It is Advent! You either love or hate Advent. Advent is one of those times when the Church and society are not on the same page.
We in our everyday lives are making preparations for Christmas. Then when Christmas day finally arrives, we ready for the decorations to come down, the house back to be back in order, and to get back to our everyday lives. We are busy in this time of busy-ness which includes buying presents, wrapping them, social engagements, are we are always going to and from somewhere.
However in the Church, we say “Slow Down”. Advent is about preparations for the ultimate house guest, primarily in our hearts, which is Christ. It is time to slow down. Christmas morning is the beginning of Christmas lasting 12 days.
Advent is two sides for the same coin. We are all excited about the Christ child as the baby in the manger, who wouldn’t be excited about this? Yet, Advent does not begin there. Advent begins with texts that are less than warm and fuzzy, but with a text telling us to stay alert and be prepared for you never know when the Messiah will return. We refer to this side as the Second Coming. During these four weeks of Advent, we hold these in tension: the Christ child and the Second Coming.
I have a book that I will use from time to time for a good laugh, it is entitled “Crazy Talk: a Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms”. I decided to look up “Second Coming”, the entry read:
Just as with Jesus’ first coming to earth, an event in which we can expect Jesus to confound all our expectations – to our eternal joy and gratitude.
Like kids riding in the backseat on a family vacation, the disciples what to know “when.” How long until this happens, Jesus? Are we there yet? The Lord, like a parent who had heard the question one too many times, responded, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). And so…
… Ever since then we have been people trying to predict when Christ will come again… As the Left Behind series of books has shown, imagining Jesus’ return and the suffering, conflict, trial, tribulation, rapture, and judgment provides fodder for a best-seller. Make that a fiction best-seller.
But Christ says only this: “Keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33).
Although the Left Behind books wants to become the Second Coming a dark and scary thing, it is really good news. The Second Coming is the promise that the future of all creation is in God’s hands, so we don’t have to worry about it. And so we do. (pp. 157-158)
The child in the back seat asking “are we there yet” and “how much longer” spoke to me, then yesterday my friend and her daughter visited me from Dayton (Ohio). We were exploring Union City, Winchester, and Farmland. Her daughter, sitting in the backseat, said “how much longer? Are we almost there yet?”. I am a smart-alec, so I told her “no, we have hours left to go” although it was about three miles.
But, this is how we behave during Advent. We are so excited about the Christ child, but then the first few weeks we hear these texts that bring to mind terrifying imagery from the Book of Revelation, the Left Behind series, or other sources that create a fearful image of when Christ will return. We want the baby in the manger, but we do not necessarily want the Second Coming.
Yet, every generation believes it is living in the end times when this will happen. Every generation has it’s ‘prophets’ who profess to know exactly when and how the Second Coming and/or end times will happen. In our texts, even Jesus says it will happen before his audience dies and 2000 years later it still has not occurred. We, as humans, seem to always be living with an imminent end times. The reality is we do not know when, whether it be tomorrow or thousands of years into the future.
But, we are told to “keep alert” in this season of busy-ness. This reminds me of a magnet on the refrigerator at my home congregation (Chandler, AZ) that read “Look Busy, Jesus is Coming!”. We are really, really good at looking busy BUT it is not about staying busy.
I read a commentary about the culture of the era, which argued that the ultimate message was to ‘work on and stay alert’. This had me thinking about those “Stay Calm and Carry On” posters. I think we should create an Advent poster that reads “Work On and Stay Alert”.
But, what does it mean to “work on”? It does not mean staying busy. It means working towards bring forth glimpses of God’s kingdom and reign in the here and now of our lives, our community, and our world. This is the year of Mark’s gospel, whose message can be summarized as “the kingdom of God is here, and near, and not yet”. We get glimpses of the kingdom active in our time and place, but it is yet to be fully lived into and realized. We are called into the ‘work’ of bring forth those glimpses.
The Advent season is marked by four candles symbolizing Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Theses is what we should be ‘busy’ with, the preparation we should be concerned with, and we are called to ‘work on’ bring forth.
The Advent season, Christmas, and beyond we should ‘Stay Alert’ not of “if” Jesus is returning but how God is present here now and in the time to come.
This “Stay Alert and Work On” is my prayer for myself, this community, and our world.
May we continue to work towards bringing forth the reign of God and stay alert to where God is already at work. Amen.