November 24, 2014
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments and Observations
Long about the time most people are switching all of their Christmas lights on to celebrate the holiday in 2014, the Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent brings us straight to a text that points forward to a great and coming day when all the lights will go . . . out.
Try turning this into a fireside Christmas story and see if the children’s eyes glisten in wonder! It’s the kind of thing you might expect The Onion or Saturday Night Live to make a parody out of as some holiday Scrooge-type terrifies children with tales of apocalyptic darkness as the sun goes supernova and the moon winks out as a result. It could give whole new meaning to the phrase “Be good for goodness sake”!
So why do it this way? Why darken the Advent landscape before we really get going here? The reason is plain enough to understand, even if it is quite counter-cultural. Because let’s face it: if the church cannot proclaim and look forward to the second advent of Christ, then in all honesty there is precious little sense in making much ado about his first advent in Bethlehem. If Jesus is not coming back to make all things new and bring in the kingdom he talked about all through his ministry, then any celebration of his birth really would be on a par with fantasies about Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or the generic “holiday spirit” with which people try to get infused every December. If Jesus is not the Lord of lords who can come back at the end of history, then “Silent Night” has all the charm—and all the meaning—of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”
But another reason for the church to ponder the day when the cosmic lights go out is because there is something about that prospect of darkness that makes people long for—and appreciate all-the-more—the One we proclaim to be the Light of the World. If even we in the church cannot move past the cozy sentimentality and twinkling lights of the season where the rest of society places all its emphasis, then we cannot appreciate the reasons why God went to the extreme lengths he did to bring the Son of God to this world in flesh. If the whole world just generally resembled the little fantasy kingdoms in the mall (and that most of us try to approximate in our own front yards each December), then the world would not need saving and God would not have needed to go to the bloody lengths he did to make that salvation a reality.
It may be bracing for the church to kick off Advent with an apocalyptic passage like Mark 13 but among other things, such a passage reminds us, and our culture, that the stakes in the Advent of Christ are exceedingly high. The Christ of God did not arrive in this world long ago to help people be a little nicer, to encourage a few weeks’ worth of charitable giving to the United Way or the local soup kitchen, or any other such short-term, local goal. No, the Christ of God came to make straight every crooked way, to right every wrong, to upend every injustice, and to reconcile all things—ALL things—to himself.
Compared to all that, all of our little Christmas lights combined really do look pretty dim after all.
Is there any significance to the rooster? In the New Testament, the Greek word for rooster crops up in only two places. The most famous instance involves Peter on the night when Jesus is arrested–all four gospels include that story. In Mark that takes place in the very next chapter. Aside from that, however, there is only one other place in the New Testament where any mention is made of a rooster, and it’s Mark 13:35. The precise Greek word in verse 35 for the rooster’s crow is found nowhere else in the Bible.
Is there a connection? Possibly. In the verses of this lection, Jesus urged Peter and the others to be vigilant, watchful, to live every moment as though it could be the last. Along the way, Jesus said that for all anyone knew, a moment of apocalyptic unveiling could happen sometime when the rooster crows at 1:30 in the morning. And maybe Peter heard all that and just maybe he did with those words what we often do: namely, he figured that if such a thing ever happened, it would be a long time off and maybe he’d not even be around anymore when the end would finally come.
But then, within maybe just 48 hours, a rooster crowed at 1:30 in the morning and the full truth of Jesus came crashing down around Peter’s ears. Peter did not need to live to see the final day of judgment. That moment, that cry of that rooster was his apocalypse, his encounter with the living God. What he perhaps thought was a long ways off when Jesus first talked about turned it out to be far closer, far more pressingly urgent than he guessed. As it turns out, any and every crying of the rooster is a moment potentially full of God.
In a sermon on this first Sunday in Advent, maybe we preachers can challenge people to ponder the ultimate moments in their own lives when the fullness of the kingdom is revealed to be closer than they think.
In one of his sermons, Fred Craddock told a story about something that happened many years ago while he was driving by himself cross-country. He had stopped at a small diner somewhere in the South to refresh himself with an early breakfast and some coffee. He had been driving through the night and now it was getting close to dawn. So before he got too sleepy, he stopped for a while.
