A Blessing for the End of the World

Text: Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44

The first Sunday in Advent always strikes an odd chord. We come into the sanctuary to see it decorated for Christmas. We are turning our hearts and minds towards Christmas Day and all that is associated with it. It would make sense to hear prophecies talking about the birth of a king or happy celebrations of some kind when BAM: The Gospel has a very adult Jesus talking about the end times like he’s picturing the left behind series or the rapture. And while Isaiah at least seems to have some good news, let’s face it, his vision of what was a fairly small and unimportant mountain being raised up to create a place where people would all get along and no longer need violence to settle disputes seems as unimaginable now as it did thousands of years ago. Throughout the three years of the Lectionary cycle the readings on this Sunday give us different glimpses of the apocalypse or visions of a utopian world yet to come. It often sees Jesus carrying on like a street corner hellfire-and-brimstone preacher. One first Sunday of Advent I even preached holding up a sign that said, “The End is Near!”

So I thought it would be appropriate to share with you today with a blessing called:

A Blessing for When the World is Ending, by Jan Richardson.

Look, the world is always ending somewhere.

Somewhere the sun has come crashing down.

Somewhere it has gone completely dark.

Somewhere it has ended with the gun, the knife, the fist.

Somewhere it has ended with the slammed door, the shattered hope.

Somewhere it has ended with the utter quiet that follows the news from the phone, the television, the hospital room.

Somewhere it has ended with a tenderness that will break your heart.

But, listen, this blessing means to be anything but morose. It has not come to cause despair.

It is here simply because there is nothing a blessing is better suited for than an ending, nothing that cries out more for a blessing than when a world is falling apart.

This blessing will not fix you, will not mend you, will not give you false comfort; it will not talk to you about one door opening when another one closes.

It will simply sit itself beside you among the shards and gently turn your face toward the direction from which the light will come, gathering itself about you as the world begins again.

The world is always ending somewhere to someone, to us, to the world. This year it seems to me like the world is so very fragile. Violence seems to be on the rise, hate speech seems more acceptable, climate change seems like it’s on the knife edge of tumbling into disaster, wars continue and look to spread, world leaders have taken on a decidedly authoritarian bent, there’s earthquakes and floods and killer storms, oh my.

What are we to do when the world is ending? In our despair it is tempting to numb ourselves, to forget. Who wants to sit in the darkness and wait? We just want to feel better. Now. We want pithy sayings that explain away our pain and tell us everything is going to be fine. We don’t want to do the hard work of grief. We don’t want to sit with the uncomfortability. We don’t want to think about the endless advocacy around justice and peace making still left to do when we are so very weary. Please don’t tell us any more bad news. It just makes us hopeless and tired.

Jesus says, “keep awake” but it’s so much easier not to. It’s so much easier to be distracted by what the world says is important. It’s so much easier to think that nothing will ever really change. And so we lower our expectations, or better yet find ourselves trying to live up to expectations that don’t really matter. There are people in the fields not paying attention, being caught up in their work so much that they missed the bigger picture and so they disappear. They don’t truly live anymore. Don’t you know people like that? Aren’t we often people like that? People who no longer believe that anything will change. People who assume that today and tomorrow will look exactly like yesterday, and after days, months, and years of scaled-back expectations and as a result we are getting…very…sleepy.

How do you feel when you are anticipating and looking forward to something that is wonderful, fulfilling, meaningful and worthwhile? Good, positive, hopeful, energized and willing to work towards it, right? Now how do you feel when you are anticipating something that will be painful, soul crushing, difficult, and will only end in desolation? A few years ago I realized that whenever I had a moment like this when I knew something was coming that would be either a minor or major end of the world for me, I automatically, without even thinking about it, would feel the desire to yawn and say, “I am so very tired.” I wish I could find the light but I don’t know where it is so instead, I just felt sleepy.

How can we possibly work to stay awake? On the edge of giving up often we self medicate with one thing or another hoping to just get by. We always see the world ending but struggle to experience it as beginning again. We are waiting on the world to change but not with any true sense of hope or restlessness.

