Advent 1 – December 3, 2017
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your son came to us in great humility; that in the last day, when he comes in majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal. Amen.
Narnia is a mess.
It is the Last Battle, in CS Lewis’s book of the same name, the rightful last book in the Chronicles of Narnia. (They have re-ordered the books in that series since my childhood. I have feelings about this.)
But as I said, Narnia is a mess at the point of the Last Battle. That great country, begun in the imagination of my childhood, returned to each time I read those seven books – in their proper order – to Grace, during her childhood…well that country is falling apart.
A cunning ape without a conscience has discovered a way for his simple friend, a donkey, to impersonate Aslan, the great lion, king of all the kings in Narnia. And as you can imagine, the cunning creature without a conscience who finds his way into unchecked power manages to wreak certain havoc in Narnia.
Holy trees are cut down, talking beasts enslaved and beaten. Evil seems to prevail. The Narnia that is, is not the Narnia it was created to be.
In that Last Battle, the rightful king fights those who have done the work of evil in the land this king loves. The numbers are what you might imagine – those they oppose outnumber the king and his friends, and the mark that they’re losing this Last Battle is the fact that they are being maneuvered, edged closer and closer to a doorway they are loathe to cross. It’s the door to a stable, where the imposter seeks to dispose of his enemies one by one. That stable is a place built of lies, based on fear.
The king of Narnia fights bravely alongside two mysteriously-appearing English youth (that happens, in Lewis’s books), and together with a faithful remnant of Narnian creatures. They’re fighting with everything they have for the Narnia they know. And they are doing all they can, in that Last Battle, to stay away from the stable door.
But they can’t. Of course they can’t. The thing they fear will be the thing they face. And so, one by one, they go through the doorway of that stable. And it is the end. The Last Battle, after all, has to mean the end of something.
But it is also more than they had imagined: brighter, and more spacious. And others they know and love are there, too. As one beloved friend reminds them, “A stable once held something inside that was bigger than our whole world.”
And then it is time. Time for an end to the world they have known. Time for the stars to be called down from the sky. Time for the forests to disappear, and the seas to rise, and for the sun’s light to be squeezed from the sky. And finally, finally, it is time to make an end: to close that stable door.
Peter and James and John and Andrew are the only four disciples to hear Jesus say what he tells them in the passage of Mark’s gospel that we heard read today. It makes sense that it would be them, the first to drop their nets – immediately – to follow him.
Together with Jesus, they had gone to the Mount of Olives, looked with him across the Kidron Valley (it’s not far) to Jerusalem, to the walls that still surround what is now known as the Old City, the Temple that adorned it, the place they believe to be God’s dwelling.
“It will all come down,” he told them. “Not one stone will be left on another.”
The four respond, as you’d imagine:
“When with this happen, and how will we know?”
So Jesus tells them what he tells us in today’s gospel lesson: the same story of the Last Battle, really, the stars called down from the sky, the light of the sun grown dark.
But, as Barbara Brown Taylor writes:
“He does not say it to scare them. He says it to comfort them. They need to know that even something as frightening as the end of the world is in God’s good hands. When the cosmos collapses and every light in the sky is put out, they are to remember that God is sovereign over darkness as well as light, and they are to watch – watch even in the darkness – for God coming to them in the clouds.”
It would all seem very real, I imagine, about 30 years later, when Mark wrote down the words of today’s gospel lesson.
Jerusalem was a mess. The Temple had fallen, stone from stone. Cunning men unburdened by conscience stood ready to tell the people what God meant, actually, by all this. Christians were being destroyed as a people from without, by the same emperor who had destroyed Jerusalem, at the same time that those Christians were doing a fine job of destroying one another from within.
Did they think it was all a big mistake? Did they shake their fists at the darkness and the chaos of it all? Did they cry out to the God they longed to believe in, that the world around them could never have been the world God created us all to be?
Is that the moment when Mark told the story again? Is that when he reminded them that Jesus had told them this all must come to pass? There can be no new world, you see, if we can’t find a way to loose our grasp on the old one. And that letting go can be a painful, even a brutal thing: sometimes what we have held onto will crash. Sometimes it burns, and our job is to bless and scatter the ashes that remain.
Here is the good news, like the painful touch of an unprotected nerve that needs tending to, but which we’d rather just leave alone: the excruciating good news is that the end will come. And it will come, not because God has abandoned us, but because God is so very much with us. In God’s presence is great glory, the kind of power that can make something out of nothing, can breathe life and beauty into those very same ashes.
So stay awake, my friends. And pray with me for grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Because “there is not just one end to the world, any more than there is just one coming of Christ to look forward to.”
The world ended under cover of darkness with a vote and the bang of a gavel late Friday night for people who already find themselves on the margins. The stars fell from the sky for more than 300 families in Egypt, just over a week ago, when gunmen entered a mosque on a mission of death. The moon loses its light every other hour of the day when still another person is shot in Chicago. The sun ceases shining every time a teenage girl finds herself in the hands of a predator.
The world can end for any one of us at any moment: in the words of a diagnosis; at the death of our beloved; in a single act of stunning betrayal; a breaking; a moment of profound injustice.
The door of the stable is there for each of us, and we fight our battles to the last, trying to keep our feet from crossing its threshold. Like the disciples, of course we want to know the particulars: “Tell us,” we demand, “Tell us when will this be, and what will be the signs when these things are to be accomplished?”
But remember: we know of a stable that once held something inside that was bigger than our whole world. And Christ’s entry into this world of ours, in power and great glory, offers the very brightness we need, when the sun and the moon and the stars have been torn from our skies.
Our work of faith in this season is not to pull calculators and make predictions about time and place, so we can avoid it. It is not to offer blame about who is at fault in this end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it moment. It is not to hunker down out of the terror of darkness, or to keep so busy that we can pretend none of this is actually happening.
No. Ours is to stay awake, and watch for the One who comes as friend, in power and great glory. Ours is to light candles in this season; because the night is long, but the day will come. Ours is to pray for the grace to cast away the works of darkness, to put on the armor of light; trusting in the promise of the far side of that door, in the pure love of the One who promises to be with us always…even and especially as we step across its threshold.
 C. S. Lewis. The Last Battle. 141.
 I’m grateful for the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon, “With Power and Great Glory” found in her book Gospel Medicine, which inspired much of this sermon of mine.
 Barbara Brown Taylor. Gospel Medicine. 135.