Advent I 2018
In the name of the God who is coming among us, Amen.
“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near….”
That’s what Jesus says in today’s gospel. He is teaching in the Temple. He is standing in the holiest spot on the face of the earth for his people and he is teaching about the end of days, the Last Things, the Apocalypse, the signs that will signal the coming of the Son of Man in power and great glory. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” he proclaims, “but my words will not pass away….”
And what does he tell his disciples to do? How does he want his followers to face the end of all things? “Stand up!” he says, “stand up and raise your heads…your redemption is drawing near….”
We tend to see Advent as the time to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. We tend to spend these weeks talking about “preparing our hearts for the Christ Child.” But that misses the more dominant theme of Advent. Advent is a time to reflect, not on Jesus’ birth, but on his promised return to Earth as the Son of Man. Advent not about the ‘first coming’ of Jesus. It’s about his second coming…and the end of days.
“When you see these thing taking place,” Jesus teaches in the temple, “you know that the Kingdom of God is near….”
When I went to Israel 18 years ago now, our group toured an archeological site called Megiddo. Megiddo is located on the south side of the Jezreel Valley on the Eeron Pass—the route taken by conquerors from the Pharohes of Egypt to King Solomon to the Roman Legions to the British Army in World War I.
Megiddo is a vital strategic location for anyone seeking to control Israel. That is why twenty different cities have been built on that one spot—one on top of the other. Each conquering army destroyed the city they seized and built their new fortress on it’s ruins.
The first settlement at Megiddo dates back to 4000 B.C.—6000 years ago, at the dawning of human civilization. To stand amid the ruins of Megiddo today is to stand on a spot that dates back to the Stone Age. That is almost impossible to ponder—a place that takes in the whole of human history.
But after telling us all this and more about the history of Megiddo, our guide told us something else. Megiddo has another name. It is also known as Armageddon.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. For a moment I could hardly breathe. All the old stories of the Pentecostal preachers of my childhood rang in my ears and in my heart. The Day of the Lord…the Second Coming…the last battle of planet earth—all that was contained in that single word: Armageddon. We were standing on the place where the Book of Revelation tells us the world will end….
When I was a child, the end of the world through nuclear war was something almost everyone imagined could be true. We got under our desks in grade school and covered our heads, practicing for the Atomic bomb attack. And today, the ecological crisis should provoke our imaginations as well. It is possible that we human beings could bring death to the planet through our carelessness and greed. The end of the world, in that way, is not unthinkable.
When I was 25 years old, I spent many hours over the span of a week, sitting by my mother’s deathbed. I took turns sitting there with other members of my family, watching for the signs and portents of the end of my mother’s days. It was over 45 years ago, yet the memories of those days and hours and moments are still vivid in my heart. Though she was in and out of a coma and never spoke during that week, she did wake up enough one day to let me feed her a little cup of vanilla ice-cream with a plastic spoon. She drifted away before she had eaten it all and I took the last bite. I still remember that as one of the most delicious and sensuous bites I’ve ever had. All my senses were heightened because I knew each moment I sat there might be the last moment of my mother’s life.
I would try to match my breath with her breath, try to breathe in rhythm with her. And in those moments, every breath I took was distinct and different. Like snowflakes, no two breaths were the same.
Most of the time, I don’t even notice that I’m breathing.
Jesus tells us this today: Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down…and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap….Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Advent is the time to wake up. Advent is the time to remember to be aware, on guard, alert while we are waiting. Most of the time, we just don’t notice how life is flowing around us. Most of the time, we are asleep.
While I sat and waited for my mother to die, each moment took on “meaning”, every instant was important, the normally unnoticed seconds of my life were precious and rare and like snowflakes, all different from each other.
While we are “waiting for Christmas” or “waiting for the Coming of the Son of Man”, the gift and meaning of Advent is that the “in between time” is precisely where we will find love and purpose and hope and wonder and God…and each other.
It’s not What we’re waiting for that’s important. What’s important is what we do with the “waiting time”. Our lives have purpose. Our love “makes a difference” in this world. Every bite of ice cream, every moment of waiting, every second of our lives is full and overflowing with the glory of God.
Advent calls us to “be always on the watch”, wide awake with anticipation, leaning into every hour of our existence as if God were always breaking into our lives.
Advent calls us to wake up and notice every breath as if God were breathing in rhythm with us. The Kingdom of God is that close to us, as close as our next breath…
“Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”