1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
This weekend, I had the good fortune to be standing in the front yard of Kerry and Chris Lemons, members of this church, as they brought their son, Coleman, home from the hospital. My heart was full beholding that beautiful 7 lb.14 oz. child and all of the possibility his 3-day old life holds. I looked around and tried to imagine how the world looked to him for the first time. If he were able to, if Coleman were to peer out from the sides of his carrier and take stock of his new world, it would be a kinda strange world. He’d look around and assume that trees are always bare. He’d assume the air is always cold, and he’d assume the extent of the world is his mother’s womb and his cozy carrier. Coleman’s world is so new, and so limited and he has no idea there’s anything more. Oh, what fun it will be for his big brother, Christopher, to show him!
That experience got me thinking that we are not so different than sweet Coleman. We so often mistake what we have seen for as all that there is, forgetting that we are such a small part of a great and powerful universe. We are often lulled into believing that reality is the totality of our experiences, rather than awaken to the unfathomable possibilities of an Almighty God. It is no wonder that we have trouble imaging what it would mean for Jesus to come again, to enter into our world and turn it upside down just like he did 2000 years ago. And yet, all the scriptures say he will, he will come again.
Most of us have spent little time thinking about the return of Jesus. It is not a part of our everyday lives. We don’t fantasize about it the way the gospel writers do. We don’t search the heavens for the signs and wonders that foretell of his coming. And yet, imagine if we did. Imagine what richness could come to your spiritual life if you took that seriously. The idea, that God is not finished. The story is not over. God will come again and the world as you and I know it will be transformed.
Today marks the beginning of a season we call Advent. Advent is our season of waiting for Jesus to come again. While we are preparing for Christmas and its celebration of the gift of Jesus Christ, we are also waiting for Jesus to return. This is the sea
son where we are called to consider that Jesus will come into our world, again.
Now, lest you think that this Advent season of waiting is a passive action, counting down the days, I must say that waiting for Christ’s return is very different. Advent waiting is different than other kinds of waiting. It is not like the waiting for a computer to boot up or the doctor to come into our examining room. Advent waiting not static, anything but. Advent waiting is all about action. As the book of Matthew says, we have to be awake to meet Christ. We have to get ready for him. And while we are so accustomed to hearing the story of the Christ child, it is hard to believe that we would miss something so monumental. But look again. At the time that Jesus came into the world on Christmas morning, hardly anyone expected him. At that time, the Hebrew people were struggling under the oppression of Rome and internally torn by politics and strife. They were hoping for God to come into the world in the form of a warrior king. A holy Genghis Khan to make war on all their enemies. Instead they got a lowly infant born to an unwed mother who was so poor she had to deliver him in a feeding trough. So naturally they simply didn’t recognize him. The scriptures tell us over and over that many people who couldn’t see Jesus for who he was, his whole life. Can you imagine anything worse than having Jesus standing right in front of you, and not being able to see him for who is truly is?! It’s a frightening proposition to imagine ourselves as ones who aren’t awake enough to see God, to hear him, to recognize his presence in our lives. But scripture tells us, it happens all the time.
The gospel author, Luke knew this, and that was a big motivator for his telling the story of Jesus.
Because it isn’t obvious. Luke wanted to tell us the story, so that, when God returns we would be ready. So that we would, literally, be on the same page. And the story Luke tells is a magnificent one. In vivid and loving detail he tells of Jesus’s birth, his teachings, miracles and his ultimate sacrifice. You and I missed the first act of the play. We are entering into this awesome story of Jesus near the end, after he died and after he was resurrected and after his status as the son of God was well established. We are waiting for the curtain to rise on the next. And this morning, Luke wants to know, are you ready for the next act?
I remember the first time I tried to read Shakespeare. My middle school English teacher had sung his praises and had me convinced that reading his work would be nothing short of transcendent. And so I picked up Macbeth, ready for my world to be rocked and it felt like I had launched straight into a brickwall:
“Whence is that knocking?
How is it with me, when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here? Hah! They pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red”….
Huh?…say what?! The words are beautiful, but what does it mean? Just as I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t ready to read Shakespeare, so too, we might not be ready for the next act of God’s play. Now is the time.
Advent is the time for us to prepare for the coming of a God who is not always obvious. To train our eyes to see the world anew. “To wake up”. Now is the time for us to pick up the scriptures and read them as a story about God. Not only as a story about what God has done in the world, but what God will do. The story of what God still has in store for us. Now is the time to read the Bible again, for the first time. To get ready for the next act in the still unfolding play of God in the world. Isaiah, Daniel, the Gospels, Revelation. Stories of destruction and rebuilding. stories of disease and healing. Stories of great suffering and redemptive justice. Stories of a people faithful to a God they could not always see, but for whom they fervently waited. These stories weave a tapestry, a huge multi-generational tapestry that shows us the divine play of which we are a part. As you read them, let your story become a part of that tapestry. Let them come to life in your own story. And then, and then you will begin to see the signs of God breaking through. You will see Jesus coming again.
Like in the book of Genesis, there is a story about Jacob, a man who is fast asleep (Gen 28:11-19). Jacob has a dream wherein God reminds him of his destiny and purpose. When Jacob wakes up he says “surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it”….”surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.” God has been there all along and Jacob is just now realizing it. Finally, Jacob is awake. Awake not only from a physical sleep but also a spiritual sleep. He can see the Lord is in this place, and he was not aware of it.
Advent is the time we are given to awaken. To awaken to the reality that God is coming. And, so, by God’s blessing, we will be awake at the coming of Jesus. So that we could hear with the same clarity and joy what those shepherds did that midnight hour when an angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
Friday morning, I was standing in my kitchen, shamelessly eating turkey for the 10th time this weekend when powerful winds started whipping through the garden. They striped every one of my trees of the last of their painted fall leaves. It was a holy moment. By the time the winds subsided, the trees were bare, naked, left to wait for the warmth of the spring to redress themselves. Those bare, waiting trees reminded me of this Sunday’s scripture, when Jesus likens his coming again to a budding tree. Luke says that just as the trees will tell us the coming of summer with tiny buds on bare branches, so will certain signs tell us of God’s coming (Luke 21:29-30). We are like those trees, sometimes verdant, full of growth and life and sometimes our lives are stripped naked. Waiting for light and warmth. My prayer for us, this Advent season is that we be like the bare trees of our winter landscape, watching, waiting, open to what is in store. Waiting for God to burst into our hearts, igniting our souls with the beautiful, burning heat of his glory.