Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“In Those Days”
Rev. Art Ritter
November 29, 2020
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 1Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
I read this week about an exhibition, that until the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted, was appearing in museums in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. It is entitled “Dialogue in the Dark” and is designed to bridge an understanding between sighted and blind people. The exhibition, which started in Germany thirty years ago, gives visitors a taste of what it feels like to be blind. In a 90 minute tour, visitors ride a boat, wander through a house, stroll into a woods, walk down a public street, shop for produce, and have a soft drink in a bar- all in complete darkness.
Participants have all sorts of different reactions. Some people panic and need to cut their visit short. Some start screaming as if others won’t be able to hear them in the dark. Other simply laugh, as if they don’t know what else to do. At least one visitor to the exhibition in Tel Aviv has fainted. Most people become very disoriented, unable to tell left from right. The author of the article mentioned that he lagged behind the group that he was with, constantly trying to get his bearing, afraid of what obstacles were ahead, worried with each next step he would run into a another person, a tree, or perhaps something even worse.
Gradually most people begin to use their other senses to a larger degree, relying upon touch and sound to navigate through the experience. But the initial experience of the exhibition is terrifying. Participants are in a situation in which they seem to have lost all control and are at the mercy of the environment around them.
The First Sunday of Advent always begins with a strange reading from the gospels. This morning we hear from the gospel of Mark, words that begin with “In those days” and end with a description of something that doesn’t sound very Christmasy. In those days…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Wow! It mentions everything but pandemic and an exhausting and divisive presidential election.
What we need to remember is that right before Jesus speaks here, his disciples have been admiring the foundation stones of the temple. They are feeling rather confident of themselves and how their world and their mission is progressing. Jesus tells them change is coming. The things that they are used to will be different. The things that they have relied upon for strength and security will not be the same. The stones of the temple will fall and things around them will not be as easy or as certain. The world that Jesus describes is indeed a most terrifying one.
We have all felt that way since March. There are moments in which we don’t know how we will find our way forward. There are times in which the usual markers, reunion and celebrations and even daily routine, are no longer beacons that light our path through life’s confusion. There are mornings in which we wake up so anxious we aren’t certain we can get through breakfast. There are nights in which we are so afraid that we can’t even watch the evening news. We might feel as if we have been left in the dark, abandoned in that world of frightening change that Jesus talked about, a time and place in which God is nowhere to be seen.
Michael K. Marsh writes that the dark times of life are threshold moments. “The temptation is do something; to fix it, to ease the pain, to escape the uncertainty, and to get back to what it used to be.” Perhaps that explains the urge of so many to rush back to what we fondly call “normalcy” even when it isn’t healthy or safe to do so and even when the pandemic persists. But this season of Advent is not about escaping the darkness. It is about acknowledging the darkness. Things will not be as they were before. God does not simply flick on a light switch and return us to what was. Instead God redeems what it is that we are living through at this moment. The presence of Jesus the Christ comes to every trouble, every darkness, and every difficult prayer.
Advent is a time in which we are called to recognize that our usual sources of light don’t always work. We are to recognize that sometimes it will be dark and that we will not be certain and we will not know everything. We are not in charge. Again Michael K. Marsh writes, “Advent challenges us to give up our usual sources of illumination, to let go of our habitual ways of knowing, and to question our typical ways of seeing. Advent invites us to receive the God who comes to us in the darkness of life.”
Writer Jan Richardson shares in her blog, “Every year, Advent calls us to practice the apocalypse: to look for the presence of Christ who enters into our every loss, who comes in the midst of devastation, who gathers us up when our world has shattered, and who offers the healing that is a foretaste of the wholeness Christ is working to bring about not only at the end of time but also in this time, in this place.”
Jesus invites us to recognize the darkness but not to fear. In Advent we wait and give our eyes time to adjust to that darkness. We listen for God instead of speaking. We ask questions instead of seeking self-satisfying answers. We understand that the Light of the World is not something external that will shine into our personal landscape and make all things clear, but a light that will start to shine within us, a light that redeems our every day, and a light that can never be extinguished.