As he waited for his breakfast order to come, Craddock spied a black man who had just come in and had sat down on a stool up by the lunch counter. The diner’s manager then began to treat the black man with a contempt that was clearly borne of deep-seated racism. The manager was rude, insulting, demeaning toward his black guest. As he sat in his booth a little ways away from the counter, Craddock wrestled with saying something to chide this manager for his shameful, racist conduct. Eventually the black man quickly slurped down some coffee and then fled the diner. Craddock meanwhile remained silent. “I didn’t say anything,” he confessed. “I quietly paid my bill, left the diner, and headed back to my car. But as I walked through the parking lot, somewhere in the distance, I heard a rooster crow.”
With that poignant, final image, Craddock evoked an entire cloud of denial, betrayal, shame, and regret. The rooster’s crow following the disciple Peter’s triple denial of Jesus has become one of the more famous images from the gospels. Of course, even so, not everyone knows it. I once heard Craddock say that one Sunday he was a guest preacher at a church and he preached that same sermon. After the service, a man came up to him in the narthex, shook Craddock’s hand vigorously, and said, “Thank you, pastor, for that powerful sermon. That really hit home! Oh, but by the way, what was that business with the rooster?”
Author: Scott Hoezee
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
At their honest best, biblical writers—psalmists, prophets, and others—are seldom able to call down judgment on others without also, in utter humility, admitting that when it comes right down to it, they aren’t any great spiritual shakes themselves. You see this at the end of Psalm 139: after so many verses of lyric praise of God for his all-encompassing knowledge and care, the psalmist suddenly—almost as though he unexpectedly burped up a throat-full of bile—goes on a rant about God’s need to slay the wicked and go after those rotten so-and-so’s over there. But then, as though he then swallowed the bile and took a deep cleansing breath, the psalmist looks in the mirror and as much as says, “OK, enough already about them. Just see, O Lord, if there be any wicked ways in me so that I may gain a heart of wisdom and just walk before you with love, reverence and humility.”
Something like that happens in this Year B Advent selection from Isaiah 64, too. Here the chapter begins with a plea for God to set the heavens to roaring and the mountains to quaking by coming on down in power and might and holy shock and awe to shake up all those wicked folks out there among the nations. “There is no true God but you!” the people say in prayer as Isaiah articulates it for them. “You’ve got all the goods. You’ve shown this again and again in the past and so come on down now and do it again. Make the self-absorbed, the selfish, the godless, the feckless, the reckless sit up and pay attention so that they’ll shape up and serve you at long last!!”
The prayer in Isaiah 64 goes on like that for a bit until finally it comes back around to who they are. They look in the mirror. They bone up a bit on recent Israelite history. And then they know: what good is it to focus on the sins of others when our own house is not in order?
“At the same time, O God, we’re sorry to say that our hands are pretty dirty. Even the best we have to offer comes to you soiled and smudged by the time we are able to offer it up to you and, to be honest, that’s not all that often as it is. Folks around here don’t pray much these days. Still others of us know that you’ve seen our sins, how they are so great that they all but carry us away like some fierce hurricane-force wind. And so we’re getting what we have deserved. So listen, O God, we know what we are. We know what we’ve done. And we’re sorry. You are still our Father. We are still your children, your people. We’re just lumps of clay who are nothing unless you sculpt and mold us. So do that. Make us look like you again. Come down that way and be gentle with us so that we may follow you again.”
All of that provides quite the contrast with the thunderous opening verses of this chapter. We pivot from a call to make granite mountains shake like a leaf to images of how we are just clay ourselves and without God’s help to forgive us, it is we who shake like leaves and blow away just as easily by the winds of our own sinfulness. We pivot from a cry for God to terrify all those folks “out there” to a plaintive plea for a Father to come and be gentle with all of us “in here.”
This is piety at its best, and it’s instructive to see on the First Sunday in Advent. Advent always begins with a focus on the Second Advent of Christ, as is evident in the Mark 13 Gospel lection with which this Old Testament text is paired. And that second coming of Jesus is the kind of thing that can fill us believers with a kind of eager anticipation to see Jesus slam dunk all the evil folks out there, bringing justice at last to all his enemies (and that is something we are eager to see since most days we are sure that our enemies list matches God’s list person for person, group for group).
