1 Thess. 3:9-13; Luke 21: 25-36
When my children were in their middle school years, they devoured the comic strip of Calvin and Hobbes. Do you remember Calvin and Hobbes? Calvin was a precocious six-year-old named after, who else? Our dearly beloved John Calvin, father of Presbyterianism. Hobbes was a stuffed tiger, named after Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century political philosopher, who believed in absolute monarchy and that “Life in the state of nature is "nasty, brutish and short". Can you imagine what a real dialogue between these two esteemed men would be like? Anyway, in an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip - this conversation takes place. In the first frame Calvin tells Hobbes “Live for the moment is my motto! You never know how long you got.”
In the second frame Calvin explains: "You could step into the road tomorrow and WHAM, you get hit by a cement truck! Then you'd be sorry you put off your pleasures. That's what I say - live for the moment!"
And then Calvin asks Hobbes: "What's your motto?" Hobbes replies: "My motto is - Look down the road."
In today’s lesson, Jesus is talking about cultivating the practice of “looking down the road.” Being alert to all that is happening around us. Raise your heads. Look! Jesus is here.
It seems strange that here we are sitting in this beautifully decorated sanctuary, in the first week of Advent, at the beginning of our church year, -- we’re discussing passages that describe the end of days, the apocalypse. Apocalypse describes – often in symbolism and code – the second coming of Christ, the triumph over evil and the enemies of God, and destruction of the old world. Apocalyptic writings, end of time writings, contain depictions of natural catastrophes, war, demons and angels and other larger-than-life creatures. It’s a lucrative field that has spawned best-selling books, movies; the creation of luxury underground bunkers, popular games about post world “zombies.” For Christmas why not consider, the nine-book thriller, “No Time: 180 days and counting” or the six book set, “End Times,” or my favorite -- that you might be able to still get for 11cents on Amazon -- “Apocalypse How: How to turn the End Times into the Best of Times.
Jesus speaks starkly about the end times: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place.”
Every age since Jesus has walked this earth has felt it was in the end times, because of the misery and oppression that exists. And there’s been a lot of suffering and oppression throughout human history. In the New York Times Magazine today there’s an article about the insect apocalypse – the destruction of insects, bees, that has dire consequences for the rest of life.
Oddly enough -- at the root of Christian apocalypse is not doom and gloom, but hope. Hope in God to deliver when everything else has failed. Remember what Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica about their loss of faith during times of persecution and hardship: “We want to restore what is lacking in your faith” he said. So, the end-time images we hear today are about rediscovering hope.
To nurture hope-- our advent task for this week-- Jesus says, – raise your head! Or as Hobbes puts it, “Look down the road.” See the signs of difficulty around you as a call to hope, a call to action, and to persevere in faith. Hope is a confident expectation of something not yet accomplished. Hope orients us toward the future while grounding us in the present. It motivates us to positive action. Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.
Each of us must find hope. Hope is also a collective virtue that we develop together. Because of this, we had the thanksliving giving challenge for the youth of our church. They, along with their families, discussed what it means to give. They discussed the pain in the world. What spoke to them. So, Josh and Baily gave turkeys to hungry families. CJ and Alyssa donated to the Oceanside Scholarship Fund. Nia gave to Bobbie and the Strays Pet Shelter here in Freeport. Devin and Shannon gave to Island Harvest. Jayden Watkins chose a GoFundMe page for an accident victim at his school. Ella and Dillon gave to Taliyah’s journey, a schoolmate of Ella who is battling brain cancer. Ella also made two Christmas cards for veterans. Many families met the challenge with their own added funds.
Can we give these kids a clap offering for their choices? Their actions give us hope. They saw serious, painful, needy situations and they did not turn away. That’s where hope begins. In spite of the hardship, in spite of the suffering we will not give in.We will not give into the idea that natural life is just nasty, brutal and short. Life is transformed by hope and creates a new future full of caring and compassion.
Like in Calvin’s fantasy, we’ve been hit indeed by the cement trucks in life – wham! There goes cancer striking someone we love. Wham! There goes our faith. Wham! There go our dreams. Wham! There go more children tear-gassed. There go more children going into deportation court still separated from their parents. Wham! There goes that precious relationship. Wham! There goes hope. But wait a minute. Hope insists on the final word.
What’s important than all that is to remember-- as we begin Advent -- is what we really long for is hope. That God is in charge. That change is possible. Didn’t not our youth demonstrate this? With just ten dollars. Think what we can do together. What we can say, however, is how God wants us to love this old world into a new heavens and earth. Be alert, Jesus says. Raise your heads. I’ll show you how it’s done, he tells us. Look down the road. Act in hope.
So, advent is our time to embrace and practice hope. Are we weighed down by worries in life --- health, employment, the economy…what kind of world are we leaving to the next generation? War, climate change, disease. Stop. Let us pause. Lift your heads, God says – see Jesus— who brings a love that heals and restores. A love that can flow through our hearts, take root, and acts. Just like our Sunday School magnificently showed us. There’s hope. Hope because God is leading us to Bethlehem, to discover redemption in Jesus.
Jesus loved through the agony of the cross – and loves us in whatever apocalypse we find ourselves in. The amazing poet Maya Angelou wrote: In the sweet shadow of Thanksgiving I am giving forgiveness to everyone I thought had ill-treated me. I want to enter the Christmas month with a clean slate.”
That’s practicing hope. Remember, as we practice raising our heads and look down the road- Just like our youth: our hope bearers: they teach us that every small act of love enkindles the flame of hope to light the way out of the darkness, and find our way to Christ the Newborn, Hope born anew. Amen.