In my beginning is my end

  • Luke 21:25-36
  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Fox Valley Presbyterian Church
  • December 3, 2006

Back in the Sunday school rooms, Marilyn Church and Charlotte Drew are sitting on the floor with a group of completely transfixed 4, 5 and 6 year olds. On each wall of the room, there are low shelves with boxes and baskets. And just about now, Marilyn is taking a box off of one of the shelves, and the children are waiting like it’s Christmas morning to find out what’s inside.

In each box or basket, there are little objects that tell a story, stories about God, and God’s people, and this journey we are on together. If you opened one of the flatter boxes, you would find a puzzle that looks like a giant clock, with 52 little colored blocks, one for each week of the year, that fit around the outside edges of a big circle.

Now, the puzzle is the truly impressive thing in the box, but also in that box is a gold string. And if Marilyn were telling that story this morning, she would first take out the string, lay it on the floor, and say these things to the children:

“Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what time it is. There are all kinds of time. I wonder how the church tells time? Some say time is a line. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This could be the beginning, and this the end. Or this could be the beginning . . . and this could be the end. It’s hard to tell beginnings and endings when time is a in a line.I know: Let’s take the beginning that could be an ending and the ending that could be a beginning and tie them together.”

And she would make a circle with that string and place it on the floor and say: “Now the ending is a beginning and the beginning is an end. This is how the church tells time.” (From Young Children and Worship, by Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman)

If you’ve hung around church long enough, you’ll have heard this a few times: that today, the first Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of the church’s liturgical year. We begin the year with a few weeks to prepare for the story of Jesus; celebrate his birth and his life, journey through Lent; rejoice during Easter and then Pentecost, and swing through the summer until we come back around to do it all again.

You would think this Sunday would be about new beginnings, a hopeful celebration of all that is to come. And yet, on this Sunday, what we hear from the Bible are strange stories of the end:

Now the ending is a beginning and the beginning is an end. This is how the church tells time.

In Luke, Jesus talks about apocalypse, the end of time as we know it. This is nowhere near the warm-fuzzy baby Jesus we are looking forward to. This is Jesus preaching gloom and doom in a minor key. Not the way you expect to start the “holiday season.”

And our Jeremiah passage, while a bit more upbeat, is only upbeat amidst the gloom and doom of the people of Israel struggling in the midst of war after war as they live through a time when the powers that be struggle for control of the middle east. (Some things never change?)

The truth is that our Advent waiting and preparation for the beginning of the story, the birth of Jesus, is also our preparation and waiting for what we often hear referred to as the end…the second coming of Jesus.

We know that in God’s first coming, the coming of Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, living among us, we know that this story changes everything.

For each of us, we are called to change who we are, to join Jesus in dying to sin, and rising to new life.

And for the world, God begins to reconcile the whole world, person to person, nation to nation, the broken creation and our broken relationships, with God and with each other, patched back together.

None of this is easy. None of this patching and growing comes without some struggle and pain.

And it is a fearful process: as Jesus says, around us we see the changing heavens; the shaking earth; the roaring sea.

And then there is this idea of the second coming. During Advent, we are also watching and waiting for a second coming of Jesus.

For a complete fulfillment of everything that was promised in the first coming.

For a complete reconciliation of the world and its people.

For our complete reconciliation to God.

Sadly, when we hear about the second coming today, our understanding has been clouded by a popular conservative Christian culture that celebrates the cataclysmic terror of judgment rather than the climactic glory of God’s intentions for the world.

For many of us, our reaction to that portrayal of the second coming causes us to through the baby out with the bathwater: to discard or spiritualize passages like the one in Luke, to shy away from the narrative in the book of Revelation, to leave those parts of the Bible for other Christians.

But listen carefully to what Jesus says in Luke, because at the heart of what sounds awful are words of comfort:

Stand up, raise up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

The world might be crumbling around you, but your redemption, your freedom, is on its way.

God does not abandon the creation: from the beginning, God has watered and nurtured it. And in the end, God will redeem and protect it, not destroy it.

What we are waiting for is a new beginning for the world, because God is breaking in with a new way of justice and peace.

What we are waiting for is a new beginning for our lives, a new beginning because God breaks into the world with the child Jesus, and brings us wholeness and righteousness.

This news of an ending is really news of a new beginning:

Stand up, raise up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Last week, sitting up here during the sermon, I was confronted by the connections between beginning and ending: After baptizing my daughter, I sat and listened as my father preached a sermon. He talked about identity, about his father and grandfather.

And I thought about Pastor Carl in Pennsylvania, the same morning, after his father died.

When we baptize our children, we think about beginnings: new birth, new life, the beginning of our life in the embrace of God.

But in our beginning is also our end: In the waters of baptism, where we begin, we are delivered into the eternal embrace of God.

And so while we wait for the coming of Christ, we have nothing to fear: not the shaking of the heavens or the roaring of the sea; not sorrow or sin or even death.

Now the beginning is an end and the end is a beginning. This is how the church tells time…

Thanks be to God.

One Response to “In my beginning is my end”

  1. susan Says:

    What a beautiful reminder. Weaving together the two texts with a liturgy that children in the pews know well…reminding all of us that Advent is not just about remembering our history, but preparing for the future. Amen.