First Sunday of Advent – December 2, 2018
Alice J Stewart
So… our reading from the Gospel of Luke today sounds… scary. All those signs and portents and sufferings that precede Jesus’ return don’t sounds terribly pleasant. But when we meet Jesus again in his full glory, everything is going to change. And change of any sort is accompanied by suffering among us mortals.
Small changes, like rearranging the church furniture, can be slightly uncomfortable at first. Ordinary life changes like birth and death are usually accompanied by stronger physical and emotional discomfort before we pass through to the other side where love and joy welcome us. Ultimate change, as we will see when Jesus returns, will be extreme.
But Luke assures us. Love and joy will be waiting for us. Our redemption is drawing near. We will meet Jesus. These are words of hope.
We are hopeful and joyful as we prepare to meet Jesus on Christmas day, as we celebrate the birth of the Son of God among human beings. Because Jesus became one of us, our redemption was made possible. Because he became one of us, we met Jesus and we still do.
Jesus is the author of creation at the beginning of all time. He came two thousand years ago as a baby that grew into a man who died for us and rose again. He will come again to redeem all creation at the end of all time. Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. This is Jesus, who loves us.
So why does Jesus make his second coming sound scary? Two reasons, I think. First, it’s just going to be scary to see Jesus’ return all over the world at the same time. Second, it might be scary because Jesus is the one who will judge us. Let’s start with the first scary thing.
When the divine comes among us in scripture, God is usually careful to shield us from his full glory. Think burning bushes. Pillars of smoke and fire. When God’s angels bring us news of God, they always tell us not to be afraid. I think it’s clear that even the messengers of God are pretty frightening.
When Jesus comes in his full glory, and he promises us he will, Jesus also promises us it’s going to be terrifying. You see, there’s really no way that Jesus can return to earth in his physical body wrapped in his eternal glory at the same time all over the world without destroying our notions of reality altogether.
I’m not saying Jesus can’t do it, because he can. And he will. What I’m saying is that his return to our time and space in a way that is unbound by either time or space is going to blow our minds, and cause all kinds of havoc on earth. It’s going to be a hard thing to get our heads around, but Jesus has given us a heads up. He’s given us some instructions on how we can deal with his return.
Jesus says starting in verse 34 of our reading from Luke, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.” And Jesus continues, “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.”
Stand before the Son of Man. This is the second scary thing I said I was going to talk about. We say we want to see Jesus. But then, if we try to imagine the reality of that, and the suddenness of that, and the consequences of that, I imagine we might be a bit nervous. What do we say? Will he be harsh with us? Will we have time to ask forgiveness of our sins or will it be too late?
I think the same nervousness applies for the possibility of our sudden demise. I won’t have a whole lot of time to prepare myself to meet Jesus if I get hit by an Uber driver while crossing Kennedy Road.
But let’s remember that Jesus is talking to the Church collectively maybe more than the individual here. Our faith is communal. Together we make the Body of Christ. And this is where we can help ease the burden of so much individual watchfulness and sobriety. Here in church is where we can step away from the worries of the world. This is where we can rest, and relax without falling into drunkenness. This is where we can be filled with joy instead of dissipation.
Yes, there is plenty of improvement we need to do in our individual lives. We can’t spend every other evening sucking down five beers at the pub watching the Leafs and expect to see the signs of Jesus’ return. We can’t fill our minds with news that’s designed to make us anxious so that we anxiously consume more of it and expect to see the portents of the ripening time. And we sure won’t have time to prepare if we miss those signs.
And if the prospect of all the individual improvement that we need to do sounds like a receipe for failure, we can remind ourselves of two things.
First, we have each other. This church and all those in it are where we find rest, and joy, and strength. We don’t have to do this alone. When we reach out to each other, and gather here together, we become alert and prayerful and our faith replaces worry.
Second, when we gather together as the Body of Christ, we already meet Jesus. We meet him in the newborn face of Mary’s son. We meet him on the cross and in the empty tomb. We meet him in the bread and the wine. We meet him when we confess our sins, and we meet him when we pass the peace. We fill our individual hearts with him by our communal worship.
Today is the first day of Advent. The beginning of a new church year. Happy new year. If you’re looking for some new years resolutions, Jesus has a few suggestions.
Be alert. Be on guard. Stand up. Raise your heads. Lighten your hearts. Because our redemption is drawing near.
How do we succeed at these new years resolutions? By sharing the load. By gathering in prayer and fellowship. By opening our hearts and hands to each other in trust and love. By seeking and finding here in this Body of Christ the peace and rest and strength we need to be alert, to stand with heads high and with light hearts at the coming of our Savior.
We can’t do it alone. But with God, with the Body of Christ, all things are possible.
My sisters and brothers, Jesus is coming. He’s coming at Christmas as God incarnate in the body of a newborn baby boy. He’s coming in glory at the end of all time. He’s coming here in the bread and the wine in a few minutes.
We will stand before the Son of Man. And on that day, we will be redeemed into eternal life. Together.