Hope in Apocalyptic Times

Jacob, who is wracked with fear, sets out in search of final truth. He walks over mountains, looking everywhere. He asks God for help, and climbs a hill to look out. A nightingale eats plums in an orchard and turns them into song. She flies up through the rain, sunlight sparkling on her feathers. All around Jacob, nature is vibrant and alive. He sighs and walks down the hill. “God doesn’t answer me,” he says.


Perhaps you remember this song I’ve just paraphrased. It’s called “Nightingale I” by Judy Collins. In the scripture reading this morning, Jesus tells us to keep awake, to stay alert. In this Judy Collins song, Jacob is not awake to God’s glory all around him. 


What are we keeping awake to? What are we watching for?

How do we keep awake when we’re exhausted?

And what does that have to do with the rest of this apocalyptic scripture passage?


Let’s take each of these questions one by one. What are we keeping awake to or watching for? Our reading begins very apocalyptically, with a setting of great suffering and then the Son of Humanity swooping in on the clouds to bring everything to a just conclusion. It sounds straight out of Revelations. This stretch is called Mark’s “little apocalypse” for that reason. And Jesus says we are to be on the watch for this event, because no one knows when it will happen. If we pay attention to the fig tree, we will know when it’s time for the leaves to come out and later when it’s time to bear fruit. And then Jesus talks about a master or lord leaving the household to run without him, but he will return who knows when (no cell phones to announce his return), so all need to be alert, keep awake.


Keep awake for the return of the Divine. Keep awake for justice. Be on the watch for God’s presence, God’s love, God’s guidance showing up at the most unexpected times.


How do we keep awake when we’re exhausted and afraid, worn down by the trials of life and the fearful events of the world? In Jesus’ day his people were being oppressed by imperialist Rome, just for being born who they were and where they were. People were being taxed so unfairly that they were forced off their land and into homelessness. People were dealing with hunger, lack of health care, discrimination, corruption of authorities—sound familiar? What do we add to the list? Climate change, racism, coronavirus, immigration, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and more. It’s exhausting and overwhelming just to name the list, much less do anything about it.


So in the face of such exhaustion, what do we do? How do we keep awake? Ironically, I suggest that we actually rest. We take good care of ourselves, take breaks when we need to so that we can recharge. But we don’t avoid the realities. We face them. We go through them in order to come out the other side. There is a whole contingent of people in this country who deny climate change, deny their own racism, deny that the pandemic is even real, refuse to wear masks, deny the legitimacy of our most recent election. They make up fake news and call it real. I think that would ultimately be exhausting because you have to take so much energy trying to keep the real world at arm’s length.


We deal with exhaustion by recentering ourselves in God. We ask God for help, like Jacob in the song, and then we open ourselves to that presence in us and all around us.


We practice hope. Today we lit the candle of Hope as part of our Advent anticipation of Jesus’ arrival in a few more weeks. Here is a chart showing the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic hope. It comes from the book Intrinsic Hope by Kate Davies.


Extrinsic Hope

Intrinsic Hope

An external orientation to life.

An internal orientation to life.

Expects or anticipates specific outcomes. Emotionally attached to achieving particular results. Believes life should conform to its wishes.

Lets go of specific outcomes and achieving particular results. Has aspirations but is not emotionally attached to achieving them in a specific time frame.

Know what’s best. A fixed view of the future.

Open to possibilities. Humble, curious and creative.

Based on dissatisfaction with life and a lack of acceptance.

Based on satisfaction and an acceptance of life, just as it is—even if we don’t like it.

Always accompanied by fear.

Motivated by love.

Leads to disappointment, self-righteous anger and frustration, shame and guilt, sadness and despair, and grief when life does not conform to our hopes.


Avoids the present moment and lives in the future, thereby precluding effective action.

Lives in the present moment.

Makes plans and fantasizes.

Takes small steps.

Action not guaranteed.

Action guaranteed.

Disappears when our hopes are not fulfilled.

A limitless resource.


[Kate Davies, Intrinsic Hope: Living Courageously in Troubled Times, (New Society Publishers, 2018).]


We look at our current president—this is regardless of whether you voted for him—and how he is in denial about the election results. He is living into an extrinsic hope model: when things do not go his way, he refuses to accept anything else.


We look at this pandemic and how churches have responded to it. Some have said there is no other way to worship. Others have been open to possibilities, creative about reinventing church and worship in such a way that we can gather without getting each other sick. We don’t have to like being in the middle of a pandemic, but we accept it, and that allows us to move through to a place of saying, “So now what?” That is a place that opens us to God, opens us to thinking creatively about new ways to do things.


We face the realities. We go through them, not around them, not denying them. And we look for God’s presence at every step. We keep awake. The situation may be dire for some—may even be end times for some individuals—but God does not abandon us. God is here, inviting, comforting, loving, nudging, challenging, forgiving. Keep awake. God is in you. God is all around you.


See the present reality for what it is. Not the fake news. Not the rosiest predictions that ignore the realities. Only when we see the problems will we be able to come up with ideas for action.


We keep awake by taking action. Even small steps. Make a plan. When we are engaged, we see the progress and the possibilities. It’s harder to be exhausted and despairing when we see change happening.


We keep awake by keeping our eye on God and the teachings that guide our lives. We continue to study and act and pray and worship and discern. This is how we keep awake—awake to God.


Our hope is in God. We do what we can and turn the rest over to God.



In the song at the start of this sermon, Jacob walked up a hill looking for God and answers. He was not open to God’s presence all around him. We all are invited to be open to God. Here’s how that has played out for me just in the past 24 hours. Yesterday morning, as rain tapered off and the sun came out, a rainbow appeared behind the sheep pasture. In the story of Noah’s ark, the rainbow is the sign that God does not give up on us but remains faithful and present. Keep awake: God is here. Yesterday at sunset I walked up the ridge to where my house is under construction. Some of you have been there, and I hope all of you will get a chance to visit one of these months. The house is set out in a meadow where deer and coyotes wander through. They leave footprints around my foundation as they inspect progress on the house. Some nights the coyotes come out howling and yipping. The deer like to graze through the meadow; all summer they delighted in the smorgasbord I had planted in my garden. The leaves are down now, and I’ve been piling maple leaves in my garden, where worms will munch them into mulch to make next year’s plants very happy. Yesterday as I watched the sun go down, a mist crept through the field and hung in the air before the woods. In the distance I could see more layers of mist and woods. To the east, a full moon crept up through the cedars. And then this morning there was the sunrise.



We keep awake to God’s presence all around us and in us. God loves you. Put your hope and your faith in that. See where it takes you. Amen.

Related Information

Prospect Blog