Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
I don’t know about you, but every year at this time I get a bit nostalgic. With the Advent countdown to the Christ child now begun, I reminisce over Christmases past and the weeks of preparation beforehand—which usually involved eating way too many of my mother’s infamous coconut macaroons, following my father as we hunted for the perfect Georgia pine to place in our living room, and of course arguing with my brother and sister over who would get the last piece of chocolate from our family’s only Advent calendar. But at the start of this year’s Advent season, at the commencement of the liturgical new year, and with the particular readings given in the lectionary today, I’ve been thinking of a holiday season a little further from home.
Two years ago about this time, my fiancé’ and I found ourselves on the northern shore of Ireland. In County Donegal in December we experienced the wild weather of the British Isles. Perhaps one of the most palpable moments was standing atop a rocky cliff, looking out and seeing the waves of the deep salt sea crashing around the old eternal rocks. The wind whirling about me so intensely that I could lean forward into it—my feet planted on the ground yet all my weight, my entire body, suspended in mid air by the wind. At that moment the words of St. Patrick’s Breastplate
(a hymn often sung at Episcopal ordinations) filled my ears:
I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.
These words that I had chanted time and time again throughout my journeys across the British Isles, never rang more true than in that moment, suspended in the air atop that rocky cliff in Ireland. They are words ingrained in the Celtic tradition. It is a theology that believes that the God incarnate—whom we shall celebrate in four weeks time—is present within creation, and that we as human beings are inextricably bound to this creation—in all of its enchanting beauty and terrifying power. We are not above or separated from this good earth but we are wholly a part of it.
These verses of St. Patrick’s Breastplate rang true again for me as I read through today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel—verses full of vivid natural imagery:
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves… Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”
For many of us today in our Western American context, this passage of Scripture is quite difficult for us to digest. These lines may harbor fear and terror in many of our hearts, and we may hear these as words of chaos and turmoil. Perhaps because—unlike those Celtic Christians whose daily lives were interwoven with earth, sea, and sky—many of us have the ability (or perhaps the luxury) to ignore the natural world, to shelter ourselves from the elements, to unbind ourselves to the power of God in creation. In many ways the technological advancements of the modern age have fostered a loss of respect for our earth. These words from Luke’s Gospel frighten us. Because in all honesty, they assume we no longer control the world around us; we no longer bind up creation; manipulate it; bid creation to do our will and ours alone. Instead these words from Scripture depict a creation that breaks free from human bounds.
Have we not seen signs of such liberation already? The environment responding to the burden we have placed upon it? This generation has witnessed greenhouse gases increasing, our atmosphere disintegrating, glaciers receding, sea levels rising, fisheries depleting, crops dying, smog billowing, tropical storms raging, floods devastating, and perhaps even more than we dare to admit. We have seen those signs of a world harmed by humanity’s controlling influence. Instead of viewing the world around us as a reflection of the God incarnate, instead of holding respect for creation’s beauty and power, instead of protecting the earth of which God named us stewards at creation, not only our generation but also the many generations that have come before us have brought upon this earth the sad reality that is climate change.
Yet although the situation looks dire, although the numbers are frightening, although the solution appears impossible, if we inwardly digest our Advent readings for today we are called to imagine an alternative future for our earth. For we as Christians know that God can make all things new, that God can recreate the world as we know it, that God can restore humanity into right relationship with God’s creation.
A creation where we can see the star-lit heaven no matter where we live; where the sun’s rays offer life and not death for the vegetation of this earth; where the moon controls tides that skirt our shores instead of consume them. A creation where the flashing of the lightning free and the whirling winds tempestuous shocks, signals the Son of Man coming on the clouds; where the stable earth gifts us with abundant food and shelter; where the deep salt sea is full of more creatures than we can count; and where we worship the presence of God in creation on these old eternal rocks. We imagine a creation where the wolf and the lamb can lie down beside one another. A creation where “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” A creation where God looks at all God has made and proclaims with voice echoing throughout the whole earth: “It is very good.”
And this work, this cosmic reimagining, this recreation of the world as depicted in apocalyptic texts will be done by God with or without our help. However, as Christians we are called not to be weighed down with the worries of this life, but we are called to be alert. We are called to stand up and raise our heads. We are called to pay attention, to take action, for God’s redeeming work is drawing near. At the start of the new year in the liturgical calendar, at the commencement of Advent—when we feel ever more viscerally that God is with us—, we are called to recommit ourselves to the God incarnate, to make a new year’s resolution to care for creation.
My friends in Christ, the time is now. For commencing tomorrow, November 30th, is the United Nations Conference on Climate Change held in Paris, France. It will hopefully be a moment in history when countries from across the globe can come together and unite on an approach to halt climate change in its tracks. At such a crucial crossroads in time, we have work to do.
As Christians we pray. In our prayers of the people we ask of God: “Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.” We also pray that those who are about to make such world altering decisions may be led by the Spirit to protect our planet. As Christians we preach. We allow the Gospel to speak truth in love. We illuminate the words of our Sacred Scriptures to bring a moral vocabulary to the climate change conversation. Using Genesis to speak of the goodness of God’s creation, and how we as human beings are stewards of creation. Or the words of our apocalyptic writings—such as today’s reading from Luke or passages from the prophets like Jeremiah—reimagining a world made new and a right relationship between humanity and creation. As Christians we witness. We stand with our community against environmental injustice by joining together at the Global Climate March on the Amherst town common tonight at 6:00. Or by attending the rally for jobs, justice, and climate in Boston on December 12th, recognizing that climate and poverty are integrally intertwined.
On this First Sunday of Advent, at the commencement of a new liturgical year, when it is easy to reminisce as we reflect on the past coming of Christ—God incarnate brought into the world—, let us also remember that Advent is not solely a time to contemplate the past but the moment to look to the future. It is the time to proclaim that Christ will come again, harnessing all the power and glory of the natural world. It is the time to be alert, turning our attention to the cries of the world around us. It is the time to stand up, raise our heads, and witness God’s redeeming love that reverberates throughout every corner of creation.
 Hymn 370
 Luke 21:25, 27
 Isaiah 11:6
 Amos 5:24
 Genesis 1:31
 The Book of Common Prayer, 388.