“And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter.” Jesus is talking about the Last Days, the days before He comes back to us in glory, but when I hear these words, I can’t help but think of the events of the last few weeks. “Alas for those who are with child…pray that it may not happen in winter.” I have a friend who is pregnant with her first child right now; she and her husband Chris lost everything but each other to Hurricane Sandy. Chris owns a charter boat which they found eventually but couldn’t get to. They lost their main source of income, their home and everything in it. I would pray that this didn’t happen to them in winter, but it already has, it is winter for them in more ways than one. And yet, she recently wrote “Just came from (the doctor’s) office. Saw baby and heard heart beat. We sure needed that. Makes it all ok.”
Makes is all OK. Something needs to. I remember after the Nor’easter of ’92, it took about a year to get things back to normal. All through that winter, which was a brutal winter, I had work, both paid and volunteer, ripping out people’s floors, repairing roofs, cleaning up the big condominium complexes in Monmouth Beach. It took a while, but in the end, we were able to take off our gloves and smile at each other as we shook hands after a job well done, knowing that we took on the worst storm in memory and won. That was the worst it could get, we thought.
We were, of course, very wrong. When we were down on the Shore, the scene reminded me of a story that the comedian Ron White used to tell in his show. Ron would talk about physical fitness while smoking a cigarette and drinking scotch on stage, and then he would tell the story of “a guy down in Florida who said that, at the age of 53 years old, he was in good enough physical condition to withstand the wind, rain and hail of a force-3 hurricane.”1 Ron would stop, take a sip of his scotch, and say, “Now, let me explain somethin’ to ya: it isn’t that the wind is blowin’, it’s what the wind is blowin’.” The winds of Hurricane Sandy blew a 38 foot wave past an ocean buoy off of northern Monmouth County, which would explain Sea Bright and Union Beach. It blew a fourteen foot storm surge over most of the Jersey Shore; that water carried with it anything that was in its path. Boulders, boats, houses, and cars, but the kicker was the sand. It’s going to take another six months to get rid of all the sand.
Something needs to make this all OK. Instead, what our lectionary gives us today is Jesus telling us how bad things can really get. In our Gospel reading and the verses the lead up to it, Jesus tells us that in the last days, “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines…brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” To put it plainly, utter chaos, beginning with the ‘desolating sacrilege.”
“What is the “desolating sacrilege?” In the book of Daniel it was an altar to the god Zeus placed in the Temple in Jerusalem by the Syrian/Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168 BC. Antiochus tried to do away with Judaism all together. Those were desperate times for God’s people. The later part of the Book of Daniel (chapters 7-12) is an apocalyptic description of God’s ultimate triumph over this evil rule. Were these the end times? No. Although they’re described that way in the Book of Daniel. The Maccabean rebellion of brave Jewish leaders fighting against incredible odds in a guerrilla war overturned the foreign Greek rule of the Selucid dynasty in the later part of the 2nd century BC.”2
What is the desolating sacrilege today? I don’t know. I guess it could be anything, and in the midst of the chaos of recovering from a storm like Sandy, anything can feel a bit desolating. It’s all enough to make you wish there was something, someone, who could make it all OK.
Thanks be to God, there is. Jesus tells us that things will be rough, but then we will “see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” There will come a day when God Himself will wipe every tear from our eyes, I have no doubt. Nor do I doubt that Jesus is with us now, working in our lives, working with us and through us to further His Kingdom here on Earth, pointing us toward good works, toward the grace that comes down in even the most desolating of winters, pointing us toward the life that springs up even amongst the ruins, making it all OK.
1Ron White, They Call Me Tater Salad, 2004.
2The Rev. Dr. James R. Wheeler, Year B, Proper 28, 11/16/03