So we, too, are tempted to ask Jesus to roar on back, make the earth quake and reel, scare the living daylights out of the folks who now sneer at us for being Christians and for having religious faith of any kind. But if that is our temptation, then Isaiah 64 offers a needed corrective: maybe a little more time in front of a spiritual mirror is in order. Before we get all hot under the collar about those rotten folks “out there,” maybe it’s a good time to remember that the only reason Jesus ever advented into our time and space in the first place was because of our own sinfulness, our own weakness, our own vulnerability to temptation with which even now as Christian believers we still struggle every single day of our lives.
Maybe the first Sunday in Advent is a good time to remember that although Jesus is coming back to judge the quick and the dead, our own standing in that judgment will be a gift of grace alone—one we did not deserve the hour we first believed and one we don’t much deserve now either, all things in our lives being equal.
Maybe it’s enough to begin Advent remembering the gentle and quiet way the Father sent the Son to this world the first time and so remind ourselves that we’re nothing without the gentle touch of the Potter’s hand now. We need grace as much as anyone, and it should be our dearest hope and desire that we become ourselves such fonts of grace, such shining examples of the goodness of grace, that those folks “out there” about whom we can get so exercised now and then will see us and be drawn to the gentle love we evidence in our own living.
That is perhaps the best witness we can provide the world in Advent or at any time. Because the remembrance of how God dealt with us in our own sinfulness leads us to hope that exactly this will characterize how God deals with the rest of the world, too.
The most famous line from the old Pogo comic strip came in the one the cartoonist Walter Kelly produced for Earth Day back in 1971. As Pogo and another character try to make their way through a supposedly “beautiful” forest, they find walking increasingly difficult. The second frame reveals why: the forest is littered with old car tires, broken cinderblocks, broken old chairs and discarded bathtubs. Pogo Possum observes this and says, “Yes, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.”
How easy it is to point the finger, to blame the other, to demonize individuals and groups that are not like you or your group. Republicans claim the root of all evil is government regulation and if the Democrats got rid of it, corporations would do great and never need any reminders not to pollute or produce dangerous products. Democrats claim that corporations are evil and need all the regulating the government can muster and why can’t the Republicans see that? Christians claim the ACLU is ruining the country by advancing an anti-family agenda. The ACLU accuses the church of intolerance and a disregard for personal liberties for all. On and on it goes as one group accuses the other group of being the root of all problems. The implication is always, “If only everyone else thought like we do, the world would be a sweet place to be.”
But it is self-deception to think we are always the solution and never the problem, and never more so than inside the church when it comes to sin and God’s need to deal with it. If we think God needs to get tough on only those folks beyond the walls of the church, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
We have met the enemy, and he is us. Lord, have mercy.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Author: Doug Bratt
Comments and Observations
You might think Psalm 80’s poet addresses Yahweh the way you’d address a napping grandfather: Wake up, Grandpa. Listen to me. I need you to help me. Yet the one to whom the psalmist speaks is no drooling, doddering geriatric. The poet clearly thinks of the Lord not only as a shepherd, but also as creation’s monarch who sits “enthroned between the cherubim.”
This imagery of Yahweh as King offers those who preach and teach Psalm 80 an opportunity to reflect with hearers on their own imagery of the Lord. Leaders might consider ways to help hearers share how they perceive the God of heaven and earth. Psalm 80 might also open the way for an exploration of how perceptions of God sometimes change according to people’s circumstances.
Scholars suggest that Psalm 80 is a communal lament. Yet its central message is a plea for Yahweh to once again help God’s Israelite people. Such pleas for help, after all, bracket the psalm. The poet also injects them at key junctures of the psalm. Three times (3, 7, 19) the psalmist begs Yahweh, Restore us. Twice (7, 19) the poet prays to God to Make your face to shine upon us, that we may be saved. Awaken, the poet begs Yahweh in verse 2. Return to us, she pleads with the Lord in verse 14. These pleas imply the psalmist thinks of God as having a hearing impairment and/or physical weakness.
The psalmist’s pain is heightened by his awareness of God’s great power. Psalm 80’s first two verses particularly emphasize God’s power to save God’s people. God the Shepherd (1) guides and protects God’s children with the power of a king. In fact this King is “enthroned between the cherubim” (2). So God is certainly capable of coming and saving (2) God’s adopted children.
