Sunday, December 23, 2007

Matthew 1:18-25 - Born in what way? Advent 4

Is it irreverent to envision the conversation? Surely, a conversation was had. This is a big deal.

It’s a big deal in our day, and it was probably an even bigger deal back in Jesus’ day. In those days marriage was like a civil contract. And once you were engaged you acknowledged legal consequences. Parents usually arranged the marriages; and they would marry their kids off young, so young there was a minimum age-- thirteen for the boys, and twelve for the girls.1 Mary was just a child herself...

Joseph was engaged to Mary, they’d already had the engagement party, which means they had already signed the marriage license. Even thought they were yet living together—Mary lived in her father’s house until marriage—still, everyone knew they were Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter.2 Joseph would visit her as often as he could.3 And I suppose it was during one of these visits that it finally came out. Mary had been acting kind of strange recently: she was happy about the coming wedding, but also a little reserved and conflicted; not a good sign for a groom.

Sitting down now, Joseph turns to Mary, “Honey, umm, is everything okay?”

Yeah, why?”

I don’t know, you’ve just been a little distant for the past few months. I’ve been concerned about you. Umm, don’t take this the wrong way, but, you seem to be a little more plump.

Are you still going to that Jazzercise class?”

Joseph, how dare you!”

I mean I love you no matter what…but you know, we’re getting married pretty soon; probably want to be in good shape for that wedding night!”He gets up and does a few jumping jacks.

She puts down the remote control. “Joseph, sweetie, I think you should sit down.”

what is it?”

Um, this is going to sound really crazy, about two months ago, I had this really weird experience….and, well, I’m pregnant.”

You’re what, why, how could this be? Who was he??? I’ll see that he’s stoned for sure!!”

That’s just it Joseph, it was no man?”

Huh? What do you mean?”

It was the Holy Spirit?”

What are you talking about? The Holy Spirit?”

You get the idea? I mean that must have been one of the most bizarre encounters in the history of unexpected pregnancies. Like I said, I don’t want to sound irreverent, but I think sometimes we forget that Joseph and Mary were human beings and this had to have been the talk of the town: “She was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit?”

Have any of you ever heard of el Trauco? Trasie and I heard about el Trauco while living in Chile: He is a small ugly man, who can hypnotize girls, leading them into the forest ...from which they return pregnant.4 When a single woman is pregnant, and no-one steps forward as the father, people assume el trauco is responsible.5 Well, I don’t know if the Holy Spirit was a first century Palestinian version of el Trauco, but either way Joseph wasn’t buying it.

Matthew is the only gospel that deals with the question of Joseph at all; Luke’s gospel barely mentions him. He appears in chapter one, disappears by chapter two, and never utters a direct sentence;” yes, I made the conversation up. “Mathew spends 17 verses detailing Joseph’s family tree; beginning with Abraham and working his way toward that next genealogical star, David, and doesn’t stop until he gets to Joseph and [this] rather awkward connection to Jesus, the Messiah.” 6 Evidently, Joseph took his engagement contract very seriously. Matthew calls him Just or righteous: a law abiding citizen, yet concerned about the moral and mental well being of his fiancĂ©. A problem had arisen and with every passing week, it was getting a little bigger. Joseph felt obligated by the law to divorce Mary for her premature pregnancy, which according meant that she and the guy who done it would be stoned, or in the very least she could be disowned by her family.7 While we don’t know if he really was in love with Mary, as we understand love today, it seemed that Joseph wanted the least harm done as possible.

Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary “quietly” implies that he didn’t want her to be harmed.8

But before the divorce final, he sleeps on it.

Dangerous thing to do if you are a dreaming Joseph: An angel appears, a winged talking angel with a story to match Mary’s: “What are you afraid of Jose, that child in Mary, was conceived from the Holy Spirit; name him Jesus!” There he has it, problem solved, more or less. There’s still a lot of explaining to do. But, what a lucky guy!

Maybe you’ve had your dilemmas resolved, because an angel appeared and told you what to do.

This angel even told Joseph what to name the kid. He doesn’t even have to think anymore.

The birth of the Messiah took place in this way.”