Yes, I said restlessness. We often like to talk about patient waiting in Advent. It is a season when we remember and re-tell the stories of ordinary people, just like us, who strive to live faithfully as they await the fulfillment of God’s promises. But I don’t want you to wait patiently this year. I want you to wait restlessly, like a child, counting down the days. For that’s the only way to truly stay awake. That’s the only way to start to allow this story to change us. Restless waiting means that we don’t just move through our tasks as if in a dream. It means we go through our tasks with purpose and presence. We choose what tasks we want to take on while we are waiting, not just have things handed to us or prescribed for us. We wait knowing that something could happen at any moment and we need to be awake and ready.

David Bartlett writes, “One day Jesus may appear in the clouds, suddenly, like a thief in the night. But before that–as Matthew reminds us–Jesus will appear just around the corner, suddenly, like a hungry person, or a neighbor ill-clothed, or someone sick or imprisoned.” Will you be awake and ready to respond? Will you see the Jesus that stands before you or will you be distracted or asleep? Even while the world is ending are you turning your face to the light as the world gathers around you and begins again? That’s what it means to wait restlessly, to find blessing in the darkness and to allow that blessing to spur you closer to the light.

Sometimes the best way to wait restlessly is to keep your eyes on the prize. Isaiah promises us a future where we go up to the mountain and God is busy. God is working to judge and make peace. Swords are turned into ploughshares. Everyone is happy. Everyone has enough. Finally, our hope was worth something. Now you may say, but Holly, this is just a fairytale. A nice bedtime story we tell our kids but frankly in our heart of hearts we have stopped believing it. Because in today’s world, much as it was thousands of years ago in Isaiah’s time swords are in great supply, only today it’s assault rifles and attack drones. Those aren’t being turned into tractors or solar arrays, they are being used to kill people. All the time. In Isaiah’s time the rich profited off the backs of the poor and there wasn’t enough to go around. Yep, still have that going on. In Isaiah’s time cities burned and leaders were bribed. Check and check. Nothing ever truly changes. We might as well just give up.

I know that Isaiah’s vision is beautiful but seems entirely unreasonable. It’s impossible, right? Instead it’s easier just to normalize sadness and exhaustion and defeat and say it will never get any better. It’s easier to normalize violence and hate and scarcity of resources than it is to truly listen to and get to know the other and share with all. It’s easier to normalize tearing down other people if it makes us feel better for even a small moment. It’s easier to normalize corruption and empty promises than it is to demand our government and our leaders live up to a higher standard. It’s easier to focus on how you look, or what your house looks like than it is to say that what’s truly important is how you act towards others and the state of your soul. It’s easier to normalize groups whose main object is vilifying those who are different when what they say echoes the darkest corners of our own anxieties and fears.

But this is exactly what we must not do. Because none of that is normal. None of that is helpful. None of that feeds us or sustains us. None of that keeps us awake and alive. None of that is of God or helps us to connect with God. Instead we must work to normalize Isaiah’s vision. We must work so that Isaiah’s vision seems not only possible but probable. A world where love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, healing, justice, and inclusion are lived out. This is what should keep us awake and restless, the work of normalizing and striving for Isaiah’s vision.

I do not know if we will ever make it up to that beautiful mountain and if I am honest I know that I am still not anywhere near turning my own personal versions of swords and guns and knives into implements that seek to serve and feed others. But I do know this, if I can’t keep that vision of peace and hope in front of me, if I can’t challenge myself to live into that worldview, if I can’t see God waiting up that mountain for me to get climbing, then it will be easier and easier to normalize and okay despair and death and violence. Until I am truly asleep.

This blessing will not fix you, will not mend you, will not give you false comfort; it will not talk to you about one door opening when another one closes.

It will simply sit itself beside you among the shards and gently turn your face toward the direction from which the light will come, gathering itself about you as the world begins again.

The world is ending yes, it is always ending somewhere. But so is it also about to begin again, with the birth of an impossible, unexpected child, who we wait restlessly for. It begins again with the God who is present with us and implores us to stay awake. It begins again with a vision of what could be, as ridiculous and impossible as it seems. So let us bless one another and the world, let us sit with each other barely able to hold still in our chairs. Let us turn our faces towards the light, towards hope, as it begins to dawn, one candle at a time. Amen.







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