25-26"It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.
27-28"And then—then!—they'll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!"
29-33He told them a story. "Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God's kingdom is about here. Don't brush this off: I'm not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won't wear out.
34-36"But be on your guard. Don't let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it's going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don't go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that's coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man."
This is the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday in which we awaken to the need to prepare, to prepare for the Christ child that will be coming. We are told by Jesus, himself, to keep on guard, do not be like the maidens whose lamps ran out of oil, not to fall asleep while waiting for the bridegroom to arrive and bring us into the party. No, we are to be awake and aware, prepared. And yet, not so prepared and focused on the arrival that we miss out on the present, on what is before us this very minute.
I liked how The Message said not to get lost in the drunkenness of parties and drinking and shopping. It is as if the composer, the paraphrase of The Message interpreted this scripture solely for this first Sunday of Advent. He warns us not to get lost in the parties, the festivities, the shopping of the season and forget to be still and prepare our hearts for to wait for God to become human flesh and blood.
The Message gives us the perfect image of the excesses we indulge in at Christmas—not merely the parties but the shopping and spending, the “Shopocalypse,” as Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping say.* It’s so easy to lose ourselves in the giving and getting of Christmas, that we not only lose ourselves but we lose the purpose of the season, we forget the purpose of Christmas—not that families get together, that is nice but it’s not the meaning of Christmas, not the gifts, not the niceties in which people may be more kind to one another during the season, this is good but not the reason for the season of Christmas.
I’m afraid that to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season” is no longer enough to explain—we’ve made Jesus into a cute white plastic baby-doll that lays in a manger never speaking hard truths, like Pilot, we’ve tried to strip Jesus of his power and grace and put him somewhere where we can control him. Like Pilot, we do not have the power to do such things—praise the Lord!
The reason of the season, the purpose of Christmas is to stand up and take notice that Love has been made flesh and blood! God has had enough of this long distance relationship with humanity and has become flesh and blood, has become one of us so that we might truly and fully know who God is. God decides that it is not enough to bless the world through Israel but to come and bless the world on God’s own terms, to bless us directly, to seal the gap, to bring the kingdom of God to us here and now, no more waiting! How amazing and wonderful is that?
That is a gift that money cannot touch, that nothing money can buy, cannot even come close to acknowledging. The magi laid down their gifts and laid their very lives before the Christ child. We have cheapened their gifts with $10 bath salts, My Little Ponies, and PS3s.
Instead we are asked to stop the debauchery, stop the insane shopping trips, stop the parties and quiet our hearts, preparing them for what it means that God will become human, that we are waiting not only for the Christ child to be born (again) in a manger 2000 years ago but also for the Christ that will come again and make this world new, give us peace that we cannot even imagine, to right all the wrongs of this world.
Jesus tells us the signs to look for—war and fighting, the earth quaking and falling apart, the world in natural and political chaos. These are the signs that the kingdom is near. Yet, this is the very world in which we live. This is the world that has always been—natural disasters, “man’s inhumanity to man.” God’s kingdom is always near, if only we are awake enough to see it, feel it, and live into it. Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry he tells us, repeatedly, that the kingdom of God has come near to us this day. This very day.
There is more to come—more chaos and more healing by Jesus the Christ. It’s not over yet. Some people are terrified by this promise as it has been “gorified” by books like the Left Behind series, end of the world movies, people selling fear instead of freely offering the hope of Christ, the hope that we find comes to each Christmas.
I like The Message’s paraphrase but it misses one very important piece, listen to these words in the NRSV,
Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.Do not let your hearts be weighed down with the worries of this life. Do not let your hearts be weighed down with the worries of this life. Yes, we have a tendency to party and indulge in excesses and this includes the excesses of worry and fear. There has been much selling of fear regarding the end of the world, the hope, the peace have been left out and pushed aside. Fear sells not only movie tickets and books but also all the stuff we don’t need, stuff that doesn’t protect us from the things we should fear—greed, sin, the things that turn us away from God, lead us into ourselves rather than turning to God’s grace and love. Fear sells but God’s grace and love heals, repairs, changes lives, gives hope, gives us eyes to see and ears to hear God’s message of love and hope.
We are not to live our lives in fear of what’s to come anymore than we are to live in debauchery and indulgence. We are to live in the grace, the love, the hope that is present in the Kingdom of God in which Jesus brought near to us 2000 years ago, and that we prepare our hearts to experience in a new way this Christmas. If we are to experience this again, we must stop what we’re doing and quiet ourselves, preparing our hearts and minds, wake up to the kingdom around us and wait with beautiful anticipation. Amen.