Riverside United

Preacher: Rev. David Exley, 
ScriptureMark 13:24-37, 

Remember that scene from The Wizard of Oz? The one where Dorothy wakes up and realizes that it had all been a dream. The yellow brick road, the scarecrow, the tin man, the lion, the wicked witch, the wizard—all a dream. The picture switches from full colour back to that famous sepia tone and a group of familiar friends gather around her as she recounts the glorious journey that just came to an end. 

The story begins with a series of storm clouds. The winds kick up and the twisters form around Dorothy’s home in Kansas. She’s knocked out by a window frame that comes crashing into her room. It’s an end of the world situation—things LITERALLY come crashing down upon her. And what is the result? She begins to dream. 

Our scripture reading for this morning conjures up images that are not unlike the scenario that takes place at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz. The writer of Mark’s gospel writes, “In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken.” 

What a strange way to open the Advent season. We’re supposed to be celebrating the theme of Hope on the first Sunday in Advent. This is supposed to be the beginning of a new liturgical year—a new year in the life of the church. What do we get? We get storm clouds and darkness. The gospel of Mark doesn’t even have a story about the birth of Jesus. Why begin here? Well, in the words of that gifted Belgian American Poet, May Sarton, “Without darkness nothing comes to birth, as without light nothing flowers.” We have to begin somewhere. And, perhaps the place to begin is in the eye of the storm—a place where we are in tune with the troubles of the world and the despair that exists in the hearts of many. It is in this place that we can begin to dream our way forward. It’s here where we will often hear the voice of God more clearly. It’s in this place where we can listen and work together to make our way home—working together toward our true home. 

What does the gospel writer say after sharing all these dark images of a dim and seemingly hopeless future? He then writes these words: “Then they will see…” It’s believed that the Gospel of Mark was written around the time that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. It was a time of great upheaval and darkness for those early followers of Jesus. The storm clouds hovered over the people. It seemed like the end of the world. And so, what the gospel writer does for the people (what the words of Jesus do for the people) is not to be undersold when it comes to restoring hope in those who found themselves in darkness. The writer of Mark helps turn their nightmares into dreams. The words of the gospel help them to imagine their way forward. This fits so well when it comes to this season that we find ourselves in. For, Advent is a time of dreaming. It’s a time to consider how God’s dreams differ from the world’s dreams. This is critical if we’re going to follow the path that God has carved out for us. It’s a path that takes us down the road less traveled—one that is very different from the one this world has us on. 

I can’t help but think about those Ontario Lottery commercials that invite us to enter a dream-like space as we think about how life could be “better”. The OLG commercials that invite us to “Just imagine” as we see individuals who dream of a lottery win that takes them away on that daydream where they’re able to have that cottage on the lake OR a new mansion for a home OR the vacation of their dreams. This is the direction that we so often go with our dreams. But, is that what God wants for us? Is that what God wants for the world? I think we know the answer to those questions. The season of Advent is a season to dream different dreams. It is a season where we’re supposed to feel a little displaced when compared to where the world wants to take us. We should find ourselves looking around and saying things like, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” 

It’s okay to dream about the end of the world—particularly when we dream about the end of the world “as we know it”. For our world knows so much suffering—bringing an end to that is what God dreams of. Our world is a world where many are hungry—and God longs to put an end to that. Our world is a world where there is disparity between rich and poor—that is a nightmare that God longs to reverse. But, God cannot do it alone. God can only do it with us and through us. Inspired by the darkness that we see in the world, we can join together and shine God’s light into the world. 

I love what writer and theologian John Phillip Newell has to say about dreams and imagination and God’s nature. Watch this short video where he talks about the importance of dreaming our way forward. 

The gift of our imagination is one of the markers of what it means to be made in the image of God. I love when Newell says, “We need to allow ourselves to imagine ways of seeing and ways of relating that we’ve known nothing about.”  God is the great imaginer… we are created in that image—we’re created to dream! The good news this Advent season is that “The future has not yet been decided”.  Your story is not complete… God’s story is not complete. This is a season where God reminds us who we are. It is a season where God lets us catch a glimpse of that place where we belong—where all God’s creatures belong. 

Today can be “the end of the world as we know it”… and we can celebrate that. We may not be able to click our ruby slippers and find our way to this home but we can dream our way forward. We can have hope because the story is just beginning and we’re a part of that story. And so, let’s close our eyes and enter God’s technicolour world where we will see more than tinsel, more than blow-up reindeer, more than Griswold Christmas displays. Let’s go to that place where we will see faith, hope, and love emerging from unexpected places. Amen.

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