Preparing for the Shopocalypse
Not Yet

Advent 1

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Surely you’ve seen the bumper sticker celebrating 1/20/09, the date of the next presidential inauguration. We know that on that day, we will have a new president. But what do we really know about that day? Some of us have a vision that it might be better (more peaceful, more open, more collaborative and cooperative). The only thing we can be certain of is that it will be different; but we do not know the whole story.

Today, most Christians are convinced we already know how Christmas turns out. We know the beginning and the end of the story. We already know that this is our Savior who will fulfill his purpose on a humiliating cross one spring after being born in the requisite humble manger in the cold darkness of December. But is that really the whole story?

Looking at the lectionary texts for the first week of Advent we find writers who did not know the whole story. They had different images and processes that they were hoping for…they each had their own ideas of what a better life (their salvation) might look like. Each reading this week is written in a different historical context, and each of them seem to be looking toward a future day when things will be different (presumably “better”) for the people of God than they are today. It reminds us of lines in Reid Bush’s poem “Unforeseen”: “It's hard to know when you need to / what it is you're going to want.”

In Psalm 122 we find a poet that could not be a bigger fan of Jerusalem. This writer is so happy that she has had the chance to spend time in “the house of the Lord”.  Jerusalem
is the place that gives all of Israel a common history and a current common location to “give thanks to the name of the Lord”. She prays for its peace, its prosperity, its security, and its goodness. The writer of this psalm is hopeful that the future of Jerusalem will bring more of the same success and power and glory it has already enjoyed in the past.

Isaiah shares with us his idyllic vision that one day Judah would be the nation held above all other nations—the Israelites would determine how everyone else acted and lived. He saw an especially nationalistic vision of the law governing the world coming from Zion—the word of the Lord would flow from Jerusalem and the God of Israel would teach everyone how to live together. It was a dream and hope and prayer of how the future would turn out.

Paul takes it a bit further and offers more explanation and direction. He has the luxury of knowing the history of Israel. He knows the story of the temple being built and destroyed and rebuilt, he knows the national history of Israel and its sporadic fidelity, and he knows the Psalms and the visions of Isaiah. He saw the life and death of Jesus play out in front of him. And he had his own intimate and dramatic and powerful connection with Jesus through his own call experience. As he writes to the new community of Jesus followers in Rome,
he does not emphasize national salvation and glory, but instead puts much more energy toward how the individual believers should live so they could be ready. He does this because he, like Isaiah, sees “being saved” as imminent: “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”

But in Matthew we find Jesus setting a different tone. His vision of the future…of the coming of the Son of Man is not as rosy. He talks about unknown hours, about women being swept away, about people disappearing, about thiefs in the night, about keeping watch at an unexpected hour—these are much less comforting and welcoming thoughts than those of a great nation rising to the top of the world. He does not explain what “the coming of the Son of Man” will mean or look like…only that we must be ready because it will happen. Jesus is pushing toward something more than national power. He seems to be speaking more directly toward the individual listeners present. He turns the other three texts on their heads. He reminds them all that we do not know when or where or how “this” will happen—he only assures folks that we must be prepared.

Today many of us hope the future will be better. We remember how good things were and hope those days will return. We dream, hope, and pray that our world will somehow get its act together and all of our humanitarian and ecological problems will be solved and we will be “saved.” We think that because we can look at the whole Christian story found in the bible we know exactly what we are getting when we pray “O come, o come, Emmanuel.” We assume, like the Psalmist, Isaiah, and Paul, that we know what it means when we ask for Jesus to be born in to our hearts again this Christmas season.

So often the theme for the first week of advent is “watchfulness.” Unfortunately, we spend a lot of our time watching only for things (events, solutions, scenarios) that we want to see. We are a society focused on products and outcomes. We have goals and we benchmark our progress toward those goals.

But the reality is that like the psalmist, Isaiah and Paul, we don’t know the whole story. We’re watching for something that we can’t see quite yet. We’re racing toward a finish line with an unknown location. What if we were, instead, mindful…mindful of what we do not know and faithful in our prayer that God’s will be done and that our hearts and minds and hands are prepared as instruments in the construction and realization of the Kingdom?

What if in our mindfulness, in our understanding that we must be ready, we ask ourselves some guiding questions:

+How do I expect the story to end?
+How am I prepared to participate in the story?
+What do I need to move toward a reality that I cannot fully understand or imagine?
+Am I willing to let God’s story prevail over mine?

O come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind. From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strife. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

 

Comments

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real live preacher

Thank you for these thoughts. they help me as I journey toward the sermon on Sunday.

Tracy Wade

What thought provoking questions . . . these are the questions I always struggle with, especially the last two.

I have to confess, that sometimes when I am weary, I yearn for the good old days when the answers were more important than the questions. It’s so much easier to just be led than to have to find your way.

I know that the struggle is what makes me a stronger person . . . But don’t you just feel beat up sometimes?

Thanks for the lectionary. I’ll stay tuned for the next one.

Laura Shoemaker

So this was the content of the Inward/Outward (www.inwardoutward.org) list serve today...it fits and expands...

Interrupted by God

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps - reading the Bible. When we do that we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised athwart our path to show us that, not our way, but God's way must be done.

It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God's 'crooked yet straight path' (Gottfried Arnold).

They do not want a life that is crossed and balked. But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.

Source: Life Together

Nan Powell

Thanks Matt and Laura. I am anxious to read this and study the material. Charlie

Charlie Powell

Thank you Laura and Matt for your excellent reflections on the scriptures for the first Sunday in advent. You have given us so much to ponder. Some of my thoughts>
I don't need to KNOW all of the answers to life's questions. I want to leave a lot of room for Mystery.
There are some things that I do know and that is enough until God reveals more to me.
I know that God is "real" for me. I have committed to be a follower of God 'in the way of Jesus'. (Brians McLarens' words)
I invite the Holy Spirit to come into my life each morning to inspire and inform me.
Jesus said the Kingdom in very near before the crucifixion and resurrection. I think Gods' kingdom came to earth at the crucifixion when the temple curtain was wrent. God released Gods' self to be present to all of us and not accessible only once a year, but to live in us.
Jesus prayed in the garden of gethsemane the not his will but Gods' will be done.
That needs to be my daily prayer.
I want to live in the present. Not toward some future event that I don't understand or need to understand for now. Jesus may be telling us that an event will happen in the future as it did with his coming at Bethlehem.I don't need to know what that event will be and I don't need to wait for it. I need to be fully present each day to the needs of that day. To learn how to live together in peace with those around me. To work toward bringing Gods' will on earth as it is in Heaven.
In God there was no beginning and there will be no end. I don't expect the 'story' to end.
I am prepared to participate in the story as I am empowered by the Holy Spirit.
I must struggle and yes suffer to let Gods' story prevail over mine.
This is where I am today. I hope I will be more 'conscious' tomorrow and the day after.

Mary said: "Let it be done to me as you have said" to the angel. I pray I may respond to God in the same way.

Blessings Charlie

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