Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
Joy in Christ, a way of life

A Series of Hope / Advent week 1


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"Mark’s mini apocalypse, the fig tree, when you see these things you know that he is near."


Over the next few weeks of Advent, I’d like to talk with you about hope. Hope is the foundation and the energy of Advent. And hope is what we very much need in these last days of 2023. I invite you to join me in a conversation about hope.


It has been my contention over many years that we live in an Advent world. Despite modern advances in nutrition and science, despite the fact that anthropologists will tell us humanity is healthier and richer than it has ever been, we always seem to be on the verge of both burgeoning well-being and calamitous collapse. [In my lifetime, there have been just a few odd years when the US has not been at war somewhere. In my lifetime, middle-class income has been steadily declining so that what my Dad did on one salary, now takes at least two. In my lifetime, nuclear annihilation has been a constant threat and, now, a dangerously warmer planet seems inescapable.]


If I take the broader view, I suppose it’s true that the human project has always been precarious. Whether it’s the Ice Age or the Black Plague or the rise and fall of Empires or the Flu Pandemic of 1918 or the Holocaust, it is undoubtedly true that humanity has constantly been confronted with the risk of falling back into the swamp. Human progress moves by fits and starts constantly threatened by regression and disintegration.


The Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent begins with a description of the apocalypse, of the end of days, followed by Jesus’ admonition that such signs are like the buds on a fig branch. When we see them, we know that spring is near. When we see darkness and disintegration, we know that Jesus is near.


It’s my sense that what Jesus is giving us is not a description of how things will end, but a promise that no matter what happens, he is near. He is near in the destruction and death of war. He is near in the ERs and ICUs.  He is near along our borders and in the refugee camps. He is near as old ways of life, old homes and communities pass away and new ones come to be.


And isn’t that what we believe? Jesus was borne among us, identified with our lives to the point of death, and through the Spirit, remains with us. We expect and hope that the work Jesus began will be completed and that Jesus will come among us again, at which time God’s reign of justice and peace will be all in all.


The promise is not that when we see the signs, darkness, the portents in heaven, that things will get better – or worse for that matter. It’s simply that he will be near. And that he will call us into that life of love and mercy which cannot be shaken and will endure. The question we are asked this Advent is, where do we see signs of Christ’s presence? What are the signs that tell us Christ is near?

In Advent, we wait in darkness, not for disaster, but for the Light. May the nearness of Christ in our suffering world be the birthplace of our hope. May it be so.