The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez-Hobbs
The days are surely coming, says the Lord…
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of heaven and earth will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud; with power and great glory.”
Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent. Is this what you were expecting? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess probably not. It’s Advent. Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for Christmas, getting ready for Christmas pageants and “Away in a manger”? Why are our readings this morning talking about the signs of the end, rather than “Comfort, comfort ye my people”? This isn’t what we were expecting, is it?
In Advent, we prepare for Christ’s arrival. That’s what Advent means, “arrival.” It’s easier to think about this in terms of the first arrival, the one we remember each year at Christmas. But Advent is also about waiting for another arrival: Christ’s Second Coming. You know, that thing we Episcopalians tend to ignore, except for that line we recite in the Nicene Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
We don’t really talk about that, do we? Sure, it’s there in the Prayer Book, but it’s one of those things we’re too polite to talk about. I think it’s safe to say that most of us take the same view as the late, great pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, Dan Quisenberry, who quipped: “The future is much like the present, only longer.” But the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when that will change. How does that make you feel? Excited? Uncomfortable? Scared? All of the above?
The real problem, if you ask me, is how do you know when your redemption is drawing near? It’s much harder to read the signs of the times than Jesus makes it sound. Just think about all of the times that people have predicted the Second Coming and gotten the math wrong. That’s not just a recent problem, either. Paul had to write to the church he founded in Thessaloniki to convince them that the end might be a little less immanent than they had been lead to believe. They’d all quit their jobs, because they were sure that Jesus was coming soon. The rest of the people who were sure they’d found the signs in the sun and the moon and the stars don’t have such a good track record, either. It’s all a bit like the movie Clue. Bear with me, I’m going somewhere. When you get to the end of the movie, once you find out who killed Mr. Body, and you’re expecting to see the credits roll, instead there’s a sign that says “That’s the way it could have happened. But what about this?” And then there’s another way that the case could have been solved, using all the same clues. And another. And another. The problem is that, even though the days are surely coming, you can put the signs of the times together many different ways. That makes it hard to raise up your head, since it’s not at all that clear that your redemption is drawing near, is it?
The days are surely coming, but what do we do in the meantime? We wait. That’s what Advent is about. We wait for Christ to arrive. Waiting is hard, but the days are surely coming. This isn’t “Waiting for Godot.” Jesus is going to come. We have a promise, and heaven and earth will pass away before Jesus’ words, Jesus’ promises, pass away. So our souls wait upon the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
There’s waiting, and there’s waiting, however. Advent waiting isn’t passive waiting. We’re not in a line somewhere, with nothing to do until the clerk calls our number. Advent waiting is active waiting. We’re called to work while it is day, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. We’re supposed to watch for the signs of the times, but not to become consumed by searching for them. It’s important to look for our redemption drawing near, but we shouldn’t look so hard for the Day of the Lord that we miss the reminders of our redemption that come when we seek and serve Christ in all persons. We’re better at this than we give ourselves credit for. We may not talk about the Second Coming, but we roll up our sleeves and bake casseroles to feed the hungry at Our Daily Bread, we collect clothing for those who need it at the Seafarer’s Center, we comfort the sick through Project Linus, we build houses with Habitat for Humanity, we are collecting gifts for the Christmas Cafe at St. Luke’s. We are practicing living and loving as Jesus lived and loved while we wait. That is infinitely better than being so concerned with the Second Coming and the life to come that we miss living the life that is already here.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, but there is much to do in the meantime. That is what Advent waiting is all about.