It Gets Better
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see, ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
This is always such a great way to enter the holiday season, isn’t it? The first day of a new worship calendar… the first Sunday of Advent… the first day where we light our candles and are invited to begin waiting, preparing and hoping for all that’s born for us, in Jesus at Christmas, and we get “distress, fainting, fear and foreboding.” But we want more, don’t we? We need more, don’t we? And, while all of this doom and gloom matters – I don’t mean to dismiss it – the point of all of this (everything Jesus is up to and all of this waiting and hoping preparing that comes with these Advent days) it that it gets better. And it reminded me of something.
Almost a decade ago, an author and journalist named Dan Savage started a campaign to help combat the sad, staggering suicide rate for young people who struggle with their sexuality – in our country and around the world.
(Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24, and that LGBTQ youth contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth?)
(Did you know that LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth?)
(Did you know that LGBTQ youth who come from highly unsupportive families are more than 8 (8.4) times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGBTQ peers whose families are more supportive?)
(Did you know that every time an LGBTQ young person is victimized, like through physical or verbal harassment, it more than doubles the likelihood that they will hurt themselves? Every time … which means the effect of that kind of bullying is cumulative in a sad, terrifying way.)
Anyway, the campaign I was talking about – that made me think of Advent – is called, “The It Gets Better Project,” and it is a beautiful thing and a holy work and it’s almost as simple as it sounds. The creators started out by asking celebrities of all kinds to share their own personal “It Gets Better Stories.” Some of them you might expect – or could guess would play along – people like Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Neil Patrick Harris and Chaz Bono. Other contributors might surprise you, like Stephen Colbert, President Obama, Drew Brees, Larry King, and Tom Hanks. Even our own Bishop at the time, Mark Hanson, got in on the action.
The point of the project is simply to do what Dan Savage, the creator, wished he could have done for some of the young people he learned had died by suicide after being bullied so much and because they were so desperate. He believed that if he could have had just 5 minutes to bend their ear, if he could have had just 5 minutes to tell them, no matter how bad or how hard or how sad things were, that it would get better for them eventually; that then they might have had hope enough to stick it out.
He believed that if he could point to himself and others like him – grown, successful, happy, fulfilled adults who had struggled and suffered in similar ways – that they could serve as living proof that it really can and really does get better – that your school and your hometown, that your neighborhood and your Church (too much of the time), that your family and friends, even – don’t have to be forever; or bully you forever; or bring you down forever, or break your spirit forever.
And, as beautiful and as needed and as holy and as clever as I think “The It Gets Better Project” is, you and I both know you don’t have to be a kid, or LGBT or Q, or bullied or picked on or suicidal to need a reminder every once in awhile that “It Gets Better.” And I think that’s something like what Jesus is up to in today’s Gospel. I think that’s what these Advent days of waiting and hoping and preparing are all about for us.
Jesus says there will be signs… there will be distress among nations… there will be confusion about the roaring of the seas. He says there will be fear and foreboding and that the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And he promises this to each and every one of us – without exception. And it’s enough to make you wonder, “What’s wrong?” Or, “What’s next?” Or, “What’s the point?” And “Why bother?”
And I think those are good questions. The world around us is a hard, harsh place to be a lot of the time. I’m am actually scared about the roaring of the sea and the waves. I’m worried about the political divide in our own country and the very real distress among the nations of our world. I’m concerned about all of the sickness and struggle on our prayer list. And I know enough to be curious and concerned, too, about all the things that don’t even make that list. It’s tempting to believe that not much has changed since Jesus did his thing on the planet.
But Jesus did do his thing on the planet – and that means everything has changed; everything is changed; everything will be changed by the hope with which we are called to wait in these days. Everything will be changed by the hope for which we are called to wait. And that really is Jesus’ point this morning – and our hope for Advent, in Christ’s coming.
He says, “raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Stand tall. Hold fast. And he talks about trees that sprout leaves as signs and reminders that summer is near; as signs and promises that change is coming. And he uses that as an example for us that the same is true for what God is up to in the world. We’re meant to live with hope in the belief that God is always up to something among us.
And with the coming of Jesus we’re supposed to begin waiting and watching and working for God’s purpose among us. We are meant to see just how far God is willing to go for the sake of healing and love and redemption: the Creator of the world would go as far as a manger in Bethlehem; the Son of God would go as far as a cross on Calvary; the Messiah of all things would go as far as a tomb outside of Jerusalem, even – all so we would know, so we would trust, so we would hope, so we would share the news that nothing can separate us from that kind of grace, for us and for the sake of the world.
In these Advent days – in the midst of the darkness and struggle and sadness that may surround us more often than we’d like to admit – we are called to hope and pray and live as though the kingdom of God is just around the corner, that the Kingdom of God is already among us, really … that it has, that it does, that it will always get better, thanks to the new life that comes in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.