THE DAY THE SUN EXPLODED
In my junior year in college, I had a strange experience. I'm not sure what to call it. It might have been a dream, since it happened as I was waking up in the morning, but it might also be considered a vision, since it happened after I was already awake and out of bed. In any case, I got up on this particular morning and went to the window in my dorm room. I was on the third floor. The sun was shining nicely...as many of you know, the sun is always shining nicely by the time I get up...and it seemed like a pleasant morning. But as I looked out on the pleasant day, the sun exploded. I am serious. Whether it was dream or vision, I don't know, but I watched the sun explode before my eyes, and things began to get very dark.
I remember thinking at this moment, that this was it. The world was coming to an end, and I knew if that were true, that Jesus would be here any minute. Immediately I thought of the verse I just read from Luke which says, "Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." I was very much a literalist at the time, so I did just that. I stood in front of the window, looking to the darkening sky, and I lifted both my head and my hands, waiting for Jesus to come.
As my arms started to grow tired and the dark sky was not parting for Jesus to come in glory, all the scientific ramifications of the sun exploding began going through my mind, and I left the window to gather all the blankets I had, because I knew it would be getting very cold. I prayed a very simple prayer for Jesus to come and take me home. Then I lay back down on my bed with my pile of blankets to wait for the end. Whether it was a dream or a vision, it was very powerful, and I lay on the bed about five minutes before realizing that the sun was back in the sky where it belonged and I needed to get up and go to class.
I don't know what spurred that event. I might have been reading too much end-times literature. I certainly was engrossed in it during that time in my life. There is always at least one Christian guru of the end times. Currently it is Tim LaHaye and the Left Behind series, then it was Hal Lindsay and The Late Great Planet Earth. I read Hal Lindsay's books many times over, and I prayed often that I might be privileged to be alive when Christ came in glory. It might have been God's way of showing me that the end would not be the wonderful party that I thought it would be...that the end of the earth will be a terrifying thing. You don't watch the sun explode and say, "Oh, isn't that wonderful." It might have been God's way of getting me past my obsession with the end of things and motivating me to get to work in the present.
I think that kind of nudge is part of what Jesus is doing here in the Gospel of Luke. This section that I read is Jesus' last public teaching. The next chapter is Jesus' Last Supper with His disciples. Whether my own vision came from God or from too much Hal Lindsay, God at least made the event strong enough that it has remained with me now 21 years as a reminder that the world will have an end. Jesus also leaves this reminder with his followers in graphic fashion, and the underlying question is "Why?" Why do we have to know this? How does knowing it impact our faith? In most things God does not allow us to know the future--for our own good. Why tell us this? Why tell us of coming events that we can't change? And why encourage us to preach about it during the preparation time for Christmas?
Well, I don't know for sure, but as I am seldom without a theory, I will share with you what I think. Why does God want us to know that the world will end and that Jesus will return? I DON'T think it is so we can spend our lives cataloguing the signs, decoding cryptic parts of Scripture, and coming up with the exact date and time. I devoted large amounts of time to this as a teenager, and it got me absolutely nowhere. I spent hours thinking about theories that the giant, flying, stinging creatures in the book of Revelation might be John's way of describing bomber aircraft. I spent days taking the names of evil tyrants and trying to find a code that would turn their names into the number 666, the symbolic number the Bible gives for the AntiChrist. I spent even more time contemplating the cataclysmic traffic accident that everybody alludes to when all those Christian drivers are raptured out of their cars as they travel down the highway. I am here to tell you that I do not believe this was what God wanted me to do with the information. It did absolutely nothing for me. The only thing it did was increase Hal Lindsay's royalty check from his publisher.
This is not what I mean when I say you should study your Bible. I'm sure Hal Lindsay and all those who have written end-times literature since are sincere and desire the Kingdom of God with all their hearts, just as I did as a teenager. But I don't believe that Jesus gives us information about the end times so that we can play "Guess when it will be?" throughout the millennia.
I believe that Jesus tells us about the end times so that our faith may be kept in perspective. When we remember that the world will have an end and that Christ will come again to usher in a new heaven and earth, we are reminded that this world is temporary. That all flesh, including our own, is like grass that withers and fades. Only God endures forever, so that if we do not participate in God by loving God and neighbor as Jesus taught, the end of the world will be the end of us. I believe it is important for us to remember that only God's work endures...only what is done in love will last.
