The following is a sermon I will be preaching tomorrow in our church here in our monastery church in South Africa. It is perhaps one of the most difficult Gospel passages from which to try and foster any sign of hope. (Luke 21:25 - 36) However, thanks to some remarkable people who have fostered hope for me -- my monastic brothers, two women who live with us and also work to make the promise put forward in Luke's Gospel a reality for children and families affected by poverty and AIDS in areas that have been forgotten by many including our own South African government, a fellow preacher in Port Alfred, a philosopher named Rene Girard, who has offered insights into how Jesus's willingness to be scapegoated has exposed the insidiousness of all the scapegoating and victimisation in the world and a theologian named Jurgen Moltmann, who has made eschatology no longer a matter of depression but worth risking all for -- I think I have made at least a fair attempt at finding the light where I least expected it to be, in the simple contradiction of living.
Certainly for parts of this Gospel this morning, it would seem rather difficult to sing “Alleluia” either before or after them. I find myself trying to weave ways around this apocalypse rather than to face it directly, being foolish enough to think that I could avoid the ominous signs of sun, moon, stars, the towering waves of the sea, the screams of terror and confusion of the people, the deafening rumbling of earth. Ultimately, none of us can avoid these kinds of calamities, and … none of us have. We have all experienced earth shattering events in our lives, in the world around us, in the atrocities, violence, cruelty, destruction of the last two millennia ever since Jesus spoke these words to a group of Jews having no idea that their own Temple, their central place of worship, their place of security and safety, their locus of identity, would be destroyed only some 40 years later.
But if we were only to get entangled and sucked into the vortex of these catastrophes, then, from our own cowering we will miss what would happen next. Because “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Precisely at the moment where we would want to run for cover, Jesus compels us, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” Just imagine it! Just as the world is falling down around our ears, the new Kingdom is sweeping in. Jesus is saying to us, Just imagine it! Isn’t it wonderful? Well, no and yet, yes it is. Isn’t it glorious? Well no, and yet yes it is. Isn’t it a time to rejoice? Well, no and yet, yes, yes it is. There is never a better time for this Son of Man to come and to come with power and great glory.
It is the time to begin again, to begin the new church year again and to wait in expectancy, vigilance and … dare I say it, hope. It is the time to hear and believe the promise of something else other than our own fear, own injustice, own destructiveness and despair talking back at us. To hear the promise of our redemption, where we no longer have to live in drunkenness, dissipation and anxiety about this world to try and avoid the inevitable, that nothing lasts, nothing is permanent. All will pass away. Eventually, we will have to let it go. And if we do, we can set our imagination free and see the Son of Man breaking in on a cloud already. The theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, wrote in the Theology of Hope, human life must be risked if it is to be won. It must expend itself if it is to gain firmness and future. If however we are thus to risk expending ourselves, then we need a horizon of expectation which makes the expending meaningful …
Advent is the invitation to live meaningfully when so little has any meaning to us, to stand up with our heads held high in contradiction. We can stand in terror and joy. We can stand knowing that our redemption is drawing near and yet is here now exactly at the point where it may seem that nothing can be redeemed. We can stand in the contradiction of this promise being right within our grasp and yet elusive, beyond our comprehension or understanding. We can set our imagination free when to do so is dangerous and risky. We can endure when nothing else seems to and stand before God.
We can see through the choking and blinding haze the Son of Man coming in power and great glory.
Is it a time to sing, “Alleluia” before and after this promise? Well, not yet and yet, yes, right now.