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Wait! What?!

Advent 1 Common Lectionary Year A

Matthew 24: 3, 36-44

©2016 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones


Let’s pray for God’s illumination.

Holy One, in the text on a page life is written flat,
lift the life of this text once more into our lives,
let these words become for us words to live by. Amen.

The first Sunday of Advent
is a day when we expect to be ushered gently into the Season of waiting, and anticipation.
Instead the lectionary cycle hands us a Gospel text
which no matter how much we soften it
with a yellow felt star called Lert,
remains startling, unnerving, downright disturbing.
This passage, from the Gospeller Matthew
is one which has spawned an entire industry
of speculation and literature about “the rapture”,
the Tim LaHaye “Left behind series”
and tabloid predictions about the end-times.
And not a single flake of snow, whiff of mistletoe,
nor angel messaged promise of a baby in sight!

So why read it?
This is the question asked by those who came out
for the first session of Texts and Textures.
It’s not an easy one, to be sure,
but in the end, I think we’ll find it
fits the darkness of these days,
and it does have words to live by,
hidden in there.

First, let’s remember that what we read
in a Gospel is not a play-by-play account,
but a decades after the fact recollection,
layered, textured with the meaning-making
of the Gospel-writer
and of their context and community,
which in most cases had no surviving members
who had met Jesus in person.
That’s not to say they’re not true.
They are true to the quest for a living Word,
for a living Christ worthy of our loyalty,
a Jesus worth following.

How best to put this?
It would be like me telling you
of the content of a conversation between Victor Rose
and a couple of the church members
here in late November 1963.
Remember then? No I don’t either!
November 1963. The Bay of Pigs, the Cold War deepening,
Civil Rights rocked on its heels by the death of Dr King,
and now Kennedy has just been assassinated.
Fearful times.
Those members come and ask Victor
“What does it all mean? What should we do?”
You know I wasn’t there,
but you want me to tell you the story,
so to make it real,
I’m going to put words into Victor’s mouth,
and I’m going to try to convey the sense of dread,
and the seeds of hope
that might have been present in that encounter.

What we have here is something similar.
Matthew imagining himself back into the life of Jesus,
wondering how Jesus prepared his disciples for his end,
and what might happen next.
Did Jesus know he would be executed?
Did he worry about what would happen to his disciples?

Matthew’s imaginative – apocalyptic – answer is here.
Shall we listen?

After spending time at the Temple, teaching parables of the kingdom, and declaring that one day the Temple would be rubble, Jesus and his followers had left the city again, and were sitting on the Mount of Olives. Some of his disciples came to him quietly, and asked him,
“Tell us, Rabbi, What will happen? What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? When will all this be?”

And Jesus responded saying “Oh beware! Don’t be fooled by the “signs of the times! About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, only God the Father knows! 37 What can I tell you? As it was back in the days of Noah, so it will be for the coming of God’s Anointed, the Son of Man.
Before the flood came, everyone went about their business, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah went into the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away. It will be like that with the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 But what matters more is that you keep awake, that you stay alert, that you be ready at all times, for you do not know, cannot know what time your Lord is coming.

Did you see the yellow Lert star
shining in the darkness of this encounter?
Tiny as Venus on the evening urban horizon…
barely making her presence felt…
There’s so much ‘light noise’ in the way,
all that bizarre apocalyptic stuff about
women grinding corn before being
taken, or left, and which is best, taken or left?
I don’t know!
And the stuff about the flood, and Noah?
And what coming of Jesus are we talking about anyway?
All these are distractions, light noise, space junk.
And that’s the whole point!

When the fearful ones came to Jesus,
whispered in his ear, bombarded him
with the questions we all ask,
“What will happen next?
What if they do
make a wall,
a muslim registry,
what if the charter becomes law,
what if the scan comes back with a stage 4 cancer,
what if the arteries are occluded
what if there are no jobs
what if my money runs out before I die
what if I can’t buy gifts for my children this Christmas
what if China, or Syria, or Russia or Ukraine,
or North Dakota, or …. whatever global nightmare
haunts your dreams…..
what will happen?

We almost miss what Jesus does with it all.
We almost miss the tiny star cradled in his lap
until, at the very end he casts it high enough
into our darkened skies to see it.
It seems so feeble, cheesy even.
It’s not what we want to hear
in answer to our fears, the world’s fears.
We want Jesus, God, the Prime Minister,
whoever has more power than us, to say
“I know all about it, and I’m going to fix it.”

Instead Matthew’s very human Jesus
says “It’s not for us to know, not even me.”
To all their “What, and When?” questions,
he answers one they didn’t ask.
“How will you live when…?”
When the skies fall, when wars start,
when sickness strikes….
Up it goes, a little higher, a little brighter in the sky;
“Be alert”
Awake. Ready. Conscious. Aware.

Not paranoid.
Not hyper-vigilant,
Not that hunkered down risk aversion,
nor that numbed immunity to all life’s unjust shocks.
Instead a starry alertness.
Alert to living life as if every minute counts,
because it does.”
Alert not only to the awful, but the awe of life.
Alert to every chance to choose life,
even when that means
we choose to live into a moment or a season of deep grief,
rather than avoiding it.
Being alert, in this sense means:
Alert to opportunities to have the conversations that matter.
Alert to loving and being loved.
Alert to nurturing friendships, and mending them.
Alert to opportunities to stand with courage for justice
when rights are eroded,
when hate is championed.
Alert to opportunities to counter fear mongering
with the truth that love does win.
And when courage eludes us, to at least be kind,
and to support the courageous.

Being alert, also, to beauty, to music, and art,
and a good book, good company, simple pleasures
Alert to the opportunities to feast with a stranger,
to share bread with the hungry, to share a cup of blessing with the broken.
This Advent, let’s wait, alert.
Let’s live this season as if it is our first and our last,
alert to all the signs of God’s good news,
alert to the signs of God’s presence within, among, and beyond us…
like the first light of the sun lightening the eastern sky.
Like a yellow felt star.

It took us a while, but there we see it,
This is the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God.

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