Have you ever wanted to see a movie or a book, and you ask around… and someone gets so excited that they tell you the whole story, and ruin the ending for you? These days, we have a phrase that is supposed to help us in this situation: “spoiler alert.”
Let me give you an example of how this works. My wife and I saw the movie “Gravity” recently. It’s the story about an astronaut, Sandra Bullock, who finds herself suddenly stranded in space and has to make her way back to earth. She sort of jumps from space station to space station. Now, there is a moment when she decides that despite the fact that things looks horrible – horrible! – and she is terrified, she is going to choose life, and not death. Through a unscripted prayer she says to herself, she discovers strength, and overcomes her fear. Spoiler Alert: She makes it.
The early Church needed a spoiler alert. They are so frightened. That’s why St Luke look framed this Gospel passage the way that he did. These texts are not ‘prophecies’ of how and when the world will end – they were written 20 years after the destruction of the Temple, and 60 years after the death of Christ.
No, this Gospel offers certainty, hope, written to a community who was going through some very difficult times. For the early Christian, their life is over as they know it; from now on, they will be persecuted. Families, lives, will be destroyed because they have chosen to follow Jesus. It will seem like the end of the world, perhaps just as it did for our brothers and sisters in the Philippines last week.
In other words, Luke is telling them, you will suffer hardships. You will be disappointed. You will make mistakes. The world will not seem to be on your side.
But, spoiler alert. “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” They will rise again, with Christ, on the last day. All Christians will.
The Scottish philosopher John Macmurray make a great point: He said that the maxim of false religion is “Fear not; trust in God and God will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you.”
But the maxim of true religion is: “Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”
Now, you might ask, as I do: But what about the real fear, the real suffering, that I am going through? When something bad could happen, I can get a little anxious. I become afraid. I don’t trust God enough.
But St. Luke get’s it. He’s not denying my fear; he’s acknowledging it. Of course you feel horrible. Of course you hate God. Who feels worse than a community under physical threat? These are all normal reactions. What Luke is pointing out is the horrible events of our life are not the final word. We are created in God’s image and likeness… and, that the problems of this world really can’t touch you. We’re all about Easter Sunday, the greatest spoiler alert of all time.
Seeing as we know the ending, shouldn’t we be like Sandra Bullock, say a prayer despite the horrendous situation we are in, and chose to give life our best shot?
What if we all decided right now that in all of our anxieties, our pain, our fears, are not going to let that stuff get the best of us?
That the problems in our marriage, a difficult boss at work, the death of a child, the bills on the kitchen table, the new reality of living alone, physical ailments, getting laid off… are nothing compared to the Eucharist. Nothing.
Can you see how different you could view those things if you placed them at the foot of the glowing manger, the light of Advent?
Fear not, the worst will happen to you. But it will not be the final word. Jesus is the final word. You know the end of our story. Salvation.
It’s funny — Sandra Bullock tries so hard to escape the heavens to make her way back to earth. But, in a way, we are the opposite. St. Luke reminds us today that we can escape the fears and anxieties of this earth, and make our way to heaven, understanding that by simply by saying “Amen”, by receiving the Eucharist, again and again and again, we are reminded of the greatest spoiler alert of all time.