So where are we as 21st century people with this birth story? Does the birth story inspire our hearts and imaginations? Or is it just some mumbo-jumbo made up legend, probably harder for us to believe that it was for Joseph to believe Mary’s story?

Ironically, while the events of this tall-tale doesn’t compute with our modern minds, most of us love to celebrate Christmas—at least that is what our consumerist culture would have you believe. We decorate trees and houses with colorful bright lights, we run ourselves ragged and broke buying presents; Jingling bells are ringing everywhere. And we anticipate the coming of Santa Claus, I mean Jesus. Who’s coming are we celebrating on the 25th? But of course, I know better than to question these traditions, I don’t want Trasie or anyone else calling me a bah-hum-bug, or a grintch or whatever. We even love the “Christian” aspect of Christmas: church pews seem to be more crowded, kids act out pageants, real-life nativity scenes. And know Christmas Carols by heart, or in the very least are very good at humming. Something deep in our soul is touched by this season.

But are we touched by how the birth of the Messiah took place? “conceived by the Holy Ghost”?

Are we inspired by the possibility that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary?

As easy as it can be for us to just skip over the tale Mary spins rather than reconcile it with our modern minds, we force ourselves to come back to it year after year: “Round, yon Virgin, Mother and Child.”

But why should it surprise us that the birth of Jesus took place in this way? His life was surrounded by scandal and mystery. This hard to believe tale of birth is just the beginning of the story. It is the beginning of trying to make sense of the life that changed the world forever.

As a kid he was in the synagogue trying to show the older adult rabbis a thing or two. Before he began his formal ministry he was hanging out with that rabble-rouser, honey covered locust eating, John the Baptist. And according to which story you read, he makes his first public appearance after his baptism turning water into wine, casting out demons, getting thrown out of his local synagogue for claiming to be anointed by the holy spirit—did they remember Joseph and Mary’s story—anointed to set captives free, give sight to the blind, preaching good news to the poor. His teachings were revolutionary: love your enemies, forgive those who do you harm, blessed are the peace makers, blessed are the poor.

And isn’t this what’s important about this legendary account of the birth of a baby Jesus. Maybe instead of getting tripped up by some of the harder to grapple with details of the story:

conception by the Holy Spirit, Angels appearing in dreams—we will never understand these things; maybe instead we can consider what this birth story means?

Why did the gospel writers of Matthew and Luke feel it was necessary to tell this part of Jesus’ life? Whatever else they may mean, the birth stories of Jesus emphasize that “God is with us.” Emmanuel. God-with-us through the birth of Jesus into the real world of flesh-and-blood human beings. In other words, it happened! It happened at a particular time, in a particular place, in connection with a particular mother: “In the days of Herod the king”, in Bethlehem, of Mary.

The Christmas story—[the birth of the Messiah]—is anything but a sentimental, harmless, once-a-year occasion for a “Christmas spirit” that lasts only a few days before we return to the “facts” of the “real world.” Christmas is the story of a radical invasion of God into the kind of real world where we live all year long—a world where there is political unrest and injustice,

poverty and hatred, jealousy and pain, fear, and the longing that things could be different.

Conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit” might suggest that the Spirit is the father of Jesus. Kind of weird. But maybe it is better to understand conceived by the Holy Spirit to mean that Jesus had no father at all. That instead of a biological explanation of Jesus being human and God, maybe there is no explanation; that the Word became flesh purely by the will and word of God. God spoke, and Mary heard and responded: “Let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). So we’re not talking about the physical process of procreation, but of God’s original creation of all things “out of nothing.” God simply spoke—breathed life—and it was done.9

If we are honest, as much as we may love or loath this time of year for whatever reason: these stories of the birth of the Messiah and the way that this birth took place, are difficult to get our heads around. But, at the heart of their intention is the suggestion, the emphatic proposition, that birth Happened! That God some how came to be with us in a human being.10 Came to us as a baby.

If I started the sermon off irreverently, chances are I will end it that way when I mention the Will Farrell movie, Talladega nights. At a scene around the dinner table, Will Farrell’s character is to say a blessing with his family before a meal. The prayer begins: Dear baby Jesus; He continues to addresses baby Jesus in the prayer…

Until, someone interrupts him, “Why do you keep praying to baby Jesus?” setting off a great big argument.

