Sunday, November 28, 2010

“Jesus is Coming! Everybody Look Busy!”

First Sunday of Advent – Year A
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Sunday, November 28, 2010 – Trinity, Redlands

As we begin this Advent season, it feels to me as if there is so much going on. Perhaps it is because we just finished Thanksgiving and are already three days into the official Christmas season as reckoned by secular society. Perhaps it is because I made the mistake of looking at my calendar and see how much we have going on around here, how much needs to be done before Christmas – Advent programming, Lessons and Carols, Las Posadas, Blue Christmas, planning for pageants and special liturgies. That may contribute to it, but what I am particularly referring to is that Advent is not just a time when there is a lot of activity going on, but it is also a time in which there is a lot going on theologically.

We always talk about how Advent is a time of anticipation and preparation. It is the time when we anticipate the coming of our Lord, both in terms of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem, and in terms of the coming of the Risen Lord at the end of the ages, what we refer to as the parousia, the Second Coming. And it is a time of preparation, as we prepare our hearts and our spirits to receive the newborn baby who grows up to be our Messiah, who ultimately is crucified and resurrected for our salvation. It is also a time of preparation for his coming again; of putting our spiritual lives in order so that we are ready for the Second Coming and the new kingdom it will usher in. Advent is the time of anticipation and preparation for receiving God’s gift of salvation through the Word made flesh in varying manifestations.

We pretty well have the anticipation and preparation for Jesus’ birth, for Christmas, taken care of. We have something tangible to shoot for, something date certain – Christmas Day, which, by the way, is only 27 shopping days from now. For most people, the good cheer amid carols of “Joy to the World” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” the retelling of the nativity story, just sort of naturally prepare our hearts and spirits for the remembrance of Jesus’ birth. But in all the rushing, the frantic and frenetic activity, we tend to miss out on some of the theological richness of this season. We tend to overlook the second component of Advent – the anticipation and preparation for the Second Coming of our Lord.

The Second Coming is a little more difficult for many of us to fathom, isn’t it? As Jesus tells us in the Gospel lesson, “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” We don’t know when it’s going to happen, and I think for many of us in this crazy, busy-ness oriented, schedule driven world, this is a little uncomfortable. We need to know when it’s going to happen so we can get it on the calendar. Even if we aren’t able to control the timing, at the very least, we want to know the details about what is going to happen, so we know what to expect. But Scripture doesn’t give us any useful information. Because the whole Second Coming thing is far less tangible than Christmas, maybe it’s just as easy to ignore that unknown and unknowable part of Advent.

But how can we when our Gospel lesson focuses on that very subject? Jesus makes it clear that despite the unknown timing, we are to be prepared. Prepared how? I have to admit that whenever I read this section of Matthew’s Gospel, whenever I think about Christ’s Second Coming and what it means to be prepared, I am instantly reminded of a bumper sticker I saw years ago – “Jesus is Coming! Everybody Look Busy!” And to be honest, I think that’s kind of what a lot of people think about the Second Coming. Oh, I’m not going to worry about it until later, when it actually happens.

As the 20th century Swiss theologian Karl Barth has commented, Christians look backward, remembering God’s acts of salvation, and we look forward, anticipating the inauguration of the new heaven and the new earth. As such, Barth notes, we Christians live “between the times.” Advent focuses on these two times, the time of Jesus’ birth 2,000 years ago, and Christ’s Second Coming at some time in the future. Advent is a reminder that we do live “between the times.” As such, we cannot look down the road at some yet-to-be determined event, but rather we would do best to focus on our lives as they are in the here and now, “between the times.” That’s not to say that we shouldn’t look to the past or anticipate the future. The past gives us insight and the future allows for imagination. But we live in the here and now. And so our preparations need to be in the here and now.

That is part of why we come to church and do all the other stuff that goes on around here. It’s about preparation. We come together to explore what it means to live the Gospel. But the work doesn’t stop there. We are to take what we see and hear and experience home with us, reflect on it in relation to our own lives, and figure out what we might need to change, what we might need to do better, to live the Gospel, to be the Body of Christ in the world, to help us be better prepared. This is not something that can happen instantaneously, but is on-going work.

Another way to look at it is the same as you would New Year’s. Appropriate, since today, the first Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of a new liturgical year – our New Year’s Day, if you will. On New Year’s Eve, I tend to spend some time looking back at the previous year, at what went well, what went right, and celebrate that. I also look at what didn’t go so well, at where I may have fallen short, and try to see the lessons to be had in those experiences. And I look forward, at the blank slate ahead of me and maybe note some ideas of what I might want to do with that blank slate. But then I move back to the present, because it is what I do in my day-to-day life that is going to make the difference as I move into the future, that will define who I am, who I become. There is an anticipation of what the future holds, and recognition of the preparation that will be needed to get there. Some people make that anticipation and preparation real through New Year’s resolutions. There is a recognition that something needs to change, there is the motivation to do so, leading to a resolution to make the change a reality.

It can be easy to put off making changes to sometime down the road, particularly when there is no apparent pressing need to do so – such as an uncertain time frame like the Second Coming. But Jesus’ warning is that we “must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Based on this, our preparations cannot wait. Jesus is calling us to identify where we are falling short in living the Gospel; what we need to do to achieve what Paul describes as coming “to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). After all, that is what each of us is called to as Christians.

The anticipation is pretty much the same for all of us. We examine our lives and see where and how we might be able to better live the Gospel, to be ready for Christ’s coming again. The preparations that we need to make, on the other hand, will vary from person to person. Just as one person might make a New Year’s resolution to spend more time with loved ones, one person’s Advent resolution may be to spend more time with God in prayer. Just as another person may make a New Year’s resolution to take a class or learn a new language, someone might make an Advent resolution to study the Bible more intentionally. Just as someone might make a New Year’s resolution to undertake an exercise program, so might someone make an Advent resolution to exercise their missional muscles by engaging in outreach.

And it’s not just individuals that do this. The church, as the Body of Christ in the world is similarly struggling to discern how best to live the Gospel in the world. I think we have seen that in our own parish over the last few years. In 2009 we began our strategic planning process, in which we spent a lot of time looking backward, at who we are, where we have been, at what worked in the past and what did not. And we determined that while we have done some good things, maybe we could do a better job of looking beyond our walls and be the Body of Christ in our community. Based on this information, we developed a strategic plan that identified who we want to become and where we want to go. In 2010, we spent a lot of time fleshing that out, identifying what specifically needs to be done, how and where we need to change, to meet our objectives. A big part of that has been to identify just how we are called to use our gifts and talents in mission to the community and to plan how to do that. And in 2011, we will begin implementing some of those plans, more fully living the Gospel, and moving more into the fullness of who God is calling Trinity parish to be. I see this new year as one in which Trinity busts loose and really starts to live into the fullness of who and what God is calling us to be.

And the beautiful thing is that all this preparation tends to build on itself. We as individuals prepare ourselves by striving to better live the Gospel. And a lot of that for those of us in the church translates into the energy and resources that are needed for the parish to move forward, proclaiming and living the Gospel in the world. And this collective energy further strengthens the resolve of the individuals to devote more energy to exemplify the Body of Christ, being the hands and feet and heart of Christ in the world. In this we grow together into who God is calling us to be. That is the preparation that Jesus asks of us.

As individuals and as a parish, Jesus issues the same warning – to be ready, for he will come at an unexpected time. So let’s not just look busy. Let’s get busy. Jesus is coming!

1 comment:

Michael Gormley said...
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