I enjoy movies but am rather persnickety. I won’t watch Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, or the Scream movies. While I know life-stealing monsters: monstrous diseases, monstrous persons, peoples, nations, and corporations, swarm our world, I prefer watching romances and inspiring dramas. I don’t enjoy horror films.
I don’t enjoy the plethora of apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic films either --was troubled by Planet of the Apes, Mad Max, and Blade Runner -- don’t appreciate alien-invader disaster movies, giant insect or snake movies, meteor-falling movies, machines-taking-over-the-world, horrible virus or zombie disaster movies. Don’t like them. Yet, the film industry pays no attention to my preferences. They churn out our world’s ending over and over again. The fascination is clearly a response to our fears of screwing it all up, and really putrefying our world. The fascination is clearly a cry for hope. If we can shock ourselves enough, maybe we will change. I know humanity has the horrific potential to end the world through nuclear, ecological, biological and/or economic catastrophes. Some of the movies are too frightening potential, so I watch comedies and coming of age movies.
I can almost bear watching a horror or disaster film if it has a good ending where the victims survive. A bearable apocalyptic film includes stars fighting to prevent disaster. A bearable post-apocalyptic film includes bands of champions seeking to restore civilization. Clenching my movie seat, I root for the remnant, the rescuers; I root for solutions and restoration of life.
An apocalyptic fiber weaves through our stories of faith. The flood destroys the world. The famine destroys the Hebrew people’s lives. They move to Joseph’s Egypt to be saved. Generations later they are enslaved to Pharaoh. The children of Abraham’s lives are uprooted, enslaved, and dispersed again and again. The prophets foretell doom. And yet the remnant survives, lives are restored, faith maintained. A dove signals safety, a rainbow signals forgiveness, a wilderness signals freedom, a promised land signals restoration, a Messiah signals rescue. Prophets proclaim doom to stimulate positive change, and potent hope. Apocalyptic rhetoric stimulates hope in God and human solution making.
There is a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. You remember Calvin the little boy and his best friend, the stuffed tiger, Hobbes. One day Calvin says, “You know, tomorrow I could step out into the street and be hit by a cement truck. So my motto is: live for the moment. What’s your motto?” And Hobbes responds, “My motto is: look down the road.” In Colonial England, state legislators were meeting one day when an eclipse occurred. The day’s light stolen. Many of the lawmakers panicked, thinking the world was ending. They cried that the meeting be adjourned. But one of the legislators stood and said, “Mr. Speaker, if we adjourn and this is not the end of the world, I would prefer to be found doing my duty. So I move, that candles be brought in and that we continue with our work.”
Apocalyptic rhetoric at its best stimulates courage and hope. It grows out of difficult times, from social crisis. A current crisis was signaled by Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. The film prophetically casts projections of climate related doom. At our best we respond trusting God and seeking solutions. As God’s beloved children, heirs of God’s covenant rainbow, people freed from Egypt’s tyranny, the children of Christ’s way, we sing songs of hope-filled praise. We defiantly sing songs of repentance and songs of restoration. We sing recycle. We sing geothermal. We sing simplify.
We sing solar. We will sing hope in God. We sing God’s transformation, God’s redemption. Defiantly, we sing celebrating the creating power of God. We sing in our Advent hymns Christ coming.
“She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes. She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes. She’ll be comin round the mountain, she’ll be comin round the mountain, she’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes.” Did you know this song is rooted in a slave song, a spiritual of hope? Its original lyrics were “O, who will drive the chariot when she comes. O, who will drive the chariot when she comes. O, who will drive the chariot, O, who will drive the chariot, O, who will drive the chariot when she comes.” Itsverses were: “King Jesus, he’ll be the driver when she comes, when she comes”, and“She’ll be loaded with bright angels, when she comes, when she comes”, and “She will take us to the portals, when she comes, when she comes. She will take us to the portals when she comes.” The song was one of Christ’s coming. It was an apocalyptic song that united slave voices in hope for freedom. The times were difficult and no way could be seen out. They sang their hope in God, that Jesus Christ would come and free them. They sang signaling their hope that a chariot of freedom was coming.
The power of apocalypticism is not fatalism, it is hope. When things become dark and dangerous respond singing songs of hope. Look to the bulletin’s prayer list and sing prayers for health. Read the Washington Post and sing songs interceding with God for peace. When worried about global warming sing songs loving God’s world. When worried about your lives: too complex, too busy, too demanding, and too wearying, sing songs of Sabbath. The songs enable us to persevere until the good returns. They allow us to persevere until the fig tree grows leaves again. They allow us to defiantly persevere until Christ is born again into our lives.
It seems weird to start our Advent season, to start a new cycle of the Church year, with the cosmic rending passages from Isaiah and Mark where skies are torn open, sun and moon darkened and stars fall from heaven. It seems odd to start out Advent with the words Jesus shared only weeks before he was seized and killed. He says, “Beware, keep alert, keep awake.” He commands that we find hope in the seasonal life of a fig tree. Watch for its branches to put forth new life. Work hard at daily tasks as if your master has gone on a journey and you don’t know for how long. Always be ready to greet the master home.
But it is likely the best beginning to Advent. Out of our need we sing. Out of our fear we sing. Out of dark, apocalyptic necessities, we watch and yearn for Christ to come. And he comes. He came a babe under the Christmas star, born, Immanuel. He came healing and teaching love. He came creating justice in a dark world. He came to Jerusalem on a humble donkey defiantly dancing God’s love until he was silenced. Only three days later he came again resurrected. Again he came to the disciples and danced transfiguration on the mount. He came to God ascending. He came to us again at Pentecost. We know that Christ came. We know that Christ will come again, and again. Maybe, he will come one day in a final and glorious way. But until then we sing hope and we watch our Lord come into personal lives, into families, into neighborhoods, into country, all throughout God’s world.
Until then beware; keep alert; keep awake. Keeping awake requires movement. I don’t think it a call to over-caffeinate ourselves but to keep moving. Sometimes the best way to wake up is brisk walking. Sometimes we need to dance a swing, an electric slide, to Zumba. Be on the watch, but not in fearful ways. Rather, watch in life-enriching ways, in partying ways, moving to God’s rhythms of hope.
Watch, singing and dancing defiance to darkness. Watch like the estranged father who ran out to meet his prodigal son and after reunion held a party.
Jesus taught a parable regarding the coming of the Son of Man. The master leaves the home and the servants are to keep on keeping on. They are to keep moving, to be ready. I realize my thoughts are likely sacrilegious, but whenever I ponder this parable, I think about coming of age films. I think about a common plot twist. The parents leave. The parents leave obviously for a long while. The scenario likely originated in John Hughes’ movies Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink. The parents leave and the teenagers throw parties. Friends come from east and west, north and south. The teenagers celebrate life. They usually get in trouble. But we won’t. Our parties bring hope to the world.
We will have a couple of parties as we watch for Jesus’ birth. We sing Christmas Carols, eat favorite breads, light candles, proclaiming that we believe God redeems. We sing Christmas Carols, proclaiming that we believe God restores. We do our daily work and then throw parties celebrating what we know to be true. Christ will come again and again and again.