The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's about time

Advent 1A
Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44


In the name of God: who was, and who is, and who is to come. Amen.

Advent is finally here. And there’s really only one thing to say: it’s about time.

If you’ve been inside a retail store in the past few weeks you’d probably think it was already Christmas. It seems to come earlier and earlier each year. The consumerism in our culture - and in all of us who are a part of that culture, really - demands that we fast-forward past the waiting and into the celebrating. We’ve lost our patience.

And the church says, “It’s about time.”

You hear the message every year - it’s not Christmas yet, we need to take some time for Advent.

We mark that in our liturgies: we try to build in a sense of anticipation through the music we sing and with periods of silence; we don’t decorate for Christmas yet; we don’t say Merry Christmas to each other yet. By the end of Advent, we start to look a little strange: the rest of the world has been celebrating Christmas for about a month, and we, in the church - the people for whom it should be most significant - have barely acknowledged it at all.

It’s about time.

We’re not good at waiting. We live in what I’ve often called a microwave culture. We don’t simmer; we zap. And there’s a degree to which that expression doesn’t even really capture it: perhaps we’ve even moved beyond the microwave culture to the point where even that seems too slow. Sometimes, when I’m reheating leftovers, I catch myself standing in front of the microwave wondering why the seconds tick by so slowly. I’m ready!

But here’s the thing: most times, once the microwave finally finishes its work, I look around and realize that I’ve forgotten to set the table. I was impatient, to be sure, but I wasn’t ready.

We often mistake the two - impatience and being ready. Being ready is about being prepared - about having taken the time and the steps necessary to accomplish a moment to its fullest potential. Impatience, on the other hand, is only about itself: a quest for gratification at the expense of potentially deeper satisfaction.

The readings for this morning begin to point our attention in a new direction - to the idea that God’s very self will be among us in a new way. It takes some time to wrap our minds around that. We can’t just thrust ourselves into this new way of seeing the world. If we do, we might not even see it. If we’re guided by impatience, all we will be able to see will be the seconds ticking by, and not the work left undone when the alarm sounds. Then, when it sounds, we’ll be left scrambling.

Paul, in his customarily eager approach to time, tells us, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”

Paul always believed that the return of Christ was just around the corner. He was eager, but not impatient. He used his eagerness to fuel his efforts at readiness, but didn’t allow it to devolve into impatience.

Jesus also seems to be saying the same kind of thing: “About that day and hour, no one knows… Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

But what does any of this have to do with any of us?

Even if you’re of the school of thought that says that a literal and majestic second coming of Christ to triumph over the powers of the world is just over the horizon, we have to admit that it’s been over the horizon for some two-thousand years. At some point, don’t we have to just hang it up and live our lives outside of the anxiety and anticipation? Can’t we just say, “I’m ready!” already and stop watching the clock? If we’re not careful it could drive us mad!

I’ve always believed that we have a way of finding what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for anxiety, we almost always find it. If we’re looking for fear, we almost always find that.

But on the other hand, if we’re looking for love, chances are that’s what we’ll experience. If we’re looking for hope, it will be around every corner.

What might happen if we found ourselves looking for Christ?

The church doesn’t just delay the celebration of Christmas until Christmas Day because we’re old fashioned. We don’t do it because we’re curmudgeonly determined to stand against the ways of the rest of the world.

We wait because we believe we’ll find ourselves in the midst of our looking for Christ.

Advent is more countercultural than it ever has been, but it’s also more important. As we, in our culture, become more and more impatient, we feel the ache of anticipation in waiting more and more acutely. That ache gives rise to impatience, and often at the expense of readiness.

We could jump right in to Christmas, but would we really be ready? If we didn’t practice looking for Christ, what would we find at Christmas?

You know what time it is. It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. It’s time to get ready.

Advent is here, and it’s all about time. It’s about taking time to get ready. It’s about pressing back against our impatience and looking for Christ. Who knows what we’ll find…

2 comments:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well done, Jon. Well done.

Jon M. Richardson said...

Thank you, Dr. Kaeton :) And I loved you letter over the weekend to HoB/D... Was pleased to see that it made it onto your blog :)