First Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
“But about that day and hour no one knows,” Jesus says,
“neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
What day, what hour does Jesus speak about here?
The day and hour when the “Son of Man” will come in judgment
to remake and reorder the world according to God’s priorities.
That’s the day and the hour of which Jesus speaks in the first verse of today’s Gospel,
and it is a day and an hour that even Jesus doesn’t know.
Nobody knows when these things will take place, Jesus says.
Not angels, not Jesus, nobody.
But it will take place.
In this way, the coming of the Kingdom of God
is like a bunch of kids hitting a piñata at a party.
We know that a blindfolded kid swinging a broomstick
will eventually rupture the piñata,
perhaps bringing the whole thing down from its string,
causing candy to rain down on children,
and creating laughter as an eager free-for-all ensues.
We don’t know when the piñata will come down,
we don’t know who will smack it hard enough for the candy to fall,
we don’t know when or what kind of hit it will take,
but we do know that the piñata will break,
candy will fall,
and all kinds of wonderful mayhem will erupt as kids scamper for goodies.
The Kingdom of God is like this … we don’t know when the Kingdom will come,
we don’t know exactly how,
but we do know that God’s Kingdom will come, the love of God will reign down,
and wonderful mayhem will erupt.
For sure, it’s more complex than that.
The Kingdom of God is more than any piñata analogy can capture,
or any other analogy for that matter,
be that analogies of a lost coin, mustard seed, or a sower in the field ….
But the analogies, the parables – either Biblical or contemporary –
are helpful in painting the picture of what the Kingdom of God looks like …
The Kingdom of God is like children at a party hitting a piñata …
Nonetheless, the piñata parable is missing something.
There is a bit of fear and trembling in the coming of God’s Kingdom, too,
for the dawning of God’s Kingdom involves judgment,
and in judgment there is some conflict … and we generally don’t like conflict.
And so there is necessarily some dread, anxiety and fear
that accompanies the anticipation of God’s Kingdom –
feelings not usually evoked when seven year olds are whacking a piñata,
except, perhaps, by the piñata itself.
Indeed, Jesus’ own words in today’s Gospel are a bit disturbing –
at the coming of the Son of Man, there will be a separation …
two will be in the field, working,
and one will be taken, and one will remain;
two women will be grinding meal together,
and one will be taken, and one will remain.
And Jesus even likens the coming of the Son of Man to the unexpected arrival of a thief –
an unwelcome burglar who breaks into your house
to take goods and cash and valuables in violation of law and propriety –
furthering the sense of anxiety and disruption
that the coming of the Son of Man
and the establishment of God’s Kingdom will occasion.
These are some of the tensions of our faith – there is joy and celebration, yes –
the parable of the prodigal son who is welcomed home with an amazing party,
makes this much clear –
but there is also some judgment, separation, and disruption,
as Jesus’ words about the wheat and the chaff, sheep and the goats,
and, in today’s text, the thief, make equally clear.
This judgment, however disquieting and unsettling it may be for us,
serves the ultimate purpose of reordering the world according to God’s priorities,
as we see in our first reading today.
Isaiah 2:4 says,
“The LORD shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”
Isaiah makes clear that judgment will come; God will arbitrate for many peoples,
and what will result from God’s arbitration and judgment
is a radical reordering of the world according to God’s peace.
This is a great vision, a hopeful future for all the world,
especially when we consider what is happening in Korea, northern Mexico,
Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world …
But this vision of judgment and peace is a future vision …
So in the meantime, what do we do?
Stand around and wait for all this good stuff to happen?
Well, no. Like the analogy of the kids hitting the piñata,
the kids are not just standing there calmly,
bored, tapping their toes waiting for something to happen.
They are gathered around the piñata, jumping up and down,
eager for what is going to happen,
anxiously awaiting the rain of candy to come down
and the celebration that will erupt.
Similarly, in today’s second reading,
Paul tells us to live in the light of Christ,
even though his day has not quite yet dawned.
“The night is far gone, the day is near,” Paul writes,
“Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;
let us live honorably as in the day, not dishonorably as at night.”
Live as if it were the day, Paul here is saying,
and set aside the ways of darkness.
In Paul’s description of night and day,
the night is far gone, but it isn’t quite yet day.
It’s like Paul envisions us living in an in-between time,
a sort of pre-dawn hour into which the light of Christ peeks,
but doesn’t yet shine fully or completely.
Night is far gone, he says dramatically,
and the day is near, he writes hopefully.
Nonetheless he calls us to live as if it were the day,
to do the things not of night and of the darkness of sin,
but rather the things of light,
to live into the new life we have in Christ,
who conquers sin and makes all things new.
How do we do this? How do we welcome the day of Christ?
How do we await the coming of the Son of Man if the day hasn’t yet dawned,
and it’s coming is entirely beyond our control?
Today’s Gospel is once again instructive here.
Jesus uses images of ordinary daily life –
working in the fields, grinding meal,
eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage –
he uses images of ordinary life to describe that day …
for the coming of our Lord will be an ordinary day,
and his coming into the world will be through ordinary means …
Kind of like the way he first came to us,
in a manger, surrounded by farm animals and wor
king class shepherds,
resting in a make-shift crib borrowed from a few beasts of burden …
a rather ordinary, day-to-day setting for the son of God to enter the world.
If it is through the ordinary, then, that Jesus promises to come to us,
then the ordinary is the arena through which we can best serve him,
in our daily life,
as we are going about our work and our play,
our caring for others and our being cared for,
our responsibilities and our relaxing,
our resting and our waking ….
The arena of faith is not primarily this place or the special things we do here,
nor is it primarily those set-aside activities of prayer or Bible reading
that we might do each day, as wonderful and holy as they are.
Rather, our whole lives is the arena of faith.
The faith we have in Christ – the faith we are given in baptism –
invades all that we are and all that we do.
Yet, more importantly,
the promise Jesus gives to us,
the claim Jesus makes on our lives,
is equally invasive and pervasive.
It is a claim that says we are not our own but we belong to God.
It is a promise to remake us and our world,
that what we see in the mirror and out the window
is not the whole story, is not the end of the story,
but rather is part of a bigger story that is far from finished,
a story of God’s redemptive, disruptive, and creative love for the world,
a love that comes to us jarringly in the person of Jesus of Nazareth,
whose birth we prepare to celebrate in a few weeks,
and whose return we look forward to in faith.
Until that time, may we await eagerly like children watching the piñata,
hopeful and expectant of what is to come.
May we walk in the light of the Lord,
living today in the promises of God’s peace-filled future,
turning our swords into plowshares,
setting aside the darkness of sin for the light of Christ,
anticipating that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end,