The poignancy of the poet’s pleas for God’s help is heightened by the psalmist’s memories of what Yahweh has done in the past. Yet for whom precisely God did these things is somewhat unclear. Most of the time the poet seems to speak of the “vine” (8) as God’s Israelite people. The psalmist even speaks repeatedly in the first person plural. But in verse 15, for example, the poet almost seems to speak of the vine as God’s anointed Davidic king. Yet perhaps we try making too fine a distinction when we try to determine whether Psalm 80’s vine refers to Israel or to her king. Israel, after all, often seemed to conflate these two entities. She often thought of her king and herself as almost one.
Regardless of who exactly needs God’s help, the reason that help is needed is very clear. God is angry with God’s Israelite people. As a result, God’s children eat and drink little but their tears. What’s more, God’s anger has resulted in God’s children being reduced to little more than an object of their neighbors’ derision. How long, the poet wonders, must the Israelites endure this?
Verses 4-6, of course, raise hard issues for God’s children who trust that God has graciously forgiven sins through the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sin and sins may still cause God’s anger to smolder. But do we believe that God takes out that anger in punishment? Those who preach and teach this psalm will want to walk carefully through this issue, particularly since some Christians are still prone to view their troubles as God’s punishment for their sins.
The psalmist ends with another plea for help as well as a promise. Let your right hand rest on the man at your right hand, she begs in verse 17. Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved, she adds in verse 19. Such pleas offer an opportunity for worshipers to express their own lament. Grief over churches that can only fill a few rows with elderly parishioners and homes that echo only with lonely cries of emptiness. Grief over relationships that have died and health that has waned.
Psalm 80 also offers those who preach and teach it an opportunity to begin to reflect on the problem of suffering. The poet addresses it to a God who is a mighty shepherd and king. Such a God is eminently capable of providing God’s children with everything they want. Yet worshipers know that God doesn’t always seem to provide even God’s most faithful children with what they want and even assume they need. So the psalmist’s cries of “Hear us … Come and save us … Restore us … Make your face shine upon us” are also the cries of 21st century worshipers.
Such pleas bracket the psalm’s only promise: Then we will not turn away from you … we will call on your name (18). This is the only place where the psalm intimates that she knows the source of God’s anger with God’s “vine.” While God’s anger almost seems to mystify her throughout the rest of Psalm 80, she seems to suggest that God has turned away from this vine because God’s Israelite people have turned away from the Lord.
Yet the psalm ends on a hopeful note. It concludes with the poet’s recognition of the only source of Israel’s hope. That hope doesn’t lie in Israel’s moral resuscitation. It lies only in God’s gracious turning of God’s face back toward God’s Israelite people. God’s people are only saved, only rescued because God graciously turns toward and acts for us.
In the season of Advent, worshipers remember that in Jesus Christ God has indeed come to restore (3, 7) God’s children. In Christ God has shone God’s face (7) on God’s people. God’s hand has, in fact, rested on the man at God’s right hand (17), Jesus Christ. However, in Advent worshipers also remember that we look forward to Gods’ return (14) in Jesus Christ.
The rock star and international icon Bono tells a fascinating story about Nelson Mandela. Mandela was imprisoned by the South African government for 27 years because of his opposition to apartheid. Part of his imprisonment involved working in a limestone mine.
Mandela didn’t, however, suffer bitterness or the blindness that was often the result of being around limestone’s bright white reflection day after day. Instead, the dust damage to his tear ducts left him unable to cry. Mandela certainly witnessed things that made him want to weep. However, he couldn’t produce tears of anger or grief. Only after a 1994 surgery could he cry (5).
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Author: Stan Mast
Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider
Sometimes I wonder what the inventor(s) of the Revised Common Lectionary were thinking when they chose the texts for the three year cycle. I mean, take the reading for today, the first Sunday of Advent. It is the very same text the RCL used for the second Sunday of Epiphany in this same year. Come on, people. Surely, there are other fruitful texts you could have picked. Why use the same verses twice in the same year, and verses that fit the liturgical calendar only with some ingenious manipulation? Those were my first thoughts upon approaching this “Epiphany/Advent” text.
