First Sunday of Advent and this reading from the Gospel of Luke is the scripture kicking off the season. I can’t say I’m pleased but I’ve come to realize, sometimes reluctantly that teaching the Lectionary based adult study on Sunday mornings means I have to stay honest to the assigned scripture. This is today’s.
Now, for those of you who want to rush headlong into Christmas, believe me, I understand. It would be far more appealing to check out the stories of Bethlehem, Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the wise men, the shepherds, stable with manger instead of this obvious reference to Jesus’ second coming. Aren’t we in the season that talks about his first coming? That’s where I’d like to be, but there’s an upside to staying honest with the selected scripture for the day. I find, far more often than I might imagine, there are some wonderfully insightful messages for us in these lectionary selections. So, here’s the question or rather, the questions we need to address this morning: what can we learn from this scripture about Jesus today and how does it prepare each one of us so we can receive Jesus in this season?
One clear message we do get in every Advent scripture and throughout this season, is the necessity to stay alert and stay awake or we just might miss out on something important. That’s true of most key events in our lives…if you don’t stay awake and alert, we miss out. All of us, very likely, have times when we weren’t as alert as we had hoped we might be and a once-in- a-lifetime event passed us by. I’m the kind of person that misses a good bit of the celestial wonders in the sky because I can’t stay awake. For example, I missed out on the March 14th conjunction of Venus and Jupiter because I just couldn’t stay awake long enough to see it. Once-in-a-lifetime…those occasions and opportunity don’t visit often and likely this one may never come again, at least not in my lifetime.
But we don’t want to miss out on Jesus. We don’t want to miss out on knowing the power and joy Christ brings to those who seek him out and live his message. That’s what Christ is saying in this gospel today. Don’t miss out! Stay awake, stay alert. Christ is coming.
Over the last several years, dating back to the publication of Hal Lindsey’s book “The Late Great Planet Earth” in 1970 and the more recent Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye , the notion of the end of the world, the frightening events that will precede that end have been fodder for Conservative Christians and their approach to faith and fear-inducing from the more skeptical members of mainstream Christianity with its more loving image of God. Is that where Luke’s gospel leads us? To a place of fear, anticipation, or joy?
Well, here’s what Reverend Dr. Bill Britt, a fellow United Methodist thinks on the subject. He says,
“Now, not only does Advent try to wake us up, but it also invites us to look in two directions–back upon the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and forward to Jesus’ return as he brings God’s kingdom on earth to fulfillment. Therefore, Advent always begins with a text that looks toward Jesus’ return. In other words, we begin by looking deep into the future–to the end of history.
Christ clearly states that this unknown time of ending (and, by inference, new beginning isn’t marked on a calendar or declared by some royal edict. No one knows so those who claim to know are speaking falsely. Britt adds:
“When you get right down to it, that’s really all the scriptures say about the end times: no one knows when it will come, but it does come, and it is a time of hope because God is present. Obviously, we mainline Protestants don’t put much stock in the words of the doomsayers who predict that the second coming of Christ is imminent or that it is a time to be feared. However, we do put a great deal of stock in the way we prepare for his coming. How do we prepare? We prepare by living out our faith each day with a sense of urgency. Now you and I know that the celebration of Christmas has changed. What started out as a season of hope and promise and joy and peace has turned into a time of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists. And when it’s all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take us months to pay off, and this empty feeling that suggests we missed something. Is this what we want to experience this season?”
Staying alert to the coming of Christ and holding to our hope in the anticipated return of Christ is really the surest way to fully experience the joy of this season and any season. There is a plan and we have a part and God ensures our future. That’s what we know. Probably doesn’t make much sense in looking for answers to the unanswerable – God has come to us in Christ – that’s what we know. That’s what we believe and that’s what we live. Christ is our hope and our joy, now in this moment and forever. It’s enough. Amen.