omething you may not know about me is that I am a Star Trek fan. My parents raised me on a steady diet of Star Trek the Next Generation, with a healthy dose of the Original Series, whenever it happened to be in syndication. And it stuck. I have faithfully watched every series and movie, and you can bet I was excited when the new Star Trek Discovery began airing this fall.
Now, there are many things I enjoy about Star Trek. One thing I like is the ability to get lost in the story. For an hour every week I could leave behind the real world and its barrage of exams and papers, of taxes and deadlines, and of political fights and social unrest. For an hour every week I could escape to the world created by the writers and actors. It wasn’t real, but for a while I could suspend disbelief and let the illusion wash over me.
Perhaps you are not a Star Trek fan, and that is okay. I suspect though, that there is a television show, a book, or even a game that you turn to for a similar purpose. Wherever you find it, most of us enjoy temporarily escaping this human-made world by embracing the illusion of another world, where the worries and cares of our lives leave us at peace for a time.
The thing is, the authors, the writers, the actors, the storytellers, and the composers know what they are providing us. They take great care to craft a world engaging enough that we can overlook the fact that it is clearly fake; so that we can believe the world they are offering. They take great care to maintain the illusion.
Sometimes they fail. It can be something simple, slip-up in the delivery, a mistake introduced or overlooked in editing. It can be that the voice of the author becomes too strong, breaking through the dream and waking us up. And sometimes, it happens because of simple limitations in the budget or technology.
I was one watching an old episode of Star Trek, the Original Series, when I encountered one such slip-up. In the scene, two of the characters were having a conversation around a garden, filled with alien plants. Now, these alien plants were all that you would expect of a low-budget TV show from the 1960’s. They were gaudily colored and clearly made of rubber foam. And you know what, that was fine. There is a level of campiness to the low budget special effects of the Original Series that is a part of its charm. No, the problem was that one of the plants was very clearly a person’s hands wearing a brightly colored glove, making undulating movements with their fingers.
It was too much. All I could focus on were those hands. All I could think about was the actor crammed under this “garden” with their hand raised over their head. The illusion was broken. I have no idea what the two characters were discussing, because suddenly I was noticing the way the walls would occasionally move, almost imperceptibly, and the way the doors would “whoosh” shut, but one of them would come together slightly crookedly. In that scene, the world the writers, the actors, and the set designers had worked so hard to create came crashing down.
The gospel reading this morning has a decidedly apocalyptic tone. In those days, we are warned, the sun will shine no more by day and the moon will not give forth its light by night. The stars will fall from the heavens. Indeed, the world around us will come crashing down around our feet. It can seem like an odd reading in a season filled with Santa Claus and reindeer, family gatherings and endless streams of nostalgic Christmas songs from the fifties and sixties. But it is no mistake. In the Christian imagination, Jesus’ coming is firmly linked with the end times and the final judgement. In Christian though, Christ’s coming is world-ending business.
I’ll be honest, with everything going on in our world right now there are times when that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. There is the constant, blatant, and manipulative politicization of everything by both sides of the aisle. There is the ongoing revelation that any man you might have looked up to in the public sphere has either already let you down, or may yet still let you down, with sexual abuse and harassment of those around them. There is the constant threat of open conflict with North Korea. There is the rising prominence of white nationalism, of Nazis, and of hate groups in our own country and in countries all around the world. And then, of course, there is the tax cut fight unraveling before us. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, I think we can agree that it betrays that our government is more concerned about giving tax cuts to businesses than they are with investing in our communities and towns through education, or disaster recovery, or addressing our drug crisis, or by simply repairing our aging and dilapidated infrastructure.
Yes, there are times when I’m ready for Jesus to come. We’ve had a good run. We’ve tried our best. Clearly, we’ve failed. Now we’re ready for Jesus to come and save us from ourselves. I’m ready for the stars to start falling. I’m ready for the world to come crashing down in ashes. I’ll bring the marshmallows.
As much as I may wish for it from time to time, as much as Christians throughout history have wished for the same thing when confronted with the brokenness of the world, that’s not the sort of world-ending Jesus is talking about.
Let me be clear, Christ’s coming is world-ending. It is world-ending like a set of colorfully gloved human hands on the Enterprise. It is world-ending like a voice breaking through a fevered dream, calling us back to wakefulness.
Because, my friends, the world we spend so much time inhabiting is a dream. But unlike a good book, or a movie, or a favorite TV show, it is a story we help to write. It is a story that we tell ourselves as much as others tell it to us.
It is a story when we tell ourselves that happiness is within our grasp, if we can only find the right job, fall in love with the right person, buy the right thing, subscribe to the right ideology, host the perfect family gathering, or earn the right amount of money. It is a compelling plot we construct for ourselves when we view everything in our world as a struggle between good and evil. Naturally, we cast ourselves as the good guys. The villains, of course, are everyone on different parts of the political spectrum, everyone with different nationalities, everyone of different faiths, and everyone with different skin color. Our politicians and leaders are only too happy to oblige this narrative, so that we begin to eye everyone around us with some level of suspicion.
It is a seductive fantasy that we need nothing but ourselves, those who are like us, and our own ingenuity to overcome any obstacle, to solve any problems, and to find meaning in our lives. Our world is a dream fueled by self-righteousness, self-interest, and self-delusion, with just enough forced holiday cheer and mandatory patriotic fervor to make us believe that this the way it is supposed to be. To convince us that we are happy.
But Christ is coming. Christ is coming and the illusion is cracking open around us. Christ is coming and in him we cannot help but to awaken to the hollowness of the world we have woven around ourselves. Christ is coming, and when he comes, the world as we know it ends, and we awaken from our dream.
Let us have no illusions, the world Christ awakens us to is a broken one. After all, our brokenness is made plain when we have an easier time believing that everyone around us is our enemy rather than fellow children of God. Our brokenness is laid bare when we would rather place our hope and trust in our own capacity to save ourselves rather than in God’s capacity for salvation.
Yes, the world as it is, the world that is real, is one filled with brokenness. Mostly, it is brokenness of our own making. But the good news is that even more than our brokenness, it is a world filled with God. The good news is that God fills the world and is at work in the world. The good news is that in Christ, God offers healing and wholeness to our brokenness. This world is already at hand, the world that God is creating is at hand, if we but wake up.
So Christ calls to us. Wake up. The time for stories and fantasies is over. The long slumber is passed and the time for dreaming is no more. Arise my friends. Wake up!
Preached by Adam Yates