Then a closer look almost makes me repent of my harsh judgment of the RCL folks. There actually is something here to help us begin our Advent preparations. In verse 7 Paul says that these Corinthian Christians “eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” He follows that with a reference to “the end” and “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is Advent language. This text can help us remember that Advent is not just about the first coming of the Christ at Christmas, but also about his second coming at the Parousia (which, of course, was the focus of the RCL at the end of this liturgical year). A text like this reminds us not to rush to Christmas too quickly. There is spiritual advantage in waiting, holding back, living in the land of “not yet” for a while.
But Paul reminds us that our waiting should be eager. The word he uses in verse 7 is a favorite word of Paul’s. He uses it in Romans 8:19, 23, and 25, as well as in Gal. 5:5 and Phil. 3:20, all of which point ahead to Christ’s coming. The compound Greek word conveys a heightened sense of waiting, not waiting as you would as you sit in a rocking chair, but waiting on tiptoes, eagerly leaning forward to see what/who is coming.
Apart from anything else this text may say to us, this concept of “eagerly waiting” for the day of Christ is a powerful preaching point. The question is, “Do we?” Or have we slid into the careless earthbound living of Noah’s contemporaries, as Jesus put it in Matthew 24:37-39? As I think about my own life, I’m aware that I lean into my daily routine much more eagerly than I lean forward into the Great Interruption. As we read the New Testament letters, it is clear that the early Christians were much better at eager waiting than we are. So this season of Advent can be a call to reorient ourselves, to recover a vision of the coming Christ, not just as an adorable baby at Christmas, but as the King whose coming will bend every knee and move every tongue.
Are there practical things we can press on our congregations to help them intensify their focus on Christ’s coming? Are there Advent disciplines that will increase their eagerness for his return? Undoubtedly there, but it is interesting that Paul’s emphasis here in I Corinthians is not on what we can/should do, but on what God has done in his gracious love. The classic secular Christmas carol, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” is filled with warning. “Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.” And “he knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” According to the theology of that carol, whether we receive the gifts we want will depend on how we’ve behaved in the past year and particularly in the weeks before Christmas, because, presumably, that’s when Santa pays extra close attention.
In this text, there is none of that finger wagging call to better behavior. Rather, Paul emphasizes that God has already given us all the gifts we could ever need or want, for Jesus’ sake. We hear of grace everywhere in this text. Derivatives of charis are found in verse 3, as part of Paul’s standard greeting, in verse 4 in the word “thanks” and in “his grace given you in Christ Jesus,” and in verse 7 in “spiritual gifts.” Clearly, this charis is sometimes saving grace, while other times it is the spiritual gifts that our Savior showers upon his beloved church. But the point is that this is a grace-soaked passage.
That is the tone to set in the season of Advent. In the Christ who has already come, God has already “enriched us in every way.” Yes, there is room for urging God’s people to live more consistently Christ-like lives. Indeed, this church at Corinth was filled with some egregiously sinful behavior, and Paul takes them to task for it. But Paul begins his address to this gifted but troubled church by reminding them that they are already the recipients of grace.
There is no suggestion that they might lose their gifts if they don’t shape up. That’s because this grace has come to them “in Christ Jesus,” rather than from Santa Claus, who might not give the gifts we desire if we misbehave. Over and over Paul stresses the name of Jesus, often in combinations designed to deepen their faith and heighten their hope. Sometimes he is simply “Christ,” then he is “Christ Jesus,” and then he is “our Lord Jesus Christ,” and by the end he is “his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” In him we have the fullness of salvation, so there is nothing we have to do to earn it. Indeed, it is precisely because we “do not lack any spiritual gift” that we “eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ.” He’s not Santa Claus, from whom we hope to receive our earthly desires; he’s our Savior who has already “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing.” (Eph. 1:3)
In verse 7, Paul uses a word that will entirely reorient our Advent preparation. We “eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” That last word is the Greek noun apocalypsis. The root of that word is the idea of being hidden, covered, removed from sight, or, literally, veiled. That’s exactly how things are for 21st century Christians. The Christ we worship and adore is hidden behind the veil of history. We do not see him anywhere, except with the eyes of the heart illumined by faith (cf. my comments on Ephesians 1:15-23 for Christ the King Sunday on the CEP website). The Apocalypse of St. John (aka The Book of Revelation) pulls aside the veil to show us Jesus ruling all things from the throne at the center of the universe. But as we look out into the world, we do not see him.