Farrel’s character simply suggests that he likes baby Jesus, so that is why he prays to baby Jesus.

The birth of the Messiah took place in this way.”

How comfortable are we with baby Jesus? More importantly, what does it all mean?

To be honest, I don’t think about Jesus as a baby very often, maybe just during this time of year, it is too mysterious, it is too dangerous, it is too far fetched.

Baby Jesus, scandal surrounds his birth.

Baby Jesus, his name means God Saves.

Baby Jesus, born, breast-fed, brought up by parents, Mary and Joseph.

Baby Jesus, Emmanuel-God with us, now and always.

Baby Jesus, we celebrate the birth so very soon.

1 Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series, The Litugical Press: 1991, p. 34-40.
2 Kimberly Clayton Richter, “The Advent Texts: Glorious Visions, Dogged Discipleship,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2004, p.4.
Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series, The Litugical Press: 1991, p. 34-40.
6 Kimberly Clayton Richter, “The Advent Texts: Glorious Visions, Dogged Discipleship,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2004, p.4.
Martin B. Copenhaver, “Jesus’ Other Parent,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2007, pp. 34-36.
Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series, The Litugical Press: 1991, p. 34-40.
9 Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, WJKP: 1994, 235-237
10 Shirley Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, WJKP: 1994, 235-237

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Let Down? What’d you expect? Matthew 11:2-10; Isaiah 35:1-10. Advent 3

For her office’s Christmas party last year, Trasie’s boss took us to see a play called The Wiz—the Wiz a 1975 Broadway musical, an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, exclusively featuring African American actors. The 1978 movie one featured Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the scarecrow. The musical we saw featured children, including a little 10 year-old Dorothy who sang her little heart out. She and the brainless Scarecrow, the rusty tin man and the cowardly lion made their way along the yellow brick road surviving obstacles and adversaries until finally arriving to the emerald city—the house of the Wiz; they want to meet the wiz, they have to meet the wiz, the wiz will solve all their problems: give brains to Scarecrow, lubricant to Tin man, and courage to the Lion; and of course get Dorothy and Toto home.

The Wiz appears to them in lights and as this giant metallic head—the lion panics—the Wiz demands they get rid of the Wicked Witch of the Westside. Exasperated but desperate, they somehow rid Oz of this witch, and return to the Wiz’ palace even more excited, with more hope than before; they’re finally going to get what they want. As we all know, thanks to Toto, they experience total let down—The wiz is a fake. Some old dude who can’t do anything “magical” for them. Hopes and dreams are dashed, tears run, agony and despair are felt. Why? They hoped for something big, big change in their lives, they hoped for new life after wandering around lost and desperate…and instead they find this fake old dude.

Why they decided to run this musical during the days leading up to Christmas, I can’t tell you. Why Trasie’s office wanted to go see the musical for their Christmas party, I haven’t the slightest clue. Yet, strangely enough, I found the story of the Wiz, or the Wizard of Oz for that matter, appropriate for this Sunday’s passages. Matthew’s story about John is a tale of hope-filled expectations dashed by three walls and vertical bars. John not long ago was on top of the world hanging out in the desert, eating honey covered locusts and wearing his camel coat—surely a fashion statement—shouting like a wild man that the One is coming with an ax ready to chop unworthy trees down.

Chaff would burn with unquenchable fire. Do you want a revolution…let the kids say Whoop Whoop!

As John is yelling about the Coming One, Jesus shows up on stage, apparently ready to accept all the accolades John will give him. He goes under the waters of the Jordan and emerges baptized, ready. John preached a straightforward sermon: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ The words of Jesus’ first public proclamation: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ I guess there was no copyright on the sermon.

But, I wonder, as the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, were he and John looking at each other eye-to-eye: John thinking, “Yes, this is the One,”

and Jesus thinking “Yes, I am the one,” only that each man defined “the One” differently. Did John have hopes the Messiah would be one way, while Jesus had another idea about his mission? Did the coming of the kingdom mean God would lead Israel to triumph over her enemies at last, or did it mean the end of all hostility forever? Did it mean God would send Israel a new king for a new age, or did it mean God was coming to relieve all human rulers of their thrones, for God would be the just Judge ruling atop the mountain? Was the kingdom a present reality, in which the righteous already lived with God, or was it a future one for which all creation groaned?”1 These apparently differing ideas about the Messiah are found in the Old Testament; the prophets just don’t seem to agree on what the kingdom would look like!

