Do you know what we have celebrated this weekend? The start of the Christmas season? The beginning of Advent?
Friday was the last day of the hurricane season. We put our hurricane supplies away, unloaded food from emergency boxes into our pantry, and breathed a sigh of relief. As much as I would like to live up to my old Boy Scout motto of being prepared, I can’t avoid the feeling that there is little I can do to predict what will happen or be truly prepared for whatever the Atlantic will through at us in the fall each year.
[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=burglary&iid=5216786″ src=”c/a/0/9/Burglar_Pushing_Open_63d6.jpg?adImageId=7912388&imageId=5216786″ width=”234″ height=”348″ /]So it is with a bit of trepidation that we examine this week’s Gospel reading, because it tells us in no uncertain terms that it is entirely likely that we’ll be caught flat-footed when God enters our world. Jesus likens the entry of God into the world to a flood, to a kidnapping, to a thief. I’m not entirely sure that this fills me with the warmth of the holiday season. But then again, Jesus has always seemed less interested in what I want than in what God desires.
We sell this season of Advent short. It is not just a preparation to remember the birth of Jesus. It is not just about getting ready for another Christmas season. It’s about getting ready for the one, true, holy God to enter into our fragmented, false, and unholy lives. The eternal Word, by whom all things were made, is entering into our place, our time, our feelings, our relationships, our lives. We make a grave error if we think this will leave us unchanged, or that we should greet such an entry without making appropriate preparations.
Remember the days of Noah, Jesus asks? No one figured out that the flood was coming. As little warning as we get these days with hurricanes and flash floods, this was well before satellite images and the National Weather Center.
Are we waiting for the breaking & entering which God is about to do into our sequestered little homes? Are we waiting for anything at all, other than the parties and presents?
Who are you waiting on? What is the point of this season for you? Is it merely to give you time to do the things that you’ve always done before? Or is it an opportunity to do something different—to really wait upon the Lord, the Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, to enter into this burnt-out, run-down, overflocked creation in which we live…?
Jesus gives fair warning in the midst of our holiday preparations – a reminder that the coming of Christ is not about the celebration of an “eight pound, six ounce baby Jesus.” When we come to Christmas, we aren’t celebrating a birthday, but the coming of Almighty God, the eternal Word that created the world—into that very creation, down into our world, our cities, our very lives. Yet all the best forecasters in the world can’t tell you when it will happen.
We have a tendency, when faced with such a bold statement from Jesus, to make one of two errors. Either we try to avoid the expectation that God will break in to our home, our lives, our reality—usually by exercising retail therapy or wild and uncontrollable behavior…or we attempt to define a timeline that we force upon God, for such an entry into our world. Either way, we put ourselves at the center of the action.
But Advent means “coming”—and it is God who is arriving. It is a season which belongs to Christ, not to us. It is not up to us to determine how long it will be or what will happen when our expectations are finally fulfilled. It is not a season which is primarily marked by our effort, whether that is preparation or invocation or anything else. We may well respond—it is best that we do so! But it is not ours to do with as we will.
We are in control of so many things in our lives that the easy temptation is for us to believe that we can control the presence of God—that we can tell God when it is good to come, what form to take, and how this will affect our lives. But Jesus is warning us against this tendency. Even the Son doesn’t know the appointed time. We can’t manufacture God on a timescale of our own devising.
But know that it is coming…that as Paul says, “salvation is nearer now than when you first believed.” This is not a time to be relaxed or have a come-what-may attitude. This is not the time for doing things as they have always been done. After hearing Jesus speak, we cannot shop with the same gusto, at least without looking over our shoulders. We cannot run haphazardly through the streets, jockeying for the best parking spots or place in the long traffic lines. We cannot blithely put up lights outside without remembering the true light coming into the world, or trees in our homes without thinking of the tree put up outside Jerusalem, upon which Jesus hung.
Earlier this week, I was running some errands with Ben in the car with me. As I made a turn, I heard someone else honk their horn. And then Ben pipes in from the back seat, “That’s an idiot!” At two years old, he’s figured out that the clogged roadways don’t exactly fill me with holiday cheer. I have given him some context to the honking car horn.
Jesus is trying to give us a context for the way in which we live our lives. It can’t be just business as usual. It’s not just getting ready for the rat race that is the holidays. If we really want to celebrate the Christmas holiday—holy day—then we need to be watchful. Be ready. Be patient, but don’t let the waiting dull our responses.
Then the holidays will be holy days, and we will truly be in the presence of God Almighty.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
First Sunday of Advent – December 2, 2007
Wesley UMC, Beaumont, Texas