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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Advent 4 – Year C

“The End of the World as we Know it?”
December 23, 2012
The Rev. Ann Dieterle
St. James’s Episcopal Church

Well since we’re all here it’s safe to say that the Mayan’s got it wrong.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a summary: “The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of eschatological beliefs according to which cataclysmic or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012. This date is regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar.” That’s according to the Wikipedia entry- which has some pretty reliable-looking footnotes. This entry concludes by saying that while “Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae have been proposed as pertaining to this date…none have been accepted by mainstream scholarship.” They may not be accepted by mainstream scholarship, but it was good enough to make a movie about it. The movie I’m referring to is 2012- it has the very ominous sounding tagline: “We Were Warned.”

December 21, 2012 thus joins the list of other failed predictions of the end of the world. The Mayans are currently the last, but it’s a very long list and the Mayans have a lot of company from a variety of religious groups and cultures. Christians are fond of predicting the End using the book of Revelation. For example, the Spanish Monk Bietas of Liebana predicted the End would happen on April 6, 793. Various astrologers thought the date was Feb. 1524 using an alignment in pisces as their guide. A rabbi from Turkey predicted the year 1648 using the kabbalah, and so on and so forth.

You know, there’ve certainly been moments this year when it’s felt like the end of the world, at least for some. Who would blame those who lost their homes in the Halloween Superstorm for thinking it was the end of the world, or anyone who endured the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, or God-forbid lost a loved one. For that matter, who would blame them if they wished it were so?

Actually that is a common theme with those who have predicted the end times. Some have been playing with numerology and astrology when they came up with their dates, but a lot of people were just looking at the world around them and the end of the world seemed the logical explanation for what they were seeing.

It turns out that these were hard times, but not end times.

I wonder if the instinct that drives the desire to predict the end of the world is some primal, innate fear of annihilation, or maybe the desire to be prepared, or some combination of both. While I’m not sure about that, I do know that apocalypic events — and getting ready for them are particular themes of the Advent season. We’ve been dealing with them in our gospels in one way or another over the past few weeks. In fact, that movie tagline for 2012 ‘we were warned’ – that would have been a really good tagline for some of those gospel readings! This week though, there’s a dramatic switch. We’ve left John the Baptist and his brood of vipers behind and turn instead to Mary and Elizabeth. Mary is dealing with her own world- and life-changing reality, and we get her response to it through Luke’s beautiful story-telling and poetry.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior. From this day forth, all generations shall call me blessed.

In the first century, a pregnancy out of wedlock isn’t a viable option for family planning or even something that would bring shame on the family: it is tantamount to a death sentence. And yet, somehow, Mary is able to see beyond all of that and say ‘yes.’ “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.”

It is one thing to agree to something when there’s an angel standing before you and you are overwhelmed with wonder and surprise. It is another thing entirely to live with the consequences of your agreement once the angel has departed.

I’m just guessing. No personal experience to draw from here.

We know that Mary made the conscious decision to surrender and to trust God. We are left to guess about what she felt after the Angel left. Sometime in between then and when she and Joseph left Nazareth for Bethlehem, she took a trip to see her cousin Elizabeth- a very dangerous journey for a young girl. Did she doubt- about what the angel told her or that she would be safe through this pregnancy and birth? That would explain why she took the risk to see her. It’s reasonable to guess that the trip was at least in part to confirm that what the angel had said to her was true. Was she afraid? Did she run away? And what about Joseph? The angel appears to Joseph in Matthew’s story- but many were familiar only with Luke’s version and they were left to wonder why a man might take a woman as his wife, if he knew he WASN’T the father of her child.

Mary trusted God. She chose the path of courage and hope over fear. And she drew on her loved ones for strength and support. Maybe she doubted or was afraid, or even regretted this little agreement she made with a heavenly being, but in the midst of all of that, God worked through her and a savior was born who came to bless and heal the world.

Mary is what theologians call the theotokos- a Greek word describing ‘the God-bearer,’ the one who brings forth God into the world.

And that is who we are created to be.

In those days when schools no longer seemed safe, when fiscal cliffs threatened our economy, and when politicians couldn’t compromise.

Our chimes ring at regular intervals here- they remind us of traditional monastic prayer times- but they’re such a regular feature I often don’t notice them. Or when I do, I’m embarrassed to say that they remind me that it’s lunchtime or snack time. But I watched and listened, along with many others, as Trinity Episcopal Church, Newtown rang 26 bells at 9:30 on Friday morning. Those bells rang out a very powerful message- of grief and sadness and tragedy- but also of courage and hope. That’s a powerful example of what it means to act as God-bearer- not to whitewash the grief, but to bear the grief with one another, and to offer hope when it’s time. This tragedy was different- every commentator has noted that- children- it’s just unspeakable. It remains to be seen if we will change. I wonder what we would change about the way we live, if we rang a bell for every human life that was lost in tragic circumstances. What if we designated a time to ring a bell for each soldier and civilian who died because of war? What if we rang a bell for each child who died of a preventable disease due to poverty? What if we rang a bell for each murder victim or each person who died due to the lack of basic necessities?

These aren’t end times, but they are hard times. And maybe more importantly: this is our time.

We know from Mary’s story that God has not abandoned us. And- to borrow someone else’s wise words- we also know that God sometimes invites us to “risk something big for something good, because the world is indeed too small for anything but love, and too dangerous for anything but truth.”

I can’t help but wonder, what would we be asked to do, if an angel appeared to us? What commission would we be given? And what would we say in response?

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