24 “But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[a] is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert;[b] for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Happy new year! New Christian year, that is.
For reasons that go back thousands of years, the Christian year does not line up with the calendar year. Rather, it begins four weeks before the festival of Christ’s Birth, better known as Christ’s Mass, or Christmas. In a way it makes sense: why not begin our year with the beginning of the earthly life of our Lord and Savior?
But they did so with a sly underlying motive: before we get to the good stuff on Christmas, we have to have a season of waiting. Waiting for the good in the world to break through. Waiting for light and joy to erupt into a world shrouded in darkness. This season is Advent.
It’s a season of waiting for Christians, which also means it’s a season of irony, because in practice, the festival of Christmas begins the day after American Thanksgiving. (or sooner, depending on if you work in retail.)
All around us are the trappings of Christ’s birth–the ribbons, the banners, the festive trees and garlands, and music–while we are spiritually engaging in a season of apocalyptic expectation. As we wait for Christ’s first birth, we also engage in a season of remembering that we are patiently awaiting the coming age, the Kingdom of Heaven. In Advent, we’re caught between two worlds, two times. Professor Karoline Lewis says that “Advent asks us not to treat this time differently but to live in time differently altogether.” ( source: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5007).
It begs a question for us: how do we spend our time? Do we use it well? Or do we waste it? Do we fret about, wallowing in the tyranny of the present? Do we every pay any mind to the eternal in our day-to-day doings? When you wake up and drink your coffee, do you think at all about where you are in the grand cosmic scheme of things? Do you ever stop to think that in the vast creation of God, your life is of significance and importance to God? That in this wide world, God still hears you, loves you, and has blessings set aside just for you? If you did, would you change how you live your life? Or would you do everything the same?
I’ll admit, wasting time is something I am guilty of. But then again, who isn’t? We in our modern age are experts at wasting time. Advent is the perfect season for us to turn that around. We turn our eyes to the coming age, and prepare ourselves for not just another memorial of the birth of Christ, but to the future birth of a new heaven and a new earth.
First off, what Christmas season would be complete without a grim apocalyptic vision from the Son of Man himself?
I’m only joking a little bit here. It’s a stark difference from the kind of scriptures we might be used to thinking of during the run-up to Christmas. Advent is a season of unexpectedness after all. We think of Christmas and we think of the Nativity, of a young man and woman crouched in a small stable, surrounded by animals, basking in the glow of a bright star, and in the odd peace that comes after the chaos of childbirth. After all the screaming and pain of labor, all the emotions bend toward loving glances and comfort. We think of the shepherds arriving after being treated to a heavenly choir. We think even of the Wise Men, who shouldn’t really be in the Nativity until 12 days after Christmas itself. We think of these Hallmark card scenes, etched in our cultural memory. But the truth is, Advent is not as much about the afterglow of Christmas itself. It’s much more about pregnancy. Women, then, can tell you that pregnancy is anything but peaceful.
Pregnancy is chaos, up to the end. First, a new life is growing inside you. You can feel it. A woman’s body changes because of it. Fluctuations of emotions and physical pains/aches/cravings rock a woman’s body. There’s a flurry of activity. There’s the building of a nursery, the gathering of baby supplies like diapers, washcloths, bibs and bottles, baby clothes and God knows what else. All the while, you are not only working your heiny off, you’re waiting. Something is coming that has already begun to change your life and will change it drastically when it finally arrives. This child will change it all. Sometimes, it might even feel like your baby is the end of the world! And it is. The world as you know it will end, and a new, different one will take its place.
That, my friends, is why we read Jesus’s little Apocalypse here at the beginning of Advent. The world truly is going to change. It’ll even be kind of scary when it does change.
Now, a baby coming into the world won’t blot all the stars from the sky. But when Christ comes again? I’ll take Jesus’s word on that that things will be a little cataclysmic. Of course, apocalypses do speak in extremes, as well as in symbols.
One has to remember that apocalypses are what are known as “crisis literature,” works written to make sense of a crisis, and written to give hope to those living in crisis. If there was ever a time of crisis, though, it’s now.
A crisis is actually a word from Greek medicine, of all things. It comes from the word Krinean, “to decide,” and it’s derivative “krisis,” or “a decision.” It’s the point during an illness where it can go either way, leading to either healing, or death. It’s the highest point of a fever, when it will either break, or prove fatal.
We live now, as ever, in a crisis. From the personal scale of work, family, community, and the like, all the way to the global scale, like climate change, the economy, and world diplomacy. Though we have endured crises before, the crisis of today’s world seems to dwarf all others. And yet…
And yet we have survived all the other crises, for better or worse. Life goes on. And there is a reason for that. The reason being? The master is in control, and the master will return.
A House At Work
Jesus uses two parables to explain his little Apocalypse. One includes a fig tree, the other a house awaiting its master. I will focus on the second one, because I feel it more applicable to how we ought to go about waiting for the Master to return.
Jesus long ago promised us that he would return, and when he does, the ends of the earth would meet the ends of heaven, and the two would be one and the same. Before that would be a crisis, but at the end of the crisis, the fever will break and will be reunited in glory with God. We will see God face to face. Until then, we have work to do.
We don’t know when Jesus will return. We’ve thought that Jesus would return soon for 2000 years now, and he has not yet done so. But that doesn’t mean we can be idle in our waiting, thinking he won’t come yet. We must act as if Jesus, the Master, will return any day now. What will we be doing when he returns?
Will we be active, or idle? Will we be bickering, infighting, and backbiting? Will we be robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak? Will we be acting like we do on Saturday night, or will we be acting like we do on Sunday Morning?
We’ve all been given different jobs to do in this world. Each of us has a different vocation, but always that vocation is pointed towards giving the glory to God. So are you giving the glory to God in your life?
In what you do, are you waiting earnestly for the Lord? Are you doing what God has asked us to do? Are you treating not only this time differently, but are you treating time itself differently? Are you living from day to day with heaven on your mind? Are you being a good steward of God’s creation? Are you treating your fellow human being with dignity, respect, and love? Are you preparing a way for the Lord to come, a space for him to dwell?
Advent is here. Christmas is coming. So is the Kingdom of God. So I will ask one more time: Are you ready for the Master to arrive? In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.