So, we eagerly wait for his unveiling when every eye will see him in his glory. In our Advent prayers, we pray for “Apocalypse Now.” That reference to the nightmarish Vietnam War movie reminds us that praying “Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus,” is a very serious prayer. As the Apocalypse of John shows us, the Second Coming of the Christ will bring catastrophes of biblical proportions (as newspeople say when describing the damage done by a horrific flood or hurricane). We don’t need to emphasize this inordinately in preaching on this text, but it is a reminder that this season of Advent is about waiting not just for the birth of an innocent baby, but also for the return of the King who will set all things right with incredible power and grace.
Such a thought might fill little children and even their grandparents with considerable apprehension. What will happen to me on that day? What if I’m not eagerly waiting when Jesus is unveiled? What if I’m asleep at my post? Or, what if I eagerly wait, only to discover that I’m on the wrong side of history? Paul assures his readers that such a thing cannot happen, because “he will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Day of the Lord may come like a thief in the night, but those who are in Christ will not be caught unprepared, because the Lord himself will preserve them to the end.
The word translated “keep strong” is bebaiosei, which has also occurred in verse 6 where it is translated “confirmed.” The idea is that God in Christ will so establish, confirm, root our faith that it will endure to the end. We can’t be caught in some sin that will cost us our salvation. In Christ, we will be found anengkletos, “beyond reproach,” even if, like the Corinthians, our lives have been full of sin and error. What a marvelous promise for this season of Advent, and for any season. A serious focus on the Apocalypse might fill us with fear, but this promise should move us to a stronger faith.
That is all the more true if we focus on verse 9. How do we know that this incredible promise will be fulfilled? Well, says Paul in the Greek, “pistos ho theos.” Faithful is God. You may not be faithful all the time, but it is of the very nature of God to be faithful to his word of promise. God has “called you into fellowship (koinovia) with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,” and he will keep you in that fellowship. So, you cannot lose your salvation, because he who called you is utterly faithful.
The season of Advent is a time to celebrate the faithfulness of God, not only in keeping his promises to send Immanuel into the manger, but also in keeping his promises to hold us in koinovia with his Son to the very end. Unlike Vladimir and Estragon, the hapless “heroes” of Beckett’s tragic play, Waiting for Godot, our eager waiting cannot bring disappointment. Those men wait for a person named Godot, whom they have never seen, so they don’t know exactly what to look for. As they wait and wait, they wonder if they have missed Godot, if Godot will ever come, if there really is a Godot. By the end of the play, they are thoroughly disillusioned, because Godot never comes, as far as they know. Paul’s conclusion to this text assures us that those who eagerly wait for the revelation of Jesus Christ will actually meet him, because God’s grace in Christ will keep them in constant fellowship with him. Indeed, the eager waiting assures us that we will finish strong, because the One for whom we wait is faithful.
When I think of eager waiting, I see a mental picture from long ago, when our first son was only a year old. We lived in a big parsonage in St. Louis, Missouri. A wide picture window looked out on a busy road. Greg loved to stand by that window watching the vehicles go by. He would stand on his tiptoes, bouncing up and down in excitement, as he strained his little neck to the left or the right, hoping to catch sight of the next vehicle. If a car raced into his vision, he would scream, “Cah!” And best of all, if a big truck rumbled by, he would shout, “Fruck!” And he would laugh with glee. That is eager waiting.
Everyone who has seen the movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King will recall the climactic scene at the end when Frodo finally hurls the Ring into the flames. Remember how the whole world came apart, how volcanoes erupted in fire and lava, how earthquakes peeled away all solid ground, how the forces of evil tried to flee? I don’t know if the movie won an Academy Award for special effects, but it should have. If you want to depict the Apocalypse of Jesus in biblical proportions, watch that movie again. It will bring Paul’s words to vivid life. But remember to emphasize the promise at the end of this Advent text. We’re not trying to scare the hell out of people, but to assure them of heaven when all hell breaks loose.