06 Dec Thirty Third Sunday
Deacon Blaine Barclay
Nov 17th, 2019
What does it mean to speak in the prophetic voice? To be able to read the signs of the times. To defend the poor and needy. To announce the year of the Lord’s favour. To point out the future consequences of injustice. To speak truth to power. In the prophetic voice hope and woe are often paired together, as in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, for example. “Blessed are you who are poor”. “Woe to you who are rich”. The prophetic voice is also sometimes about the last things, the end of days. The prophetic voice is a voice of warning. Death, judgement, dread, fear, consequences of injustice, the inadequacy and passing away of even what seems most stable.
Our readings today and through this time leading up to Advent, are shadowed with images of end times judgement. Both the first reading from the prophet Malachi, and our gospel are very dark. As is the background story to what what St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians. This is balanced with a Psalm that is full of joy and praise for God’s activity in our midst.
From Malachi, “See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble”. Both ‘root’ and ‘Branch’ will be consumed. Top to bottom. Together with this message of woe, there is a message of hope. “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings”.
Paul is writing to a community who have been so consumed with expectation of the Second Coming of Jesus, of his imminent return, that the end of days is already upon us, that they have been neglecting both the duty of the moment, and the responsibility of working for a living. Thinking, if Jesus is coming back tomorrow, why bother to work today? St. Paul of course thinks this is a cop out, and one of the dangers of this kind of thinking pushed too far. There is always work to be done in the cause of gospel, get busy, no excuses. For, as Jesus says elsewhere, “No one knows the hour or the day”.
And the gospel today, what causes Jesus to speak so strongly in the dark futuristic voice. People were simply awed by the majesty of the temple. 36,000 square feet, as big as 9 football fields, stones weighing up to 50 tonnes. All adorned with splendours gifts. Lots of bling bling. And what does Jesus say to their architectural astonishment? “Not one stone will be left upon another”. And what is their big concern? They want to know ‘when’ the end is going to happen. People then and now are obsessed with predicting the end of days. Maybe so they can be prepared instead of being committed to perpetual wakefulness. Maybe because it is easier to worry about tomorrow, than to live in the present moment.
We live in very apocalyptic times today. The Holocaust, Rwanda, Myanmar, the Stalinist purges, the use and proliferation of Nuclear weapons, terrorism, Climate change. “Wars and insurrections”. The 20 and 21st century are filled with unspeakable horrors. No wonder the end of times imagination is operating at warp speed. Domesday prepping is now a booming business. While we retreat into our electronic screen culture worlds. Thinking that by doing this we will be able to take the edge off the sense that we are living in the end of days. But even this world, the electronic world of popular culture is obsessed with these themes. Just think of how many Zombie movies and series are out there. Not to mention, movies from ‘Mad Max’ and ‘The Terminator’.. One author even says that our obsession with the genre of ‘horror’ is the last gasp of the hunger for transcendence in our secular culture.
At its best thinking about the last things, Death, judgement, is a wake up call, a kind of necessary meditation on the end, so as to live more completely, more passionately in the present, with a healthy awareness of the impermanence of all human achievement. A call to be more attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible. At its worst This kind of thinking becomes an obsession, plunges us into anxiety and fearfulness. Promotes addiction to static certainties rather than trust in Jesus’ dynamic living truth. We need to be grounded in our relationship with Jesus. Who tells us today to heed the call to ‘’testify’’. To know that ‘’not a hair of your head will perish’’. To trust that, “By your endurance you will gain your souls”. Summarized elsewhere in Luke’s gospel, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.