We’ve become all too familiar with disasters and the whole genre of reporting them (is there a disaster TV cable channel yet?). The reporter, looking like some alien that dropped from the sky, surrounded by a landscape of devastation. There are the stories about hope, the stories about good neighbors, the stories about this or that agency not doing enough, and then there seems to always be the guy who didn’t see it coming. The “I was just going to wait it out” kind of guy. You have to wonder about those people—every siren is going off, the new channels shriller than ever, big winds sweeping through and yet they decide to just sit there until the flood waters come in and they swim through their front door. They just can’t believe that the way things were is all going away.
In the context of something like a hurricane this is unbelievable and yet there are other emergencies that we have to pay attention to as well. These “long emergencies,” as James Howard Kunstler calls them in his book by the same title, are the creeping changes in reality that could be stopped if we decided to change our ways, but are unfortunately unheeded by most. These emergencies are things like our over dependence on a diminishing oil supply or global climate change. Collectively we are sitting on our national couch, wondering if it will be all that bad until the roof comes off.
There are others who are not sitting on the couch, they are preparing for the disaster. These people are setting up small farms, they are learning to live beyond oil, they are developing the skills to live in a post oil economy with resources stretched thin by a warming climate. Many of these people are almost gleeful when speaking of the coming economic and ecological apocalypse—they don’t like the world as it is with its extractive economy. They want to see it end so that a more ecologically sound economy can grow in its place. The artist Banksy has a painting that beautifully illustrates this vision—a pastoral scene in the manner of Constable with a rotted-out car in what looks like pre-industrial field. The message is: this is the ancient/future when the industrial lie runs its inevitable course.
In our gospel for this first Sunday of Advent we see Jesus preaching with a similar apocalyptic glee. The old systems, the old kingdoms are falling away so that God’s kingdom, with all of the power of Christ’s love and righteousness can come in its place. There will be destruction for sure, there will be heartache as the old forms are destroyed, but this is all just the sadness of giving up a lie we’ve lived in too long.
There are many Jesus tells us, who “will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” These are the people on the couch with the roof blown off—the floodwaters coming through the door. This is not to be the position of the disciples. Instead, the disciples should get ready for the new kingdom rather than desperately hold onto the old ways: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.”
We who are ready to welcome this new kingdom of God should be like those small farmers who are learning how to plow with a mule or grow food without synthetic fertilizers, not as some abstract hobby, but as preparation for the world that will come. But how do we do this? We get some hints in our epistle reading where Paul prays, “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” and “may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Our task now is to gather and become communities of agape, outposts of the kingdom where we learn to love each other and move our lives ever more closely to the pattern of Christ. Our churches are where we start this work—calling each other to get off the couch of the world as it is and preparing for a world where God reigns in justice, love and goodness.