Sunday, December 1, 2013
Advent 1 of Year A
Just like all of the other "New Year's" today is a great day to make a resolution about blogging more frequently...yeah. So, since this is the brand new, spanking fresh liturgical year I should write my musings on the first lectionary of year A. Here goes:
Seriously, lectionary people? Seriously? Now, to be fair, the first week of Advent, traditionally, focuses on when Jesus comes "again".....but this Matthew is harsh! My congregation just decorated for Christmas all day Saturday. They probably listened to holiday tunes on the radio. They are thinking about "baby" Jesus who is very sweet and innocent and loves us in a way deeper way than we can know....what we're getting is "thief in the night", scary, threatening, judging Jesus"!?! This is just not what we want to hear this week. Just sayin'. I, being a third Quaker and all, have to admit that the incarnational aspect of of God is rockin'! I probably do stress that more often than some would like (hey! We all have our thing, right?!) so, Immanuel...God with us....and the next step God in us....is a huge, big deal for me. The whole second coming thing is just not a part of my usual theological discussions. (if I can help it) So, this first week of the new liturgical year, my plan was to go off lectionary and just preach on a Bible story of God with us...O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and all that...I came really close, but something was not right. It seems a bit phony to go off lectionary just because the text is something you don't really want to preach for whatever reason.
Matthew and Mark are the highlighted Gospels for year A. Maybe, I should start there. Matthew is a kind of more Jewishy book. History matters. Tradition matters. There's lots of reference to law and things from the whole arc of the story with God. Likely, it was written for an audience that was in Jerusalem. These were God's Chosen who were following the teachings of Jesus Christ, not gentiles hearing the whole thing fresh and new and having a relational God introduced who is different from the god or gods they knew from their culture. Jesus is even referred to as "rabbi". His preaching, when we sum up Matthew, stresses LOVE. So, there's that. Yet....He doesn't seem that lovely in this text! The first bit is strangely comforting....about the day and hour no one knows.....not messengers from heaven, not the Son (that would be Jesus) but only the Father. I wish that in high school I would have rememinded of this. Many a slumber party conversation centered on Nostradamus and the end of the world...and of course, recently, those people who lost all their money because they thought the world was coming to an end. I think their minister told them. I can't reacall what exactly they did with their money, but the end did not come and they were all broke. It was in the news....there was either a comet, or just current events had the minister thinking prophecy was met and Jesus was back. I guess he forgot this passage. Actually, when there were riots in Egypt a few years back Fox News had "footage" of what looked like a ghostly horse and rider above the crowd...clearly one of the four "Riders of the Apocalypse" that we hear avout in that other text that is, quite frankly, bizarre, Revelation.
And was it May 16th of 2012...then moved to December 23rd of 2012 when we were told the Mayan Calendar predicted the end times......and all the other prophecies proved that the end was nigh. And here we still are. But are we ready?? If Jesus was returning tonight, are we ready?
Advent 1 is when we are meant to think about the Advent yet to come, and to do that is to confront texts that our tradition ( the reformed one) doesn't really dwell on! We would sort of rather skip it! It's the end of days! What could that mean and be?!? It's unknown and freaky! Back to the text! Get ready!
Ok Jesus says "For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." Call me crazy but the Noah story is HARSH! With the hurricane just a few weeks ago in the Phillipines, the Boxing Day Tsunami which wasn't that long ago, followed closely by Katrina....and recently we were personally effected by Sandy (almost embarrasing to mention compared with the loss of any of those other disasters) we know how unfun the whole flood thing is. God did not seem all that loving in that story. Jesus coming back is gonna be like that?! But Jesus loves us! All those people....eating, drinking....getting married....whatever. Totally unaware until the day Noah got in the ark that it was CURTAINS! Dang. So, (and this is where the story differs from the Noah one) Jesus continues; "like two people will be in the field; one will be taken, one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, one will be left." WHAT? And which is the good one? The one left, or the one taken? Where did they go? This is what some other denominations stress....this second coming time when only some people get to heaven. There are a lot of jokes about it, too....one I sort of partially recall is about a pilot. When Jesus comes back the pilot just vanishes into thin air, and the plane, obviously, crashes! So, I don't know if you should seek a Christian or a Jew/muslim/pagan/atheist pilot? I'm still not clear who disappears. Anyway. Does anyone know the joke?!
"So", he continues, "Keep awake, for you do not know when the Lord is coming"
Is it just me, or is it a little confusing. How does being awake effect the outcome of this? Or is it just good to know? I think back to the whole Noah thing, or the Tsunami thing and think....well....maybe it's best to NOT know....I mean if there's nothing you can do about it...
And yet....the creepiest bit is yet to come! Is Jesus breaking into our house in the middle of the night??? "Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the theif was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into."
How messed up is that?
Jesus, who we assume is the Son of Man, and that is who we assume the allegory is illustrating, says"thief"....so, the break-in isn't just because he forget his key or something...a thief in the night!
These decorations are for Baby Jesus! And he loves us! This I know! For the Bible tells me so! But today the Bible is telling me he's breaking in and you should stay awake if you are the owner of the house....to not let it be broken into....by Jesus.....WHAT?
Be ready? The Son of Man is coming. At an unexpected hour. And it's sort of scary.
But somehow being aware makes it better? I'm wondering....is there something we can do about it?
Maybe repentance? We are scum buckets (in case you hadn't noticed) We are selfish jerks that want tocontrol everything and we are crap at it. I look at the last few days....Black Friday...in preparation for celebrating the birth of Christ with buying in order ot be giving and getting tons of STUFF or adventures or experiences to delight ourselves. Even Thanksgiving, when we show God thanks for all that we have by over-indulging instead of showing thanks by doing what God would do if God was here i.e. anything remotely Jesusy (oh there I go with my high Christology again!)
We are kind of mixed up. Admit it! We are sinners all. We need to WAKE up and face it pretty much all the time.
It's rather a shame that the lectionary stops at verse 34.....if we were to keep reading, in verse 46 Jesus says, "Blessed is the slave whom the master will find at work when he arrives." I'm thinking that's healing and feeding, but maybe being in the field or grinding meal. How God wants you working is between you and god, right?
We can't just leave out the tricky parts of the Bible. (As tempting as it is) there is nothing I want more than to preach on John 17:21 where Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him, and jesus is in us and we are in him and the Father is in us and all of us are in each other and through each other and there is nothing but love and light glory and it is AWESOME in the truest sense of the word! (Uh...I kind of paraphrased there) The truth in THAT text hasn't changed one tiny bit! But this Matthew text is in the Holy Bible, too. Living Word. Fresh and pertainent each time we encounter it....even if it scares us a little.
What do we need to hear on this first day of the first week of December, of the Season of Advent in the Year of our Lord two thousand thirteen? A day that will never, ever come again? Why do we need to hear this now? How will it transform us?
Are you awake enough to think about it?
That is your job to discern.
And look busy! Jesus is coming!