In the Name...
A few guys were sitting around and one said: "I live for today. You never know what might happen. You could step into the road and get run over by a truck. Then you'd be sorry you put off having a good time." At that, one of the other guys said, "Well, maybe you should check what's coming down the road before you step into it.”
If one was to ask the average person, "What comes after Christmas?", the answer you're likely to get would be, "New Year's." A neat confusion between holidays and holy days. But, every Christian should know that his or her real New Year's comes before, not after Christmas, and it is called Advent.
The word "advent" means “coming.” and at the beginning of every church year we start by remembering not only the time Jesus came into the world at Christmas, but, also by remembering that he will come again under very different circumstances. In Advent, we are reminded that something, or someone, is coming down the road and we should be watching out.
And we were certainly reminded in our Scriptures. "The days are surely coming,” the prophet Jeremiah said, "when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. And, in the Gospel, Jesus said a day is coming when the Son of Man will appear in the clouds with power and great glory. Stirring words, great imagery, to be sure. But, when you think about it, what do they mean to us now? What do they mean at this time of year when our families and friends ask us for things that we can't afford or hours that we don't have? What do images about the future mean when we're trying to do all we can just to keep up with the present? What do they mean when we watch the news or read the paper and worry over what's going to happen next week?
A story is told about St. Francis of Assisi. Someone once asked him, “What would you do if you heard that Jesus was returning tomorrow?” Francis replied that he would plant a tree. Because, he said, the prediction would probably be wrong, since Jesus said that nobody one knows when he's coming back. But, if it was true and he did, he would find Francis planning for the future and taking care of creation. He would find Francis keeping an eye on the road ahead.
So, to me, those words and images we heard today mean that I should never lose sight of the road. That I should always see and strive to achieve a better future than the present. And pray so that when it happens, when Christ does come, he'll find me living and using all that has been entrusted to me, for the honour of God and for the people of God. That's what those words mean to me.
But, I need to make a confession here. Over the years, I've found it's an occupational hazard that I can get so involved in my work, writing sermons and articles, making visits, getting ready for meetings and going to them - that I can forget what it is I'm doing and what God is doing all around me. And if that's true for me, what about you?
Do you feel lost in today? Jesus tells us not to be distracted by the big issues: wars, floods, health care. But, he also tells us that personal things can be more distracting than any conflict halfway around the planet. It's those personal things that are so subtle and sneaky. We don't realise what's happening. We're working hard, being focused, and then we're run over, feeling overwhelmed or sorry for ourselves. That's why Jesus tells us to be alert to him. To focus on his agenda, not ours.
In the Gospel, Luke writes of a time to come when nations are so perplexed that the very stars seem out of alignment and men faint with fear. The passage ends, though, not with a cataclysmic explosion which destroys everything once and for all, but, with the sprouting of a fig leaf as the sign of a coming summer.
It's ironic how despair and hope go together, but, Luke's description of the contrast between the shortcomings of the present and the joy of the future is the message of the Advent of Christ, first and second times. It's a message of being aware of what's going on around us, of preparing to experience the fulfilment of God's word in our lives and of realizing that life as we know it now is not as good as it gets.
There's a bumper sticker that reads, "Be patient, God isn't finished with me yet."
The season of Advent affords us the opportunity to reflect on how well we have lived and watched this past year, or haven't, and it gives us the opportunity to set goals and renew our plans, to refocus and rededicate ourselves.
Jesus doesn't tell us about the signs of the end to frighten us, but, rather, to assure us that God is keeping his promise to return and put all things to rights, and that the time is at hand. He tells us about the restored and renewed kingdom so that we might get ready to enjoy it.
Advent is a season to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Actually, it's not so much that the kingdom is coming as that it has come. We've talked about the past and the future. Let us also remind ourselves of another coming which we tend to forget, namely, his daily coming in the ordinary events and people in our lives. Every day, the Lord comes to us in people, places and events. So, it isn't enough to prepare for the Lord’s arrival just by looking up to the sky, or even by looking down the road. We also need to look around and recognise the Lord when he comes to us now and in ways we least expect.
The Kingdom of God is all around us. It's here. It's the king who's coming again and we're called to be ready for him when he does. Praying and loving, improving our lives and those of others, and doing all the things he’d like us to be doing.
So many prophecies and promises of God were fulfilled with the birth of Christ. So too will all the rest be fulfilled at his coming again. Advent is here. Let's not get run over.
In the Name…