Tuesday, November 24, 2010
The First Sunday of Advent
Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent, and the beginning of our journey towards Bethlehem. We begin a movement that has a destination, a birth, something new on the horizon. At Northwood the theme for the season is “Journey toward Bethlehem.” Like most journeys we go on, there is the going there and the getting there. The going there is all about the process, the way. The getting there is all about the arrival, the destination. My hope is that through this season we can be a people on the way, paying attention to moments in the journey in which we encounter the Holy. I also hope that our journey is shaped by our destination- that the fact that the presence of God is found in a child, born in the backwaters of Judea shapes us.
The lectionary has us begin this journey not so much with visions of that first coming but with hopes of a second one.
Background on this weeks readings:
The prophets’ hope is ever-present in the season of Advent, so we begin with Isaiah. This is first Isaiah speaking from a time before the fall of Jerusalem but after Assyria has taken over control of the northern kingdom of Israel. So clearly they were living in the shadow of potential impending disaster.
Isaiah speaks to the dreams of the people for restoration. But it is not exactly harkening back to glory days here, but rather a dream of a time when God will teach the people, and adjudicate their differences. Jerusalem will not as much be a seat of power for Israel but a seat of justice and reconciliation for God. And because people will submit their quarrels to God’s judgements, the instruments of war will become the instruments of re-building (swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks). Not a bad place to begin the Advent journey.
Romans 13 :8-14
Paul is speaking clearly from a place of expectation that Christ will return at any moment. So it makes total sense that if the end of the present age is about to take place and a new age is about to dawn in which everything will be changed, then be in the moment. Be ready. Be awake. This was no philosophical or spiritual practise of “living in the moment.” No this was rooted in the expectation that something really big was about to change everything.
I am struck by his use of “stay awake!” Wakefulness is a very active posture of expectation. There is a sense of alertness here that I believe leads us into Advent well. Are we really awake to God’s imminent presence, an in-breaking of love and hope at any moment? Or are we more asleep than awake?
Matthew 24 :36-44
Picking up on the awake theme, we have Matthew’s version of the apocalyptic expectation that God is about to bring in the new age. Be awake. Be ready. The new age is about to dawn.
These are startling images in understanding how God makes God’s way from the background to the foreground of our lives. There is no gentle dawning here. This is Noah waiting for the clouds to tear open and all heaven to fall. God is pulling a break and enter on our lives. I am thinking that perhaps these less gentle approaches to jostling us out of our habitual busyness and over-consumption may be exactly what is needed today. Happy advent folks! Are you catching the good news in this?
I have never found the apocalyptic expectations within the gospels to be very compelling during Advent. Expecting the incarnation, the birth of God in this world, and expecting the second coming, whatever you think that might mean, are very different things. However, the eagerness and even edginess of the call to wakefulness is compelling to me. I think we in the comfortable western church don’t actually expect much. We might even hope not much will happen. Another Christmas. Same old same old. So we start to fall asleep to the wonder of God in the world. I was talking to someone today who finds the church really frustrating because people don’t engage. People have such low expectations of the church and the faith.
What would it look like for us to wake up? What would be different if we honestly woke up to the very real presence of God? And what would it take to wake us up?
Here’s a youtube clip for the Advent Conspiracy for this year. These always jostle us awake a bit.