In other words, John has certain expectations for Jesus the Messiah, which are perfectly legit according to the ancient prophets: the Messiah would bring the Kingdom John dreamed to see—a Messiah kicking tail and taking names; carrying out final judgment, cutting down trees that are not bearing fruit.

Reestablishing of Israel as a power…this is what the prophets said. John’s ready for Jesus rise up and turn the world upside down, but instead John ends up on death row at the hands of the existing powers.

In the mean time, Jesus is about his business being the Messiah according to his understanding: He eats with tax collectors and sinners; he lets prostitutes wash his feet, and forgives [foreigners]; weren’t these are the very people who were supposed to be chopped and burned?2 Jesus is telling people to love their enemies; isn’t he supposed to be mopping the floor with them instead? So now John’s rotting behind bars, worn out and depressed. “What is this guy doing?” he wonders. So John sends word to Jesus: Hey, you see me here in jail? You remember all the stuff I said about you…all that hype I gave you. I made you famous. I had big hopes for you. Was this just a big joke?

I’m sure we all can relate to John’s disappointment. Everyone knows what it’s like to be let down by someone we had high hopes for. Let’s make a long list of all the people who have let us down: From the most mundane like our favorite sports team, to the most intimate: A parent? A spouse? A child? We could be writing all day. It was a total let down when my high school prom date, Nicky Davis, who I considered to be the bomb—smart, good looking, athletic—decided she didn’t want to date because I was too nice. What!!?? What was she looking for? What a let down, and apparently I let her down too—guess it wasn’t meant to be.

Let me ask you, would you put yourself on that list of people who let you down?

Sometimes I leave the church here during the week really bummed out, not because anyone has let me down, but because I put certain expectations on myself that I just can’t meet.

And if we’re honest with ourselves I’m sure we’ll admit that we’re probably on many other people’s “let down list”; more than we would ever care to know.

Let’s face it: we’ve let others down, we’ve let ourselves down, and others have let us down; we’ve probably even been let down by pets…although pets are probably among the least likely to really disappoint us…and they feel so guilty when they do, especially dogs.

Why all the let downs? Because we put our own expectations on others and ourselves, and others put their expectations on us. Why all the dashed hopes and expectations? Because we want people to be someone other than who they are. Someone we want them to be. And often, we want ourselves to be someone other than who we really are, too.

When I first came here nearly a year ago now [don’t forget about the celebremos fiesta Jan, 6] I preached my first sermon about expectations, about the loads of expectations this congregation had for me (and Trasie), and the countless expectations I had for this congregation—to feed me, to be nice to me, to buy me a new car, I didn’t get the car, but Margaret did give me this Mickey Mouse watch. Slowly we are coming to know each other, and rather than just turn one another into a heaping pile of unreasonable expectations, we are all coming to accept one another as we are, to grow with each other in our relationship with God, to help one another discover who God has created each of us to be.

One of my favorite paraphrases of Calvin goes: in order to know God you have to come to know yourself and in order to come to know yourself you have to come to now God. So, spiritually, our relationship with God depends upon self-discovery.

Every day that God gives us life, we are given a new day for self discovery, discovery of who God has created us to be. I must constantly remind myself that I am not necessarily who others define me to be; and I do not have to live to meet others expectations. I am to live as God calls me to live, and realize that God loves me the way that I am.

In the encounter between John and Jesus, I think John was coming to realize that Jesus wasn’t who he thought he would be. And we probably have the same tendency John did. We turn Jesus into someone we hope he is, but is that really who Jesus is? If and when Jesus came into our lives, maybe we were pumped,

ready for the world to be turned completely upside down. Things were pretty cool at first, but then stuff started going wrong and things weren’t working out like we’d been told; and Jesus was the reason… Come on Jesus, are you the one who is going to heal me, are you the one who is going to fix my problems,

are you the one who is going to make me rich? What kind of Messiah are you anyway?

