Advent 1: Blessing When the World Is Ending

By Jan Richardson

End and BeginningImage: End and Beginning  © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 1, Year B: Mark 13.24-37

The sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
—Mark 13.24

It used to come as something of a shock to me: that a season commonly perceived to be about joy and peace always begins with the end of the world. Every year, on the first Sunday of Advent, the lectionary gives us a little apocalypse. That’s what it’s actually called: “Little Apocalypse” is the name often given to Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives, where he describes to his listeners the events that will take place as he returns.

This time around, as Advent approaches, Jesus’ apocalyptic talk comes not so much as a shock as it does something that feels familiar to me. December 2 will, unbelievably, mark a year since Gary’s unexpected death—a year since our world came to an end, a year since the onset of my own little apocalypse.

The ending of one’s personal world is not the same, I know, as The End of the World that Jesus describes here. Yet the first Sunday of Advent invites us to recognize that these endings are connected; that the Christ who will return at the end of time somehow inhabits each ending we experience in this life. Every year, Advent calls us to practice the apocalypse: to look for the presence of Christ who enters into our every loss, who comes to us in the midst of devastation, who gathers us up when our world has shattered, and who offers the healing that is a foretaste of the wholeness he is working to bring about not only at the end of time but also in this time, in this place.

As Advent begins, is there something in your life that is ending? How might you look for the presence of Christ who comes to you in that place?

Blessing When the World is Ending

Look, the world
is always ending
somewhere.

Somewhere
the sun has come
crashing down.

Somewhere
it has gone
completely dark.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the gun,
the knife,
the fist.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the television,
the hospital room.

Somewhere
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.

But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.

It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins
again.

—Jan Richardson

For previous reflections on this and related passages, visit Advent 1: Practicing the Apocalypse, Advent 1: In Which We Stay Awake, and Advent 1: Through the Door.

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Come join us!
Are you hungry for an experience that invites you into Advent without stressing your schedule? This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your holidays. It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into this season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. Offering a space of elegant simplicity as you journey toward Christmas, the Illuminated retreat fits easily into the rhythm of your days, anywhere you are. Begins November 30. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014. Individual, group, & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “End and Beginning,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

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15 Responses to “Advent 1: Blessing When the World Is Ending”

  1. Sally Brower Says:

    Jan,
    Though you are still in grief, your writing has never shown more brightly – this piece and the one on hope in particular are magnificent.
    Advent blessings, Sally

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Sally, thank you! It is wonderful to hear from you, and I’m very grateful for your words about these pieces. Sending many blessings to you as Advent draws near.

  2. Paul Tomlinson Says:

    Jan,
    Your “Blessing When the World is Ending” is … well, it is hard to find the words to describe it. It is so fitting. It fits the grief of losing a loved one. It is also so fitting this morning as I read of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Thank you.

  3. Deb Grant Says:

    Deeply appreciate your image of the embodiment of blessing – something that can sit beside us, turn our face, surround us especially when we are sitting still in the darkness of endings. It affirms for me those times when I have been called to step inside the intimate space of a grieving one. Words, which I value, are sucked away in the vacuum and I am left with only my presence, my arms, my awareness of what direction the light is coming from. Maybe, just maybe, that is enough.

  4. Alan Ward Says:

    The post makes me think of N.T. Wright’s phrase for what the coming of Christ means. He says the world is “put right”. When Jesus is born, lives, dies, and is resurrected — phase one of that restoration begins, and we’re still living in it today. Phase II is when the “fullness of God’s kingdom” is realized. If you will Phase I is now; Phase II is not yet.

    So I guess Advent sort of starts with Phase II — points us to what will be. To a people still in the middle of Phase I, each year we get reminded that there is a Phase II coming. Certainly the “people sitting in darkness” needed that reminder. Things must have seemed hopeless at times… and yet God promised something more.

    And we need that reminder today as well. Just take one look at the news headlines…: We just see so many things where it just seems like the world has gone insane — and no one seems to care. But Advent is meant to remind that God does care. In the midst of the craziness of this life, Christ comes. He does not engage from a distance — which he certainly could have. No, he chooses to wade right in the middle of the mess — that’s INCARNATION, God moving into our neighborhood. Likewise we too are called to be found in the middle of the mess — and to search for God there. We are to carry light to dark places — and accept light for our own darkness.

    Easier for me to write than for me live, but isn’t that always the way.

  5. Chris E. Says:

    Thank you, Jan, for this beautiful blessing. It is just what I needed to hear today. Your words always fill me with inspiration & hope. I am most grateful for presence here.

  6. Pam Grey Says:

    Thanks, Jan for ‘the blessing that sits beside me…”
    You certainly bring a ray of hope into our world.

    Pam

  7. Sheila Brockmeier Says:

    Jan, Thank you for this beautiful blessing. Thank you, also, for sharing your grief. This Advent is starting with loss and sorrow for me as a door has been closed to a goal I have been working toward for over 4 years. In addition, our church has just said goodbye to our beloved rector, who was not only my priest, but my mentor, confidant and friend. So, a blessing that sits among the shards and helps me turn my face toward the light is most welcome! Grace and peace to you and all who read your blog and comments!

  8. Renee Says:

    Jan, thanks for sharing your interview here. And thanks ever so much for your willingness to be present and vulnerable and courageous to remain available to this community of faith who, try as we might, cannot begin to fathom the pain of your past year. Know for sure that you are loved and valued beyond measure!

  9. Rhonda Hardin Says:

    Oh, Jan! I am awake early this Thanksgiving and am remembering Thanksgivings past with Jay. We met during the Thanksgiving weekend. Thank you once again for putting into words what I can not! The pain of loss is like sitting with the shards but today, Thanksgiving, after spending private time remembering Jay and thanking God for the 20 years we had together, with the help of God I will spend the day among the living, in our new building we call Branches, and enjoy the day! Your words last year were a beacon to me as I journeyed they Advent and I look forward to another Advent journey! Bless you, Jan!

  10. Christine J Baxter Says:

    Jan,
    I have to say that this is the first time I have seen your work. This post was shared with me because I also am experiencing my own “little apocalypse. ” My dear husband of only seven months and ten days died suddenly and unexpectedly from an aneurysm this past May. I feel like your reflection gives me permission to participate in the Advent Journey. Thank you for your words of wisdom. God bless you.

  11. Maureen Says:

    One of your most beautiful pieces of writing, Jan. May peace be with you during these tender days.

  12. Robert Marcus Says:

    So beautifully written, that I, an atheist, ethno-gastric Jew can resonate. The world is clouded by toxic physical pollutants that hide the moon and star light; poisoned by chemicals that only profit the venal oppressors of the same people the poisons sicken and kill in their arrogant maintenance of their power. People lose their humanity to 4X6 inch screens, and become too self-absorbed to even vote against the tyranny that sucks away our freedom! So, thank you, Jan! For your Blessing. Thanks, POPE FRANCIS I, for your message. May we enter 2015 with the teachings of Yeshuah ben Miriam v Yosef, Hillel and Isaiah 58, MLK , Einstein (just for starters) for peace, wholeness, and at least common sense!

  13. Flora Torra Says:

    Wow, I was feeling out of sorts, desiring more, and longing for –and these words were just right for me to sit with. Thanks Jan. Your gift continues to grow.

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