Twinkling Lights, a Little Apocalypse, and the Defiant Hope of Advent

Homily, “Twinkling Lights, a Little Apocalypse, and the Defiant Hope of Advent”
Advent 1, 2020
Online with Santa Fe Episcopal Church
San Antonio, TX

Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. Manténganse despiertos!”

En el nombre del Padre, y el Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo. Amén.

Pregunta: ¿Cuándo decoran para Navidad? When is the best time to decorate for Christmas? When is your family’s favorite time to decorate for Christmas?

If we go to the store—though many of us haven’t been often recently—we’ll see Christmas decorations displayed and ready for sale even before Halloween! And every year it feels like it gets earlier. For many others the Christmas season begins when Santa goes by at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Some of us wait until at least the weekend after Thanksgiving, and I know many people around the nation are putting up their Christmas trees today. For me, growing up, it was December 1st. Every year on December 1st, or as near to then as we could, my family would pull down the decorations from the attic and I’d be up on the roof without a ladder hanging the lights dangerously close to the edge while my worried mom gave me grief below. 

And then in the Episcopal Church, and other liturgical traditions, we have this whole season of Advent—la estación de Adviento—which is often forgotten or rushed through. The Christmas season technically doesn’t begin until Christmas Eve—the evening before Christmas. The Advent season is what leads up to Christmas. I think in every Episcopal Church there are at least a handful of people who love to act as the Advent police and remind us that there are no Christmas carols allowed until Christmas! No Hark the Herald Angels Sing, no Silent Night, no O Little Town of Bethlehem! We have to wait, which is what the whole season of Advent is about: waiting.

Well, I have to tell you, today is the first day of Advent and my family has had our Christmas decorations up for almost a month now! It’s not like this every year. Most years we try to wait until at least after Thanksgiving, and even then I try to do so with more Advent then Christmas, but this has been such a hard year and we just couldn’t wait. My wife and I made the difficult decision to stay home for Christmas and not visit our wider families and we just needed some celebration in our lives. We needed twinkling lights and Christmas carols. Necesitábamos el gozo y la celebración de Navidad. I know Christmas is still almost a month away, but if Christmas were to come tomorrow, my family would be ready. Si la Navidad llegara mañana, estaríamos listos.

Pero hoy es el primer día de Adviento, y nuestra lectura del evangelio esta mañana es una imagen muy oscura y ominosa. Our gospel this morning paints a picture of the sun and moon going dark and the stars falling out of the sky. Scholars often call this passage from Mark the “Little Apocalypse,” “el pequeño apocalipsis” Today we often think of the word “apocalypse” as the end of the world, though in Greek the word just means an unveiling, or a revealing. But here in this little apocalypse it really does seem like the world is ending. Jesus describes a time coming when there will be wars and rumors of wars; there will be earthquakes and famines; there will be the persecution of followers of Jesus, betrayed by their own family members; and there will be false messiahs and false prophets who lead people astray. A lot of scholars believe the author of Mark was describing the Roman Empire’s destruction of Jerusalem which came a few decades after Jesus in the year 70 CE. In any case, its a grim picture of a scary time. 

Parece que hoy estamos viviendo en nuestro propio pequeño apocalipsis, ¿no? We seem to be living in our own little apocalypse today, don’t we? Maybe the stars aren’t falling out of the sky but we do have a climate change crisis and the non-stop burning of California forests and neighborhoods, don’t we? There haven’t been many reports of Christians in the United States being persecuted for their faith lately, but every day we hear of black and brown men, women, and non-binary people killed in the streets and disproportionately incarcerated. I haven’t heard much about false messiahs and false prophets leading people astray in recent times but we certainly are experiencing the political disintegration of truth with “alternative facts” and a questioning of who is a legitimately elected official. And then there is this whole little thing called the COVID-19 pandemic which has turned all of our lives upside while we watch ourselves and our family and friends lose our mental and physical health, our jobs, or even our very lives. Yes, we our living in our own little apocalypse. El mundo está lleno de sufrimiento ahora mismo y estamos viviendo en nuestro propio pequeño apocalipsis. 

Pero hay algo hermoso en esta lectura también. Es en el medio de la lucha apocalíptica que Cristo viene. In the midst of this apocalyptic struggle, Christ, the Son of Man, comes to the world on clouds with great power and glory and sends his angels to gather up his people from around the world. We think what makes something apocalyptic is catastrophe, but if the word apocalypse means an unveiling, what makes something apocalyptic is the revealing of Christ coming to us in the world. With this in mind, our passage this morning tells us over and over again, “Stay awake, be alert, manténganse despiertos, Estén listos.” Incluso en medio del sufrimiento y la desesperación, Cristo viene a nosotros y es nuestro trabajo velar por su venida. El adviento es una estación de esperanza desafiante. Advent is a season of defiant hope. It is a season when we look around at all the pain in this world and defiantly expect and hope that Christ still comes to us. That even in the midst of apocalypse Christ is still coming, in fact, has already come and is still here, just as he says in the great Commission at the end of Matthew, “Remember, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” But though Christ came, is coming, and will always come to us in the midst of our suffering, it is our job to watch for his coming and to be ready to receive it, so that it doesn’t pass us by. We never know the exact moment when Christ comes to us, pero si Cristo viniera mañana, deberíamos estar atentos y listos—if Christ were to come tomorrow, we ought to be watchful and ready. 

I know Christmas is still a month away, but if Christmas were to come tomorrow, my family would be ready. Si la Navidad llegara mañana, mi familia estaría lista  Our decorations are up, our lights are twinkling, our apartment is filled with the sound of carols. And maybe to some it looks like we are skipping over the season of Advent, but in my mind we are practicing the defiant hope of Advent. Though we are living in a world turned upside down my family is choosing to celebrate the joy of Christmas—the joy of Christ coming into the world, even now. 

Over the next four weeks in this season of Advent, I invite you to find your own way to practice defiant hope in our own apocalyptic moment. Los invito a encontrar su propia manera de practicar la esperanza desafiante en nuestro propio momento apocalíptico. Christmas decorations might not be your way—I know for many the holiday season brings conflicting emotions, but what might your way be of practicing defiant hope? Perhaps its getting up each morning and eating breakfast when you’d rather hide from the world under the covers. Maybe its putting your hands in the soil and growing something beautiful. Tal vez es ver a un terapeuta o practicar oración diaria. Maybe its being an active member in a community organizing effort for a cause important to your neighbors. Maybe it is volunteering with the food bank, calling to check up on neighbors, making handmade gifts for friends, or writing political advocacy letters to elected officials. Maybe it is as simple as taking a deep breath of fresh air. How might you practice defiant hope this Advent season? ¿Cómo podría cada uno de nosotros practicar la esperanza desafiante en este tiempo de Adviento?

Pause for reflection.

May we be defiantly hopeful and keep awake, because Christ is coming, even in the midst of our own little apocalypse. Amen.