaten the stock of cod and lobster and the livelihood of those who fish for them. This isn’t going to happen—this is happening now, and it will get worse.
The climate crisis has come. The heavens are shaking, the powers tremble. But when this happens, Jesus says, “Stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near.” In other words, God comes to us in a crisis. So, if we are in trouble, we don’t need to shrink back, but stand up to meet God. God comes to us now.
In our Eucharist, we sometimes say, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” This is as Advent a proclamation as I can imagine. We live in the ‘is’, between the remembrance of Christ’s death and the expectation of his coming again at the end of all things. This means we live in the fact of his risen-ness. In other words, we live surrounded by Christ’s living presence at the right hand of the Father, permeating every particle of the cosmos. We cannot always clearly see Christ, but knowing that Christ is risen means we can stand up and welcome Christ in the crisis. Death no longer has dominion over him. Death has no dominion over us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus—not the past, not the present, not the future. We wait for the end of all these things, but we look for Christ now, risen and gathering us for the end.
Our efforts will not make a perfect world. That world will not come until God renews creation at the end of time. But God gives us a hope for that world to come, and ways for us to glimpse it together now. We see it when we share the Lord’s Supper. We trust it when we change our lives to better reflect the hope of Christ’s coming reign.
Happy Advent. May it be an apocalypse, a catastrophe, a crisis.