When we think about the end times as the Bible describes them, we also see that all of creation is involved. Redemption has a cosmic dimension to it. This world we live in is not just an indifferent place where we happen to be. It is a living organism over which we were given stewardship at its creation. It responds to God. The heavens show off at the birth of Jesus with a glorious star and darken themselves in horror at his death. When Jesus comes again, all of the earth responds. Remembering the end times reminds us of our stewardship for a living creation.
And finally, being aware that the end will come, helps keep judgment before our eyes. For many of us comfortable Americans, judgment is a dirty word. We read scenes of divine judgment in the Bible and decide that God must be a fiend. But consider for a moment the perspective of the slave, the oppressed, the victimized.
I was living in Gainesville, Florida at the time that Danny Rolling was murdering students at the University of Florida. One of those students was Christa Hoyt, who happened to be the niece of the couple I have come to call my Florida parents. Christa was murdered in her apartment. She was sexually mutilated and her head was cut off and put on a shelf facing the door, to be sure that the person who found her would have a scene they would not forget. Christa's family, and millions like them who have suffered violence at the hands of others need the message of the end times. For those who are wronged again and again on this earth, that message provides the hope that as bad as things might be now, there will be a time of justice.
This is a great message of hope for the oppressed people of the world. Whether you are enduring a personal struggle against an enemy or whether you are part of a larger group routinely oppressed because of race or class or status, the frustrations when justice does not come on earth are eased by the knowledge that there will be justice one day. There will come a day when those who have hurt you will understand what they have done and will feel what you felt and be ashamed. Even if they are ultimately pardoned in God's mercy, they will understand their sin and grieve for the wrong they have done. This hope is the only thing between many struggling people and suicide.
And that is why we often preach about the end times as preparations for Christmas are getting underway. The first coming of Jesus is the beginning of the last age and is God's preparation for the end. Judgment is coming for the wickedness that runs amok on the earth, but God knew that if judgment came right then, no one would survive, for the wickedness had seeped into everyone. So before that judgment comes, God provides a way out...a way for even the Danny Rollings of the world to obtain mercy and pardon if they will choose it.
That way is for God himself to be born in human flesh. By living and dying a violent death as one of us, Jesus not only sacrifices his life, but he gives up the absolute demand that we get everything right. All the past is forgiven and all the future sins as well, if we will only put forth the effort to sincerely try to live differently. If we will embrace the life that Jesus taught...to love God and one another as our first priority...all our stumblings -- past, present and future -- will be forgiven. But if we consciously choose to live by cruelty and greed rather than by love and justice, we are reminded that our time of judgement will come in the end.
That is the kind of perspective that I believe Jesus wanted to bring to us in telling us about the end times. To remember that this world is temporary, that we are stewards of it and of each other, and that there will come a time when God will show up and personally be sure that justice is served. We should not be so caught up in day to day living that we forget the larger picture of why we are here and whose we are. But neither are we meant to swing to the opposite extreme -- like I did as a teenager -- and concentrate so much on the world to come that we neglect to be faithful stewards of the world in which we still do live.
After Jesus is born, he is brought to the Temple where an old man named Simeon speaks a prophecy over the new baby. All his life he has been waiting for the Holy One of Israel to come and recognizes that the time is now here. His life is fulfilled and he says he can die in peace, but he also says that things will not be easy with this new baby in the world. Simeon's sun had exploded...it was the moment he had been waiting for all of his life, but it was also a moment of decision and challenge. Nothing would ever be the same.
Whether Jesus is coming for the first time in Bethlehem or again at the end of the age, he brings the twin messages of hope and justice. They are both messages that our world needs to hear. My challenge to you is that as we celebrate Communion this morning, that you consider taking an extra piece of bread and sharing it with someone who could not be at the table this morning. We have provided a baggie for you in the bulletin as well as a printed message if you don't know what to say. The broken body of Christ also represents the twin message of hope and justice, all wrapped up in the greatest gift of love. Someone you know needs that gift. They might need the Jesus of the first coming to pardon sin, or to provide the healing and compassion of Jesus of Nazareth. Or they might need the Jesus who is to come on a day when the very heavens are shaken, and justice finally reigns on the earth. This is the season when we remember that God gave Jesus to us. Won't you consider giving Jesus to someone else?
(c) 2000, Anne Robertson
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