Matthew 24:36 -44
Every time we have family coming to stay at the house for a weekend or holiday, the first thing I do is clean. Not clean what is already clean, but a: get out the dusting and vacuuming supplies, make sure the kitchen and bathroom are passable and all of the green biology experiments are out of the refrigerator; washing sheets and making beds, and anything else I can blitz in what is usually a very short window, because I am a master at over booking.
If someone stops in unexpectedly I have an entire list of reasons why there are clean clothes on the living room couch and dirty dishes in the sink.
It is rare that I would feel comfortable welcoming someone into my home without prior notice which allows me time to prepare for their visit.
Advent is prior notice for all of us that the Son of Man comes into our lives at an unexpected hour and we need to always be prepared to recognize and embrace His coming.
Advent is a season calling us to remember God came to us as one of us, as a vulnerable flesh and blood baby boy. It is also a season that reminds us God breaks into our world at unexpected times in our ordinary activities and through people we would least imagine, and a season which calls us to rest and rejoice in the Hope Christ’s coming brings.
In the Isaiah passage this morning we see that someday:
The Lord will establish a home on the highest mountain and all the nations will not only be drawn to it, they will stream to it.
Many peoples will seek the wisdom of the Lord and try to walk in his paths.
The Lord will mediate all the many disputes between the nations
Wars will end and peace will reign.
All will walk in God’s light with God’s perceptions and priorities
This passage calls us to a vision of a place and way of life in which to center our hope.
Just reading a newspaper or turning on the evening news lets us know we aren’t to that someday yet. We can find it difficult to keep hope that it will ever come. We can be like the early Christians we talked about last week who were just sitting around looking at the sky, passively watching for Christ’s return, and we can let our impatience in waiting for that future draw us to seek hope in other places.
With Halloween this year came notice that Christmas was coming. Ads for the latest, greatest gadgets, cars, and clothes began to build expectation of what we should want to find under the Christmas tree and how we should allocate our time and funds in preparation. Retail stores jumped over Thanksgiving, right into Christmas displays and specials. The messages clear that you need THIS to have a very Merry Christmas and you need to buy it now.
I expect our schedules are filling with many obligatory holiday gatherings for work and community, adding to the incessant call to make all that glitters, glows, whirls, and enhances status the priority of Christmas.
Persuasive and Pervasive messages calling us to a hope based in the temporary values of this world.
In a way, the Disciples were hearing those messages as well. They were caught up in the crowds that were coming to hear Jesus speak, in the excitement of multitudes hailing his leadership as he rode to Jerusalem. Their dreams of what it would be like under his leadership focused on the beautiful Temple which they envisioned as the center of Jesus’ power, and where they, his trusted executive staff, would work. It is into this vision of the future, which had captured the attention of the Disciples, that Jesus issues some God perspective.
Jesus reminds the Disciples and us that this world does not offer hope and a long-range future. Even our lives can be gone in an instant. Only God knows how long the present age will last, individually and for humankind. “Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
The treasures and triumphs of the world are not what last, if we put all of our hopes in the transitory values of this world, we are setting ourselves up to be robbed. Watching and preparing for Christ’s return requires us to adopt a radically different set of priorities.
Readiness comes in walking in the light of the Lord, Isaiah tells us. Lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; Paul encourages the followers of Christ.
Preparing for Christ’s coming requires setting priorities based on the example of Christ. Prayer, study, and active watching for where God breaks into our worlds every day helps us to live honorably, to keep from falling victim to the attractiveness of the world’s definitions of fun and success, to help us listen in love to others so quarreling and jealousy ends. If our desire is for God, we receive the gifts that never break or wear out: faith, hope, joy and peace.
One of the members of this congregation shared an interesting blog this week. It encouraged those figuring out what to give this Christmas to consider giving experiences rather than things. I didn’t save the post so can’t share the examples the blogger gave but my interpretation was: Give a few hours of one-on-one time and a trip to the Zoo, or a couple of hours curled up reading a book together, or maybe a cooking lesson on that recipe they love. Over the past few weeks I have heard some young parents raise concerns they can’t complete a conversation without disruption or use the bathroom without interruption. The perfect gift may be providing the way someone can get some quality time, alone or with a spouse.
For those who don’t have a house filled with moving, vocal, loving, wonderful children, maybe the perfect gift is an invitation for dinner at that hope-filled energizing home. The entire family may see God in the eyes of a total stranger they stop to visit in the local nursing home or in the smile of someone making a donation to the Salvation Army kettle they are staffing for an hour or two.
The children who receive the gifts from the Mitten tree and MACC barrels, those able to purchase gifts they can afford at the Clothing Depot, those who have a hot meal because of donations you made, will all feel the warmth of God’s love through you, the body of Christ becoming Christ for the world.
We prepare for the coming of the Christ-child through our actions with those who have lost hope, who struggle with the pressures of this world, who are alone, who can’t see what difference a baby in a manger makes. We actively watch for God to come into this world when our priorities center on preparations which reflect Christ’s love in our schedules, our shopping, our words, and our actions. As we learn all we can about God’s ways, work for peaceful resolutions in all areas of our lives, end habits and priorities that keep us from following God’s wisdom, we hone our vision to discover every sign of His coming with wonder and joy, so we can offer our own witness to the coming One.
Many things are pulling at us every day, particularly during this season of the year. Feelings of loss; dissatisfaction with finances, jobs, relationships; activities and responsibilities, wanting just the right gifts for our children and others we love, and more. The voices are calling us to the world’s priorities nonstop.
Jesus calls us to stay awake, to watch for those things that keep us from being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. It is a call those committed to following Him need to hear as well as those who are uncommitted.
Sometimes Advent comes with all of the decorations, familiar carols, familiar passages, but we are sleeping through it, content with what the world offers and not really recognizing Christ in our midst, not feeling the Spirit of God among us. Real discipleship lived in the real world is not neat, it requires dogged discipleship through the messiness of uncertain times, disagreements, and the death and destruction all around us.
We are living during an “in-between time.” In-between the birth of Jesus and His Second coming. It is not a time to sit and look up at the sky, talking about what everyone else is doing. It is about living into God’s kingdom where all listen and live according to God’s law. It is a time of Hope which empowers us to keep watch on how we live out our faith as we prepare to welcome Christ once again, watching for all the unexpected wonderful ways that happens every day.
Prepared and watchful we will experience God with us with increasing frequency, and in turn share that amazing grace-filled understanding with others.