John’s disciples ask a simple straightforward question:

—‘Are you the Coming One, or are we to wait for another?’—Yes or no.

But the question assumes everyone agrees what being the Coming One means.

Jesus cannot answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without accepting the terms of the question, so he does not answer either way. Instead he tells John’s people to go tell him what they hear and see; 5’the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them,’ Exactly what the prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would do.3

But, then, depending on your expectations, that may or may not be enough.

There were still plenty of blind people in Israel, after all, plenty of the lame people parked at busy intersections rattling tin cups at passers by. All the lepers weren’t cleansed, any more than all of the dead were raised. The poor may have had good news brought to them, but they were still poor—still sharecropping for the rich, still paying taxes to the Romans, still wondering how to make ends meet without getting in worse debt than they already were. Herod was still minting coins with his picture on them and spending them on his grandiose building projects; and soldiers broke the kneecaps of anyone who protested.” 4

Couldn’t the Coming One have gotten a better handle of all that? Wouldn’t it have been more striking if Jesus had said, ‘Go tell John what you hear and see: the terror is over, evil is defeated, the occupation is ended, and the oppressors are sent home’? Wouldn’t the world have been a better place if Jesus had said, ‘the homeless are housed, the poor receive a living wage, the scales of justice are balanced,” [everyone has a fair share]? 5

Even after his death and resurrection, all kinds of ancient hopes lay unfulfilled, like the one we read from Isaiah, the very passage Jesus quotes. Waters did not break forth in a blooming desert. No lions lay down with any lambs. There appears to be no super Holy Highway. For early Christians, it would seem “God’s kingdom did not come, but Titus’s troops did. In the fall of 70 AD, after a long and merciless siege, the Romans burned the Temple in Jerusalem to the ground and most of the city with it. Are you the Coming One, or are we to wait for another?” 6

Jesus would not answer that question, at least not directly. John’s disciples were to make up their own mind, based on what they heard and saw, and so are we; Jesus points out small things he’s done, not big things, things that are happening among little people, not powerful people, with local effect, not cosmic effect.7

During Advent, we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, and anticipate the second.

What kind of a Messiah do we hope will come? “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,” Jesus said, knowing better than anyone the disappointing, redemptive ways in which God works—sending a human child into the world instead of a mighty king, sending servants instead of troops—sending people like you and me with all of our hang ups and quirks instead of real disciples to do the work of the Coming One until he comes, for in just this way the kingdom of heaven draws very, very near. 8

Maybe we can prepare during this season of Advent for the Coming One, by learning to accept ourselves as we are and others as they are. Trying to love ourselves and love others, as God does. Then we will be ready to accept Jesus for who he is every time he enters our lives in mysterious ways, both now and in some long awaited future Coming!

1 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

2 Porter Taylor, "The Place He Stops is Now,"

3 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

4 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

5 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

6 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

7 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

8 Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Third Sunday of Advent” year A, Duke Chapel, Dec. 12, 2004.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Advent 1-Year A, 07 – “Jesus Is Coming: Look Busy”

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

So as we all know, I’m new in this role and this is my first advent as a minister…and my weeks, my days of playing that card—the new guy on the block—are numbered. I’ve been here for almost a year. My shiny newness is wearing off. I’m beginning to lose that new minister smell…(Sniff under-arms)

The first Sunday I preached here was Jan 7, 2007, I remember it like it was almost a year ago… So what do you say let’s have a party: Let’s celebrate!

A year gone by end of 2007 and beginning of 2008. We can continue Christmas by celebrating Epiphany, traditionally, a Christian feast intended to celebrate the "shining forth" or revelation of God to humankind in human form, in the person of Jesus. The feast is also called Twelfth Day, as it is the twelfth day after Christmas, or Three Kings Day. We can exchange silly gifts; give out silly awards.

Maybe some speeches; a pot-luck; the pictorial directories will be done by then (hopefully)! If you haven’t had your picture taken yet…talk to Bob Horning or Trasie. I can’t wait.

But, it ain’t time yet. We’re still weeks away. It’s not even Christmas time yet.

