Sermon: Don’t Shut the Curtain…just yet!
Sunday, November 29, 2015
First Sunday of Advent
If I were to survey you this morning about the doctrines of faith that are most important to your daily lives, we probably would get a broad spectrum of answers ranging from what is a doctrine to what we believe about God to our thoughts on humankind and our beliefs around Jesus the Christ – his life, death and resurrection.
I would be curious if any of you would talk about Christ’s return and if that was a central tenant to your faith. Jesus’ Second Advent, the Coming of the Son of Humankind? Most of us, and I’m including myself, would say that our belief in Christ’s Second Coming does not factor into our daily lives much, if at all. I have not put a lot of energy into this subject and instead have focused study surrounding the ideas of the historical Jesus, his death and resurrection, and have wondered about his birth narrative that we will be discussing in the Sundays to come. The Second Coming is territory that is less traveled for me and yet the Gospel of Luke and its message today is calling us to stay alert, to keep awake, to turn on the porchlight, and keep the curtains open.
Jesus admonishes us to live lives of watchfulness in anticipation of the Human One and to “Stay alert at all times.” (Luke 21:36)
This reminds me of when a loved one and in my case, Tim and all his travels to and from Boston, is about to return home. On the day of his return, I will get the text “on my way to the airport”…and then the next text…”I have just boarded see you in a few hours.” And then the anticipation of the final text and when I hear the sounds of my phone that alert me to a text…”I’m at the gate.” I know that I will see him in about 45 minutes. And then I sense it before I hear it…the car door slam and then a little boy shouting from the top of his lungs…”Daddy!” as Tim walks through the door. We are not just waiting, we are anticipating, we are expecting, we are staying alert. There is nothing passive about this feeling, about this moment.
Contrast that moment with Jesus’ instructions to “stay alert.” Stay alert, to what? “Jesus, what are we waiting for? And will we know what we are waiting for? Will we know what to expect?”
It is hard for us to be constantly engaged as Jesus instructs. We are a culture surrounded by speed, convenience, and immediate satisfaction…fast food, fast cars, fast internet speeds, fast roads – things readily available to us and if Jesus is not showing up anytime soon or keeping us posted on Facebook and Twitter or even with a text, why bother taking the time to stay alert when we can be doing other things instead? How do maintain the HOPE that is to come?
Another reason it is hard to be constantly engaged – to stay alert - is because of the ever-changing world in which we live. Because we are so in tune to the news, social media, and constant communication from family and friends – we barely have enough time and energy to get through today, let alone think about tomorrow. Jesus keeps telling us he is coming back so in the meantime, let’s live a good life now and take a break from staying alert to when and what if.
This is not what Jesus is wanting us to do, however. What does staying alert involve? In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells us to keep a close eye on things because there will be hints of Jesus’ Second Coming. Staying alert involves a spiritual sensitivity to the signs of the times. This is tricky because it is so easy for us to be lured into reading the events of the day and conclude that a particular event is pointing to Christ’s imminent coming. And usually this particular event is destructive in nature because it has been bred into our culture that only a catastrophic event like the end of the world as we know it would be the only way Jesus would come and hopefully then it is not too late for us.
I do not believe that it will take an act of destruction and violence for Jesus to be made known to us once again – considering that Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace and, Jesus comes to us in a form of a baby – the most innocent and vulnerable. I think being spiritually sensitive in this season of Advent will be a heart over mind matter. Our minds can be very structured making it difficult to peek outside the box; whereas our hearts can be illuminated with a Hope beyond measure, sensitizing us to Christ’s arrival in the same way we are suddenly sensitized to a person in the room whom we never saw or hear enter. We just know it. As we “stay alert” we study the calamities and upheavals and nuances of our days. We ponder them. We listen. We listen until the Spirit’s voice in the depths of our soul whispers, “Jesus is coming.”
And what do we do when others grow faint “from fear and foreboding” (Luke 21:26) and “the planets and other heavenly bodies” (Luke 21:26) are shaken? These cosmological terms can aptly evoke the distress and confusion that we feel during the most anxious, trying, and dangerous experiences of life. Reading Jesus’ words on the coming of the Human One as a reflection of the God-ordered world in which we live, we find the assurance that in the worst of times the Human One is near at hand, coming with “a cloud of power and great splendor.” (Luke 21:27) Within the moments of despair, there is hope; the hope of Jesus’ coming, redemption is drawing near. God’s work will never pass away. God’s hope is unending.
During one of his expeditions to the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton left a few of his men on Elephant Island, planning to return for them. Time passed, the sea froze, and he could not get to his men as soon as he had planned. Finally, on the fourth attempt, he made it. To his delight and surprise he found them watching for him, all packed and ready. Shackleton asked how they knew to be ready. They acknowledged that they didn’t know when, but that his coming would be certain. So every morning the leader of the group arose and said, “Get your things ready! The boss may come today.”
May we do likewise. May we live lives of readiness. May we stay alert. May we remain aware of our spiritual sensitives. And may we live filled with hope. Jesus IS coming. Amen.