While we do not know the time or day of Jesus’ second coming, these readings can still stir us and help us even in this day and time. Both our reading from Daniel and from Mark speak of a time of anguish, a time of great difficulty that will come upon us. Whenever I read what we call “apocalyptic” readings, there’s that cynical part of me that says, “when ISN’T it a time of great difficulty here on this earth?” One look at the news is enough for any of us to know that there is great suffering that takes place in many parts of our world. I do think the last 18 months or more has been a particularly intense time of suffering and grief for many. Even if we have managed to stay healthy, there has been an incredible amount of isolation and loneliness that has afflicted many. Suicide rates are up; there are many clergy who are leaving active ministry; people have died without the comfort of their families around them. Add to that the divisions that have been caused by political unrest, the fear and violence perpetrated by white supremacists, lack of health care for the poor, the list goes on… there is a great deal to be concerned about. The time can seem very, very dark. And honestly, it is dark. It is a time filled with grief and fear for many of us, even if things in our own lives are relatively good and stable, we can feel the unrest and the grief in the air.
But here’s the thing. We are Easter people. Even as we acknowledge the darkness around us, we know something that brings light into even the darkest of places. For us who are followers of Jesus, we know that darkness doesn’t last; we know that even in the darkness of death, that death is not the final word. The resurrection of Jesus shows us that ultimately even when it seems that evil has won, God is still in control, and that ultimately, God who is all love, wins.
Our readings, despite their prediction of the coming dark times, also speak of hope; hope that proclaims God’s ultimate comfort and care of God’s people. Hope is one of the central themes of Advent, as we wait for the coming of Jesus. Hope, as I have said before, is a dangerous thing, at least if you are part of the evil that is causing the darkness and grief around us. As Episcopalians, we don’t talk much about evil; but it is clear to me that evil exists. The unrest and some of the difficulties that I mentioned earlier are certainly signs that evil exists now just as surely as it existed when Cain murdered his brother Abel. And yet, even then, even now, God loves and guides his people. Even in the darkness, God’s light is somehow present, and it is in God’s eternal goodness and love that we put our hope.
So what does that hope mean for us? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that we are to sit idly by. If we look at our reading from Hebrews, we are given a directive: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Beloved, as a community of faith, as followers of Jesus who hope for his second coming, you and I are to encourage, even provoke each other into doing good deeds that further the work of the kingdom. You and I should be icons of hope who point ultimately to Jesus. Bringing the kingdom of God to earth has been left in our hands, thankfully with the Holy Spirit as our guide. Being fed with the body and blood of Jesus and empowered by his Spirit, we have everything we need to bring light into dark places. Hope is dangerous because as long as there is hope, there is never complete darkness; as long as there is hope, there is light; as long as there is hope, God has the last word.
Before we celebrate the Great Thanksgiving today, we will bless the pledge cards that we have received so far. The gifts we have given in this way represent the first fruits of our labor, gifts that are given to God through the church. The church always has needs, some of which are ordinary, and some of which help us to reach out to God’s people beyond our walls. The last 2 years have not been the easiest, but we’re still here, and we are still moving toward the work God has given us to do. It is such a gift to be a part of this community, and I hope it is for all of you. Thank you for all that each of you do to bring hope to others. Thank you for your commitment to this place and to God’s people. I cannot wait to see where we are headed. May our gracious, loving God bless us to be his hands in the world around us. As we wait for him to come again, may we encourage each other so that the kingdom of God will come to earth as in heaven. Keep hoping, beloved. Hope dangerously.