“ ... stand up and raise your heads ... ” Luke 21:28
I’m a pastor so I’m always thinking about the next Sunday. Already this week we’re looking at the first Sunday in Advent. “Advent” means something is approaching; something is about to show up — God’s next new thing.
In the Church the season of Advent climaxes with the arrival of Baby Jesus at Christmas. This yearly story tells us that God shows up in ways that seem strange to us. During Advent we think about things coming at us in our lives and in our world. Some are expected (old age, retirement), some not (pregnancy, injury). Some are welcome and some aren’t but ready or not, here they come, so “get ready” is the theme of Advent.
The arrival of God’s new thing should be good news. Yet often in the Bible when God’s messengers (angels) announce the arrival of God’s new thing, people go all pale and look for somewhere to hide. The angel’s first words are usually “fear not!” (Modern translation: “Chill dude, it’s gonna be ok.”) God’s new thing is often so contrary to our way of thinking that it scares the sauce right out of us.
Recently the forecasts about Earth’s climate changing, seas rising, masses migrating, species extincting (did I write “extincting?!”) have been scaring the sauce out of me. I used to feel ready for anything, but what does baby Jesus have in common with intensifying hurricanes, wildfires and floods? What “good news” could there possibly be in any of this?
John F. Kennedy once said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.” He was mistaken about the Chinese word, but his thought was a good one. The very worst effects of the approaching ecological disaster are still only approaching. This means the world still has an opportunity to learn and work together to create a more sustainable and more livable future.
The natural world will survive rapid climate change. Ecosystems will eventually recover and evolution would continue in the absence of human beings. But how sad for us! The opportunity before us is to act to preserve ourselves, by shifting to better ways of fueling and organizing Earth’s human community. We must learn to live more harmoniously with nature, and more justly with one another.
The Eau Claire City Council just voted to urge Congress to adopt a national policy of “carbon fee and dividend.” This would drive up the cost of fossil fuels including gasoline and heating fuel, but the costs would be offset by dividends paid to those who can least afford those rising prices. This is a market-based way to shift production of fuels toward more sustainable sources. It’s gaining bipartisan support as a recognized “win-win” solution to both economic and environmental challenges. Lutherans have a slogan: “God’s work; our hands.” As human beings we participate in the arrival of God’s new thing.
As changes to Earth’s climate accumulate and environmental crises deepen, more people are seeing not only the wisdom, but also the necessity of working together across political and national divides. Successfully addressing climate change caused by overuse of fossil fuels will require everyone’s participation. Shifting to sustainable energy sources will stimulate economies and create jobs. Are we on the verge of an international social, economic and spiritual revolution? Could this be the approach of “God’s new thing?”
Something is happening worldwide that is not dependent upon leaders of governments. The tumult caused by rapid change is frightening. Yet it can lead to the most hopeful opportunity the world has seen in a long, long time. Jesus’ words, “stand up and raise your heads” means don’t give in to fear or despair. If we don’t lose faith, one of the most hopeful seasons in human history may be just around the corner.
The Rev. Dean W. Simpson is a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire.