From the Desk of Pastor Olsen
The thirteenth chapter of St. Mark's gospel is filled with frightening images of dissolution and destruction. Wars and rumors of war, nations struggling for world dominance, earthquakes and famines-with these we are all familiar. Reports of persecution of Christians in Iran, Pakistan and Egypt remind us that Jesus' warning that his disciples will be called upon to "stand before governors and kings" for his sake is as timely as ever. Lest we imagine that such persecution is limited to foreign shores, the recent arrest and prosecution of two pastors and a 90-year-old man in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for doing nothing more than feeding the homeless demonstrates that loyalty to Jesus can be costly within our own borders as well. But that isn't the worst of it. Jesus goes on to describe a kind of dissolution that we have not begun to experience. The sun, moon and stars-symbols of stability and constancy throughout all generations-are not as permanent as we would like to believe. Even these seemingly immovable cosmic features finally will be shaken.
But this is good news. Not everything is subject to decay. Though the cosmos itself may pass away, Jesus' promise made to us in our baptism, his promise to bring us under the gentle reign of his heavenly Father and his promise to remain with us to the close of the age, these promises will not pass away. If the sky is falling it is because God means to replace it with a new heaven and a new earth. The death throes of the old creation are the birth pangs of the new. Disciples of Jesus understand that in the midst of all this dissolution God's redemptive word is at work. In the dissolution of a once great nation, the dissolution of a once brilliant mind, the dissolution of a church that has been in the neighborhood for a century, the dissolution of the universe itself, in all of this dissolution God is actively forming the new creation where God "will dwell with [God's people]; God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." Revelation 21:3-4. Jesus' resurrection is the budding leaf on the fig tree assuring us that the season of death is over. The morning star is in the sky. Dawn cannot be far behind.
Advent is above all else a season of hope. Hope is not naive optimism. The power of evil is as real as crucifixion of Jesus. But the resurrection of Jesus is no less real than the cross. Hope understands that no birth can happen without pain, bleeding and risk of loss. Hope knows that a new creation cannot happen without the death of the old. Hope accepts change, not with fear or resignation, but with joy and expectation. Hope does not surrender in the face of death because hope believes the God who raised Jesus from death. May the God of Hope fill you with joy this Advent season!