I’ve got so much shopping to do, it ain’t even funny. Deep down I hope my family, for one, decides to not exchange gifts this year…or if anyone receives gifts it will be my 14 month old nephew. And we’ve got to get practicing for the Christmas Padgeant and christmas caroling. Boy I can’t wait to see the kid’s acting it out.

All this waiting for things to come…I wonder what Dec. 2, the first Sunday of Advent is all about? Let’s see, we have a perspective members class; today those who are planning to support the life and mission of this church next year financially will turn in their pledge cards; practice for the coro de chicas y chicos, and prep for the Christmas pageant. What else, on today the first Sunday of Advent?

Ah, yes, waiting, watching and getting ready for the Second Coming of Christ.

Wait. Hmmm. Wait for the second coming of Christ? hmmm

Wait Who wants to wait anyway? Do we know anyone who is good at waiting?

Maybe one of the awards we can give out at our end of the year beginning of the year party could be for the best waiter. That would not be me. I’ve never been very patient, although things got better after living in Mexico.

My braces drove me crazy, and I couldn’t wait for my teeth to get adequately straight. Waiting for someone to come pick me up from school when I was 15, drove me crazy. After Trasie and I got engaged, I could not wait to get married. I was living in Chile she was living in Mexico…let me tell you, I was a twenty seven year old male who couldn’t wait!

So what is it now that the Bible, of all things, is telling us to wait for? Christmas?…well, yes, we celebrate the first coming of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus—only 23 more days. But, these passages that we read today aren’t talking about an angel announcing the birth of Emmanuel, they don’t suggest that we anticipate a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Nope, these bible passages are painting an impression in our minds of some dramatic things that to happen in the future. In Isaiah, we see God establishing a house on a holy mountain, Zion, to which “all nations shall stream.” There God acts as judge, mediator, between nations, all nations accept the Law of God, and God is a just judge. With God as judge everyone knows that fairness and truth would reign:

What a difference if in troubled areas of the world, there were a just judge recognized in disputes! In the ancient world, as in the [world we live in today] the warrant for war is that there is no such authority for adjudication, and so nations take matters into their own hands. Now, in the envisioned world of the poem [in Isaiah] where God’s judgment is in place, war is not needed.”1

Swords are turned in to plowshares, tanks are turned into tractors, guns into garden rakes, bombs and bullets into bongos and bowling balls.

I can’t wait for a world such as this!

But even more than waiting…as bad as waiting is, both the passages from the New Testament tell us that while we’re waiting we need to be ready; to watch; to expect. No one knows when the Second Coming of the Son of Man will be (Daniel 7:13-14). Not even Jesus. But, his return would mean completion of God’s purposes; so be ready, we are told. No one knows when the glorious return will be, not even the angels, but we are to be watch, Jesus says.

It will happen like in the time of Noah—people were living their lives, eating and drinking and marrying—and then came the flood. We live our lives, too, eating out, keeping up with busy schedules, returning text messages, planning baby showers, maybe even a vacation is in the works—and then the unexpected happens. That’s how it will be when the Son of Man comes, Jesus says.

A thief doesn’t announce a break into your house; God will not announce the time when God is going to break into your life and into the world. So we better be ready all the time…be watchful. Keep awake..Merry Christmas!2

So what does readiness entail? Well, I don’t think it means fear mongering, threatening our own lives or those of others with what may happen to them at this return. Nor do I think preparing means necessarily storing up a bunch of food…or trying to look for signs of the times. What the texts meant for first century Palestinian Jews is very difficult for us 21 century gentiles to know.

But, in Matthew, we are given a picture of a faithful and wise servant “at work,” but not doing anything special; doing the work his master told him to do.

And reading on just a bit further in Matthew, we find the climax of Jesus sermon;

Jesus speaks of those who were surprised at the coming of the Son of Man and the final judgment.

There was surprise among those who were simply doing their duty…Lord, when did we see you hungry, give you something to drink, welcome you in our home, cloth you, visit you when you were sick and in prison? And surprise among those who weren’t doing these things. “Lord, When?”3

So let me ask everyone a question at the beginning of Advent…have we waited long enough? Are we ready for the second coming and all that comes with it?

