The Biggest Surpise of Them All

10 12 2010

Text:  Matthew 24:36-44; Isaiah 2:1-5

The holiday season stirs up quite a bit of emotions, not all of them pleasant. Even though the television, the radio, the streets are full of lights and enticements to buy gifts for others (or in this day, gifts for yourself!). Our inboxes and mailboxes are flooded with invitations to go to parties at the office or with friends, we flood our friends inboxes and mailboxes with an invitation to a party we’re going to throw, and in between it all we just try and go about the business of living. This season also summons up a great deal of anxiety, grief or even depression. We may be estranged from our loved ones due to long-standing arguments and disagreements. We may be remembering that some who were with us last year will not be around. If we pay attention to our national discourse, we see that the top priorities of our leaders seem to be what can we do to preserve the financial well-being of the top income-earning tier of our society while many of us may wonder about the state of our mortgages, can we make ends meet, or even where our next meal might be coming from. There is increasing talk that we are a nation in decline, even though it is still bubbling beneath the surface. There is a lot to be anxious and fearful about this time of year, but the season of Advent calls us to slow down and look beyond the worries and troubles of the present to the hopes of the future.

During the first Sunday of Advent, our reading seem out of place. When this is read, we have usually just finished celebrating Thanksgiving, and our thoughts turn to getting ready for Christmas with all the festivities it involves and here we are talking about the end of the age. Now much ink has been spilt about all the details about how the end of days will pan out. Some take it literally, others take it completely on a metaphorical level. It makes for interesting conversation if nothing else, but getting bogged down in all the details will cause us to miss the grandeur of the landscape of the forest for all the individual trees we’re trying to study. One thing is for certain however. Jesus says, “no one know the day nor the hour .. only the Father.” In the meantime, we are to be ready and watchful because God’s judgment will eventually come and that day will take everyone about surprise. Just like in the days of Noah, everyone will be going about their business and then suddenly the heavens will open.

Talking about the Judgment makes a lot of us uncomfortable. It is associated with dividing humanity into the sheep and the goats, those who made the cut and those who didn’t, those who might enter into God’s embrace and those who might be cast into the outer darkness. But if we look at the big picture, the forest that is God’s judgment, we will notice that it is the inauguration of the Reign of God, a time when “swords will be beaten into ploughshares … spears into pruning hooks … nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war no more.” In a time of anxiety and despair, it is a reminder not to give up hope, for God is sovereign over all of human history, and through God’s judgment and grace we are inexorably moving towards a time when all things will be made new.

Our readings for today and for all of Advent are to tell us to be ready, to be watchful, to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We are called away from anxiety and to be about the business of living how Jesus taught us to live. Jesus himself said he didn’t totally understand it all or even when all this was going to happen, but he is hopeful. He continues to trust God even when things look their worst. This trust, this faith, anticipates a future before it happens.

Even though we are called to be ready and watchful, it doesn’t mean we are to sit on our haunches and wait for God to come and do it all himself. In fact, the message is clear. We are to be about the work of the Kingdom of God in the here and now, and that work is simply to love each other as Jesus loves us. We are to live our lives as if we actually trust that God is in control of the big picture, and as if the day of the Reign of God is already here. This idea is illustrated in the parable which tells of how if the person in charge of taking care of the house had the Master present, he would not have been caught goofing off. In other words, we are to live as if God is at work in the here and now.

To get a clearer picture of what it is we are exactly waiting and watching and hoping for, we can turn from Matthew to Isaiah, where we get a better understanding of what the Reign of God is like. He tells us how God envisions our future. The nations of this world will have peace, and God’s gift will be judgment and mercy. There is no envy, greed or fear, no need for weapons, so our resources in the new heavens and new earth will be geared towards other things, towards each other’s well-being.

As much as we long for this day, it can be hard to believe this day will come. Perhaps our obsession with the holiday season is not just when our houses and tables and even our churches are overflowing are symptoms of our deeper longings for the harmony that will only come with the Reign of God. We have been disappointed and disillusioned by many things that are happening around us, but we are to live and work in the hope and belief that the Reign of God will come. Are we willing to trust that the light of the world that he has given us is enough to light our way through the darkness?



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