Today’s Gospel brings us to a transition point…a fork in the road, if you will…that in some sense forces us to deal with the season of Advent whether we really want to or not. Advent being a somewhat ‘in your face’ type of season that, according to Luke’s Gospel, forces us “to hear” what sounds like an ominous future in store for all of God’s creation. Notice that even the sun, the moon, and the stars get in on the dramatic effects…leaving us to feel as if we’ve just been given a preview of a much bigger picture that has yet to be released. No wonder Hollywood loves this kind of script. For one thing, it allows one’s imagination to simply run amuck with all kinds of images…taking a hint from verse 26 we read: ‘people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world…for the very powers of the heavens will be shaken.’
And yet…if we take the time to read carefully…we will soon discover that there is an underlying message that we also need ‘to hear’: a message that is borne, not out of fear and a sense of judgment, but rather a sense of…hope. Hope…the word that lies at the heart of the Advent season. Conveyed in simple shades of blue that adorn both the altar and the lectern, we see signs of an immerging truth that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. What truism are we alluding to…you may ask? Why the one that can be found at the fork in the road. Where we find ourselves affirming once again that this life consists of a number of paradoxes allowed by God to exist this side of Heaven. Namely, that in the season of Advent…there are three “comings of Christ” that demand our attention…not just the one alluded to dealing with chaos and uncertainty.
The “first coming” is the one that we are most familiar with…even in these days of rabid commercialism and the inevitable countdown of shopping days (25 days left to go, by the way)…even the youngest among us knows that Christmas has something to do with the arrival of baby Jesus. An event that took place some 2000 plus years ago in the dust-bowl of a town called Bethlehem, and one that every single church in Christendom will try to recapture on Christmas Eve. Knowing that even though Jesus was born and lived some 30 plus years on this earth, we also profess every Sunday to believe that this Jesus also: ‘…suffered under Pontius Pilate…was crucified, died, and was buried…and on the third day rose again. He ascended into Heaven…and is (now) seated at the right hand of the Father. And yes…he will come (and notice the word…again…) to do what? To judge the living and the dead. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…HIS KINGDOM…will have no end.’
What we have just heard with our own ears is the simple truth of the “second coming” of Jesus as believed and professed by Christians all over the world. A second coming in which Luke describes as the Son of Man ‘coming in a cloud’ with power…and great glory. We have been reminded over and again that Jesus was already born and we don’t need to anticipate that anymore. But what we do anticipate…and rightly so…is his coming again. Which reminds me.
I remember being in our parish in California and being asked by one of our youth during the season of Advent…whether or not Jesus was really going to return? When I realized that the young lady was serious, I asked why she was inquiring now. Without even blinking an eye, she simply replied that she had never been told that before…by anyone. She had been assuming all along that He came…and he went. And the next thing to occur would be the end of the world as we know it. Talk about living a life with no hope! What I learned from that conversation was that none of us should ever “assume” that God’s truth has made its way out into the world…even to those in our own back yard.
Which brings us to the topic of the ‘third coming’ of Jesus…that which is most personal…and relevant to our lives today. Unlike our children, who tend to live in the moment and are fully engaged with the present, we, adults, tend to concentrate on everything BUT the present and miss the peace of living in the here and now. We allow ourselves to be influenced by so many distractions that tend to take us off course…such as worrying too much about what may or may not happen in the future. The truth be told, none of us needs to be warned about getting our lives together for some day when Jesus will return to judge all of creation and everything in it. Faith…in God’s gift “coming into our lives”…is not about something a few weeks off when the project is due.
Faith…is about waking up in the morning and breathing air into our lungs…before putting our feet on the floor and heading out to engage the world. Yes, there will be some terrible things out there, including things in which we find ourselves being horribly complicit. What we need to remember first and foremost above all else, is that the ‘coming’ of Christ…is promised by God. As one theologian put it, it is not a procrastinated future.
A “realized eschatology” is not a bad way for people of faith to deal with the so-called evils, principalities, and powers of our day. As Bishop Desmond Tutu so often said during the darkest days of Apartheid, “The devil is already defeated. He just doesn’t know it yet, but…we do!” That dear friends in Christ…in a nutshell…is precisely what I suspect the season of Advent is really all about. Living out our lives in the sure and certain hope that God is in control and actively at work in our surrounding community where we now need to place our witness and service.
If we don’t see Christ…and welcome him and his kingdom TODAY, then there can only be one conclusion. We will miss more than one more party and one more shopping day this year. We may very well miss seeing the kingdom, let alone Jesus himself. It can happen to the best of us…simply because we allow ourselves to be distracted one more time. Either way we slice it, the fork in the road…stays. Chiefly, I suspect, because God designed it that way from the very first coming of Christ. From a babe in a manger to a savior on a cross to one who now sits at the right hand of the Father, there can be no mistaking as to who is the one in charge. His name is Immanuael…God with us…until the end of time. Amen