Headed into this second week of Advent I was disappointed to see that the New Testament readings were going to join the past week’s Old Testament readings in the prophetic theme of final judgment, the last days, doom, gloom, the rapture.
Disappointed because all last week as we made our way through Amos’ book warning the people of Israel, and specifically the Northern Kingdom, that God would have no more of their nonsense, their disobedience, indulgences, moral lapses, cross-pollinating and warning them of the judgement to come, who would be in, who would be out, and how this judgment would come down on God’s people, well, I found myself wanting to skip past the anxiety-filled prognostication to get to the good stuff of Advent. The cozy, comforting, anticipation of Emmanuel – God with us – coming our way.
The Advent seasonal prompts around me pointing to the coming of the Lord are not anxious, but soothing, reassuring, inviting, grounding. Warm lights on a silver-tip pine tree in my home, pleasant smells of fresh greens, berries, cinnamon, baked goods that conjure safe havens, childhoods, love, and melodic hymns sung at worship and heard in nearly every venue I enter reminding me of a sweet baby in a manger and the ‘reason for the season.’ This road to Jesus – this Advent, my Advent – is not littered with the locusts, the plagues, the wailing of which both Amos and John’s revelation insist upon reminding.
Like this morning’s passage from Revelation 1:1-8 that effortlessly joined Amos’ bandwagon of warning and putting before me, again, the image of the last days instead of that first day in a sweet manger,
To him who loves us and freed* us from our sins by his blood, 6and made* us to be a kingdom, priests serving* his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
Together with Amos, God’s Word is reading more like a shout out for the the coming of the end ushered in by the Lord, than a coming of the Lord, Emmanuel, to live and breathe and be with and in us.
And yet. Lest I forget, this is God’s Word. There’s a reason for these readings to be here in this Advent season. A rhyme and reason, a method to the madness. Call it what you will, but the foretelling of the final judgment – Jesus’ second coming – is as much a part of the ‘reason for the season’ as his birth. It is the already, but not yet tension embodied in Advent.
I have been watching the HBO series, The Leftovers. The final episode of the second season aired last night.
For those not familiar with the series, here’s an editorial review recap of the original book:
The Leftovers explores what would happen if The Rapture actually took place and millions of people just disappeared from the earth. How would normal people respond? (The) characters show a variety of coping techniques, including indifference, avoidance, depression, freaking out, and the joining of cults…(the story) takes a bizarre and abnormal event–the Rapture–and imagines how normal people would deal with being left behind. Chris Schluep, The Leftovers
Thing is, the book and the subsequent HBO series is not explicitly about ‘The Rapture’, but about an unnamed, unexplainable, sudden departure of roughly 2% of the world’s population.
Chaos. A seemingly random, cataclysmic, apocalyptic type event. The HBO series explores how the survivors – the leftovers – seek explanations, seek meaning, try to connect dots in order to move forward and go on living.
Christian rapture? Well, maybe. Except that both the departed and those who are left appear to be random occurences. No rhyme or reason for who left, who stayed. No method to the madness. So, nothing about the Christian understanding of rapture where only the righteous are reunited with God in heaven, only the believers are ‘taken’ up to be with angels and archangels – nothing about that explanation can explain what takes place in the world of The Leftovers.
The departed in that world appears to be random. No explanation.
Randomness is such an unsettling idea when relied upon to explain violence, chaos, natural disasters, death, though it can assuage a fear that there is some intention behind such tragedy. Randomness as an explanation can also ease the mind of those who would rather not consider a creator – an intention – in life as we know it.
People of faith invest no such confidence in randomness, take no such umbrage or comfort in assigning the good, the bad, the ugly to randomness. Nothing is random. From the stars in the universe to cells in our DNA, to the movement of energy and light through dark matter, from macro to micro, nothing is random. All can be explained.
The Dan Piraro comic Bizarro illustrated my thoughts, exactly, in a panel this past week.
The Fall – God’s creation, humanity (in this case Humpty Dumpty – the fact that he’s an egg is of no small significance to me – it is how life begins) has fallen, and there’s a rhyme – God’s WORD – available to the survivors – the leftovers.
But to those survivors and witnesses, to those trying to make sense of the Fall, the chaos, the brokenness in the world, to the theologians, skeptics, guilty remnant – well, to them no reason, no explanation for the Fall.
No reason for the season.
Except that there is.
Because there isn’t an observable explanation doesn’t mean there isn’t one, rational or otherwise. And if an explanation, then no randomness allowed. The sudden departure, Humpty’s fall if you will – is not a random event.
The explanation is revealed in the rhyme. The Kings horses, the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty back together again because.
That’s what the author of the book, The Leftovers, concluded about God’s roll in the cataclysmic event that takes place in his novel. Because. It’s what he read in the (rhyme) biblical stories of Job, Amos, and even Revelation. Sudden unexplainable seemingly random events happen because God allows, maybe even occasionally causes.
Because God is God.
Advent? Both and. Rhyme and reason – all revealed in God’s Word.
AM Psalm 25; PM Psalm 9, 15
Amos 7:1-9; Rev. 1:1-8; Matt. 22:23-33