“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.” – Luke 21:25-26 (NRSV)
In Western New York this past December, a blizzard left thousands digging out from snow. Only six months earlier, heatwaves battered the United Kingdom and Europe.
In June 2022, severe rain and melting snow led to devastating floods in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding regions. That same summer, monsoon rains and subsequent floods displaced thousands in Pakistan and killed more than 1,100 people.
So far in 2023 in the U.S., there have been more than 50 mass shootings (in which 4+ people are injured and/or killed). And last year was the deadliest year on record for police violence, with 1,176 people killed by U.S. law enforcement (according to theguardian.com).
There are plenty of signs, terrible signs, all around us in the earth and the seas, in the stars and in the sun, in the news and in our communities. We are not lacking for signs.
The question is: How do we interpret them, and for what purpose?
Do we proclaim the signs of global warming to incite fear or to rally creativity?
Do we point to signs of violence to deepen bias or to ignite change?
Do we perceive heaven’s quaking as a call to humility or as an excuse for self-indulgence?
There are plenty of signs, terrible signs, and Jesus doesn’t promise their easy resolution but only: “the realm of God is near” and “my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:31-33). Let signs come and go; Christ is near. Let stars fall and heavens shake; we will not let each other faint or weep alone. Let the waves and winds roar; we will work together in the confidence of God Everlasting.
When I am afraid and troubled, be near to me, O Christ. When I would prefer to hide my head under a pillow or in the sand, help me draw near to others for the sake of your realm. Amen.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.