(Preached at Alma United Church on December 3, 2017)
Growing up, I was a big fan of the program “The Wonderful World of Disney.” Every Sunday afternoon at my grandparent’s house, a dozen or so of my cousins and I would stare transfixed at my grandmother’s colour television from the time the fairy castle and Tinkerbell appeared until the closing credits.
I was totally oblivious to the harm that the message of some of those movies could do. You know the message I’m talking about. In fact, sing along with me:
When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. When you wish upon a star your dreams come true.
Except, of course, they don’t.
It doesn’t matter how many times I say the rhyme: Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.
I wish I was thin like the models in the magazines. I wish I had a million dollars. I wish I’d wake up tomorrow and someone else would be president of the United States. I wish I’d wake up tomorrow and find that the Residential Schools scandal was all a dream. I wish I’d wake up tomorrow and my son would not be autistic any more. I wish I was twenty-five again.
And I wake up tomorrow, and things are just the same, except I’m another day older.
Wishing doesn’t work. We know it doesn’t work, yet we do it anyway.
I’ll ignore the collection agencies hounding me; eventually they’ll go away.
I’ll ignore that lump in my breast; it will probably turn out to be nothing.
That engine warning light? Hah! Half the time it’s a malfunction—of the engine warning light!
I can get another few months out of those all season radials on the car.
Eventually I’ll get a promotion, with more money attached.
Global warming is a myth—eventually the climate will get back to normal all by itself.
Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down, to make your name known to your adversaries so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
Even Isaiah indulged in a little wishful thinking.
At first glance, even our gospel reading might be about wishful thinking: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
Heady stuff for first century Christians, persecuted by Jews and Romans alike.
But as the following verses make clear, Jesus isn’t talking about wishful thinking here. To start at the beginning of the reading:
“In those days” means “at some point” after the suffering that the faithful have already undergone,
The sun will be darkened,
And the moon will not give its light,
And the stars will be falling from heaven,
And the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Reading my commentary helped me understand this passage a little bit more. The sun and the moon and the stars, in the ancient middle east, were believed to be gods, or to have god-like powers, and they affected every day life.
Even today, some modern folks believe in the power of the sun and the moon and the stars to affect every aspect of life—that’s what we call astrology. For those who might be tempted to believe (even if only a little bit) in astrology, consider this—predictions from any two separate sources will usually be quite different, even going so far as to be totally contradictory. If one keeps track, you’ll find more misses than hits, and often the ones that seem right are right because they’re general advice that will work for almost anyone: “You may experience difficulties in close relationships this month. A sympathetic ear will go a long way towards smoothing things over.”
Hmm. Maybe I should write horoscopes. Do you think it pays better than preaching?
But back to Jesus.
What Jesus is saying that superstition and magic will have no place in the workings of the world. Instead, he gives us hope.
Hope is not wishful thinking.
Hope is based on observation: “When you see these things taking place, you know that I am near, at the very gates. My words will not pass away.”
But hope isn’t based on a certain knowledge. No one knows the day or the hour when the hope will come to fruition. Maybe it won’t, or it will come in a way that we don’t expect it.
Hope is based on action.
Keep alert, be on the watch. Do the work with which you have been tasked.
The servants left in charge are not to go to sleep and wait until the master is seen approaching before they start to do their work—they are to work at their assigned tasks while the master is on his journey.
Likewise, we are not to sit around and wait for Jesus to come again and fix everything. We are to work at our assigned tasks, whatever they may be.
Instead of wishing I looked like a model in a magazine, I can find a diet plan that works for me, get my hair done, buy new clothes that fit and look good. I won’t ever look like the model in a magazine, but I’ll certainly begin feeling better about myself.
Instead of wishing I could win the lottery, I can do a budget, get a second job, and start paying down my debts and put something into my savings account. I may never be a millionaire, but maybe someday I’ll own more of my car than the bank does.
Instead of ignoring that lump or skin problem or burning sensation, I can see my doctor and get a diagnosis. I may not want to hear what she has to say, but together we can work on a treatment for my problem that will get me feeling better, and help me live as long and as healthy a life as I have it in me to live.
Instead of a God who rips open the heavens and smites my enemies with lightning, I await the coming of an infant, illegitimate child of a teenager, who will become a refugee from the very enemies I want God to do away with. That infant will grow and teach me, and my enemies, and all of the peoples on earth, how to love one another and live in harmony.
THAT is hope.
Wait for it. Watch for it. Hope is coming.