by Robert Hamerton-Kelly

December 3, 2006

Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

“Keep a watch on yourselves; do not let you minds be dulled by dissipation and drunkenness and worldly cares so that the great Day closes upon you like a trap; for that day will come on all people, wherever they are, the whole world over.” –Luke 21: 34-35

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas, the first coming of Christ. Traditionally, preparation has a literal and a spiritual dimension; literally at our house you can already see wrapped gifts here and there, and spiritually here in church today we begin our preparation of prayer and meditation. The psychological motivation for this practice is clear; before great good times we spend times of anticipation and what better way to anticipate than to get ready, and what better way to get ready than to examine our lives, sweep the stable as it were. We do this before Easter, during Lent, and before Christmas, during Advent.

Advent has a different content than Lent. To observe Lent is symbolically to accompany Jesus during the 40 days of his temptation in the wilderness, while Advent anticipates his first coming in humility by contemplating his second coming in glory. This way we remind ourselves of the transcendent dignity of the babe in a manger and cultivate the proper attitude of reverence. We also have an opportunity as we contemplate Christ’s two comings, first in humility and then in glory, to meditate on what is loosely called the end of the world, which the apostle Paul says is very near, (Romans 13:11-12: “In all this remember how critical the moment is. It is time for you to wake out of sleep, for deliverance is nearer to us now than it was when we first believed. The night is far spent and the day is near. Let us therefore throw off the deeds of darkness and put on our armor as soldiers of the light.)” It is this “end of the world” I wish to speak about today, asking what we might do in the mean time, before it comes.

I used to be contemptuous of wild symbolism like the beginning of our passage for today, “Portents will appear in sun, moon and stars. On earth nations will stand helpless, not knowing which way to turn from the roar and surge of the sea; people will faint with terror at the thought of all that is coming upon the world; for the celestial powers will be shaken, (Luke 21: 25-26),” and then I started taking notice of the evidence for global warming, nuclear proliferation and economic/cultural breakdown through globalization. I saw the movie, “The Day After” which had an ocean liner sailing down the NYC avenue that runs in front of the proud lions of the public library, and although I have not seen it I have heard much about Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient truth.” Two weeks ago the people in my circle of friends and acquaintances began to speak of the scientific prediction that all fish in the seas will be extinct by 2050, and that added greater urgency than ever to my effort to find wisdom for this hour. I turned to the Bible and found there a vivid awareness of the possibility of such outcomes, and today I would like to share with you what I believe is its main message in this regard.

I am no longer contemptuous of the apocalyptic scenarios of disaster in which the natural and the human are bound up together. Anyone who has seen Shakespeare will know how it was an accepted trope in his time that significant human events have their natural counterparts; think of poor Lear in the storm on the heath. (It is a sobering thought that King Lear was Shakespeare’s play about retirement written on the eve of his own). More authoritatively for our purposes, the birth of Jesus was marked by a comet, which guided astronomers to his birthplace. My Cambridge director of studies Hugh Montefiore, got from the great expert on science and civilization in China, Joseph Needham, who had the rooms below Hugh’s in Gonville and Caius College, Chinese astrological charts that recorded the appearance of such a star at the time of the birth of Jesus. I used to go past Needham’s door virtually every day on my way to supervisions with Montefiore, and heard immediately of this discovery.
So in this spirit what should we do to prepare? Christmas is coming, and so is the end of the world. Meanwhile what should we do? We should interpret the signs accurately and announce our findings honestly, and act responsibly, and all the while watch and pray for the coming of Christ in Glory.

Our passage tells us that interpreting the signs is as simple as seeing the leaves appear on the fig tree and concluding that spring is here and summer not far behind. I think the reading of the signs of our times is just as simple, excepting for the fact that we deliberately confuse ourselves. George Bush returned from Vietnam and the Middle East last week showing no signs at all of having gotten back in touch with the real world which virtually everyone of his advisors now seems to be entering. Frank Rich in the NYT today asks if Bush is speaking to the portraits on the White House walls as Nixon once did. I wonder: he still has Vice and Condi with whom to fantasize, before he has to move on to Calvin Coolidge and Millard Fillmore, or even, Bush 41. When a spokesperson says, “It’s a very complicated matter,” we should hear, ” The facts do not comport with our preferred theory, and we are having difficulty forcing reality into our unreality.” Thank God that Sen. Inhofe is no longer chair of the committee that is concerned for the environment. Remember, he is the one who said that global warming is a liberal money making scam and the biggest hoax in history. Sen. Barbara Boxer of Marin County is replacing him and that shows that God has a sense of humor.

But global warming and expiring fish are easier to read that the political and social effects of so-called globalization. We have before us now the unprecedented phenomenon of the Muslim murder-suicides, largely endorsed by Islam despite weak and infrequent protests from cowed co-religionists. This alone shows a profound failure of civilized culture, which is a series of distinctions that rests on one foundational distinction, that between life and death. I cannot go into this now but refer you to my recent article, “Politics and Apocalypse,” available on my website Along with this horseman rides nuclear proliferation, the Cold War threat now become a domestic affair for hairy fanatics with small suitcases. With two horsemen like these, who needs four?

So we are at a very serious and searching moment of history. It is imperative that we heed the warning of our text: not to stray from reality, deliberately or carelessly: “Keep a watch on yourselves; do not let your minds be dulled by dissipation or drunkenness and worldly cares so that the great Day closes upon you like a trap (Luke 21:34-35).” This dulling of the mind is taking place at an accelerating pace as deliberately our leadership avoids reality for the sake of their private lusts for glory, money and sex, which, by the way, were traditionally called pride, greed and concupiscence by us Christians, before the economists of the Enlightenment changed them from sins to “interests.”.

Even so, we will not be helped much by vigilance and honesty alone, because to know the truth is not to do it. The human perversity that we Christians know as sin, original or boring, causes us to act contrary to what we know to be wise. Do you think Bush really does not know what the truth is? He knows, he knows, but for the sake of his own pride he prevaricates, and thus he is not a fool but a knave, not a poor retard but a moral leper. He, and Vice and Condi are murdering your children and mine for the sake of their pride. Do you think the Democrats will do more than meliorate things marginally? Already the K-street lobbyists are buying up Democrats to replace their lost Republicans. Do you know that currently the major response to global warming by oil burning is a major turn to coal burning? Improvement is possible, Avery Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has a stunning plan for our energy future, which I commend heartily, but I doubt that it will be executed, why, because of lobbyists for oil and coal, corrupt congresses and morally paralysed presidents.

Only Christ can deliver us. In saying this I am not mouthing a party line but telling you the sober truth. We Christians are not deluded; the more you listen to what the Bible really says, not what the Left Behind sadist fanatics say it says, the more you will know how wise we Christians are. This is not a plea for more partisan religion in politics, but rather for more Christ-borne wisdom, not in its dubious religious guise but in its obvious worldly truth. And meanwhile, we long lovingly for our Lord Himself. “Come Lord Jesus!”
So, “Be on the alert, praying at all times for strength to pass safely through all these imminent troubles and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man (Luke 21:36).”