Bring it on, Right!?

There are a lot of creative images out there about what it would look like, that is for sure. But, I wonder, do we really even think much about the coming of Christ anymore? Do we think about God establishing a mountain from which justice will be decreed?

It’s really interesting, but I would say that probably for most of us…we have lost sight of the second coming. We don’t understand what it means…it’s got excessive scary and threatening baggage with it, thanks to many would be contemporary interpreters. Do we pray come Lord Jesus with sincerity? Do we even care?

It hasn’t always been this way. An article,4 entitled “Imagine there’s no heaven” suggests that in the 19th century, preaching eschatology, end times, was the main topic in Presbyterian, Methodist, Epicopialan churches; congregations thrived off of this kind of End of the World Preaching. In other words, even 100 years ago, whoever was preaching here was preaching on a regular bases about the Second Coming! But what about now? Are many preachers shouting: the end is coming, the end is coming? When’s the last time any one of us was out on a street corner holding a sign that said: Repent: The end is near? In the very least we could make signs like the one my friend has: Jesus is coming; Look busy.

Would we rather stay away from passages like the ones we read this morning: about End times and staying awake? Why do we shy away from Jesus Coming again? It’s certainly biblical, but maybe we don’t believe it. It seems like it should be any day now, but maybe we’re tired of waiting. It really should be a marvelous time, but maybe it scares us.

Even, leading evangelical Christians don’t seem to put much weight on the second coming like the good ole days. Joel Osteen, pastor of a huge church in Houston talks about Your Best Life now, he’s firmly focused on the present tense—not the future coming. It is argued that much of the reason for the loss of eschatological focus, much of the loss of hope that God is coming to establish a throne of justice, to fulfill purpose for all of creation, is because science, technology and new understandings of the world have led us to believe that if we just put a little more into it, we can bring about the kingdom. If we just apply the best tools of capitalism, we can make life better for everyone…

The solution to global warming may be solved by the next generation of college graduates. Maybe baby Jaleesa holds the key to a cure for cancer.

But really, I wonder if many of us born in the 20th century have been duped by the notion of progress…”every day in every way, things are getting better”—and have given up on the need for something radically different to happen in our lives…for God to break in and take over any agenda that might be running us ragged.

But what’s really happening instead?

Is progress failing us?

Some people may have more things to distract them,

but are lonely and depressed; Prozac is a drug of choice.

We may have flown to the moon,

but airplanes crash and space shuttles explode.

We may have more technology, but wars continue to rage using more and more powerful weapons,

epidemics spread,

life is being threatened on so many levels,

our world is full of suffering and oppression.

Progress may have lulled people into thinking that the Second coming was no longer relevant, hope could be found elsewhere, eventually we’ll figure out how it should ends…but, I wonder if we find ourselves at a point where we’re ready to reconsider?

Should I start praying: thy kingdom to come…with diligence and fervor?

Should I wake up, rub my eyes, smell the coffee, and dress myself to always do acts of love and mercy, rather than falling into distractions that would be harmful to me and to others? Can I be so full of hope, because I am ready, I am watching, knowing that God will come soon?

Our Bible tells us about some future, a mysterious event that will change the course of history forever. Can we wait? Or better yet, are we ready? Will we be watching? Won’t it be wonderful! I wonder what difference it would make in our lives, and in this church, if we started to consider again: Jesus is Coming back, and it could be any day. God establishing soon a throne of justice.

I guess that is something we’ll have to consider over the next few least until we celebrate an event that has already taken place, a coming of God that changed the course of history, forever, the birth of baby in Bethlehem.

1 Brueggeman, et al. Texts for Preaching: Year A, p.3.

2 Kimberly Clayton Richter, “The Advent Texts: Glorious Visions, Dogged Discipleship,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2004, p.4.

3 Charles Cousar, “Disruptive Hope: New Testament Texts for Advent,” Journal for Preachers, Advent 2001, p. 25-27.

4 Thomas G. Long, “Imagine There’s No Heaven: The Loss of Escathology in American Preaching,” Journal For Preachers, Advent 2006, pp. 21-28.