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.

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