By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
December 2, 2007
Read: Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
You may have heard about the idea of the Rapture….The Rapture where, at the end of time, some people are spirited away, they just disappear, and others are left behind. It is today’s reading from Matthew that can give that idea. Except, I think these readings for the First Sunday of Advent are much more challenging than that. First, in the prophet Isaiah, we read about a political cataclysm when the kings of Israel had offered to pay tribute for protection from invaders. Isaiah proclaims the vision of a new Israel where tribute will be no more because all kingdoms will come to the “mountain of the Lord’s house.” And then comes the vision of universal peace where “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” No one will learn war anymore. Anyone reading a newspaper would agree we are far from that vision today. But this vision has given people hope.
And then there is the Gospel reading, which is part of the apocalypse from Matthew where Jesus addresses people’s concerns about the end. He does this, incidentally, from the Mount of Olives where he is about to begin his own arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Jesus was certainly aware of what might happen to him as he spoke. We have a suggestion here of how universal that end will be—it will affect everyone, believer and non-believer alike. People engaged in work, and people partying are two extremes of those who will be caught up in the coming of the Son of Man.
People were just as curious then as they are now. They wanted to know when, who, and what they had to do to be saved. Jesus doesn’t answer these questions directly. He wants people to live a different way, to not be afraid of living altogether.
And then there’s today’s second lesson from Romans. In it Paul, who also senses the immediacy of Jesus’ return, focuses not on when it will be or what it will be like, but how we should live as expectant people.
Paul tells us to be awake, lay aside works of darkness, put on the armor of light, and live honorably. He doesn’t have any interest in doomsayers or seers predicting destruction. What Paul wants is for people to behave like disciples, followers of Jesus.
What does that look like though? This keeping awake?
Anthony de Mello was a great spiritual teacher. In one of his books, entitled “Awareness” there are excerpts from his retreats in which he tells us to “wake up”, stop sleeping. In his words, Spirituality means waking up. “Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence. He says all mystics agree on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Even though everything is a mess, all is well. It’s a strange paradox. Anthony de Mello challenges us to unlearn what we have been taught. That a willingness to unlearn, to listen, is the way wake up.
He says, “Are you listening, as most people do, in order to confirm what you already think? We frequently interpret everything that’s said in terms of our own conditioning or programming. Like this girl who’s listening to a lecture on agriculture and says, “excuse me, sir, you know I agree with you completely that the best manure is aged horse manure. Would you tell us how old the horse should optimally be?” Do you see where she’s coming from? We all have our positions don’t we? And we listen from the positions. “Henry, how you’ve changed! You were so tall and you’ve grown so short. You were so well built and you’ve grown so thin. You were so fair and you’ve become so dark. What happened to you, Henry?” Henry says, “I’m not Henry. I’m John.” “Oh you changed your name too!” Listening. Think about it.
Observe your reactions as I talk. You may be startled or shocked or scandalized or irritated or annoyed or frustrated. Or you’ll be saying, “great!” But are you listening for what will confirm what you already think? Or are you listening in order to discover something new? That is important. It is difficult for sleeping people. Jesus proclaimed the good news yet he was rejected. Not because it was good, but because it was new.
There is a story about some people who were on a raft off the coast of Brazil perishing from thirst. They had no idea that the water they were floating on was fresh water. The river was coming out into the sea with such force that it went out for a couple of miles, so they had fresh water right there where they were. But they had no idea. In the same way we are surrounded with joy, with happiness, with love. Repent! Wake Up! Put on a new mind. Take on a new way of looking at things. For the Kingdom of God is here, now!”
Advent is often thought of as a time of quiet waiting. Perhaps it should be a time of active searching! Searching for the spark of Jesus in others, repairing and polishing our own armor of light, and looking for hope when people say there isn’t any.
Advent is not about getting ready for Christmas, either. It is a separate, intense season of looking for, and listening for, the hope planted by God within each of us. It is a time of shutting out darkness, refusing to accept it as part of life. Even though it is the darkest part of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, Advent is a time to light the lamps and scatter the darkness, not brood over it.
There are many references in the Scriptures today to “the day.” “Day” should be thought of as floods of light banishing the lies we tell ourselves that keep us from the truth. Day should be though of as light scattering the darkness from before us. Day should be thought of as energy, morality, and joy. Day should be lived as new behavior, casting away the works of darkness and finding wonderful things that disciples have always known were there. Day should mean letting the light shine into your soul and revealing the things you’ve been hiding there, the things you know displease God and keep you from living as a person of light. Day can be cleansing as well are revealing. The light from Christ’s birth, death and resurrection surrounds us all. This Advent let’s walk in it, live with it and behave in response to it, and this Advent will be one to remember. Wake up! Amen.
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