First Sunday of Advent
Advent begins with reminding us that we are not in control. Since we are a people who value control, when we begin to feel as if we are losing it, we become fearful.
Starting January 1 it will be legal in Texas to openly carry a gun if you have a license. People with a license can openly tote their firearms in places of business, shopping malls, offices, hospitals, mental health centers, colleges and universities, and even in churches (unless the church has the prerequisite official sign posted on every entrance that firearms are not allowed).
I know folks who are senior faculty at universities taking early retirement from the fear of being in the classroom with armed students. Some churches are divided over whether or not to post the legally required signs because they fear that the presence of the signs will act as a magnet for people wanting to make a statement about carrying their guns in public. Other churches, like a large Baptist church down the road, are voting to arm their ushers and are installing “panic” buttons around the church building so that if there is an armed intruder the button can be pushed to summon the armed congregation.
This election season only makes it worse. Indeed, from listening to most of the candidates, we had better arm ourselves, construct walls, and retreat into our bunker style gated subdivisions and burglar-proof locks and security systems, all the while electing them to high office. Glued to our televisions watching the repeating loops – ISIS, terror bombings, talk of war and rumors of wars and our perpetual and chronic war, refugees and immigrants coming our way, strangers (people who don’t look like us or believe like us), police shooting unarmed black young men, and people marching in protest in response – people in my part of the world think that the world is coming apart, and the end is near. Then we retreat into our technological bubbles of social media and read postings of only people we agree with and news reports of only the news sources that think like we do, all of which reinforce our need for control.No wonder the sales of ammunition and guns are skyrocketing. A friend told me this week he and his wife are giving themselves pistols and firearm training for Christmas.
This is not to say that there are not some things to be afraid of. The truth is that we are out of control. The Arctic is melting, the oceans are becoming acidic, the climate is changing, the seas are rising, and the politicians (the same ones pumping up our fear over refugees and terrorists) tell us not to worry that it’s all just trumped up (pun intended) fear by scientists who don’t like capitalism and if we just trust the market all will be well. As the climate changes, droughts will increase and so will famine. Studies estimate that there will be an increase in hunger, turmoil, armed conflict, wars, and a staggering increase in refugees. What we’re seeing in Syria and Europe is just the beginning.
Our Advent text from Luke 21 has Jesus speaking to us out of what sounds like excerpts from a book on global climate change: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (21:25-26). Just a few verses before, he says, “There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” (21:11). Pretty scary stuff.
Jesus tells us the hard truth this first Sunday of Advent: we are not in control. This biblical truth is scary. It’s hard.
Jesus does not say that God causes these things. He says that when these things occur we need to look, pay attention, and watch. When the “powers of the heavens” are shaken, which I interpret in a Pauline sense of the “principalities and powers” that seek control and rule, are stretched to their breaking point, then we followers of Jesus can see more clearly the in-breaking redemption of Christ Jesus. It’s apocalyptic. It’s an unveiling so we can see what previously we’ve been deluded into not seeing by thinking we were in control. Living out of control opens our eyes to the true work of Christ.
This news, this dark difficult news, is the news of God, and is news of redemption and salvation. Perhaps an old false world, built upon the shaky foundations of pride, empires built upon our smug self-conceit, must give way to a new world. Jesus said again and again, “The kingdom of God is near.
Rather than fight it and seek to regain control, or retreat into our fortresses with our guns, Christ calls us to learn to live out of control. Stanley Hauerwas says, “For it turns out, to follow Jesus is ongoing training for learning to live out of control.” He goes on reminding us living out of control trains us to rely on the power of God and forces us to recognize that we cannot do this alone. “To learn to live out of control means that we must learn to depend on others who are also learning to live out of control. The name given such a people is church” (from “Letting God” in Without Apology: Sermons for Christ’s Church, p. 37-39).
Martin Luther King’s last book was entitled, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. King asked this in 1967, while white control of society was being challenged and it seemed to many that chaos was the only alternative. Today the alternatives of chaos or community are even more pronounced. To be the church is to be a community living out of control in the midst of chaotic times. Our shared Christ-anchored lives can then become a witness of community in this wider world.