27 Nov 2016
“‘About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’” (Matt. 24:36) In the name …
There’s a kind of nice liturgical trick included in this morning’s liturgy. You may or may not remember that today is the first day of a brand new liturgical year, which logically means that last weekend was the last Sunday of the old liturgical year. Last Sunday the church directed us to think of the end-time and the coming back of Jesus. This Sunday as the liturgical year begins anew the church directs us to think of quickly approaching Christmas and its story of the coming of Jesus. But the two are not as different as they may seem at first, and to get this message across the church tells us to reread part of last Sunday’s Gospel this week. That line about “this generation will not pass away” was where we ended last week and where we begin this week. The Christmas story of Jesus coming to us in the humbleness of an animal’s manger informs, or should inform, our expectation of Jesus’ coming again at the end-time. Advent embraces the split-theme of the coming of Christ as a baby and the coming of Christ as triumphant Saviour, and tells us that this is all part of the same story. And I think this is something we need to pay closer attention to as we begin another season of Advent.
So Jesus tries to get His disciples ready for His death, resurrection and glory. He’s trying to transition them so that they are prepared to move from the earthly Jesus of sandals to the heavenly Jesus of halos. The Gospels give us a neat, little package of three attempts. After the first attempt, Peter so messes-up that Jesus yells at him: “‘Get behind me Satan!’” After the second attempt, Jesus has to rebuke and embarrass the whole bunch of His disciples because they were arguing among themselves about which one was the greatest. After the third and final attempt, the two brothers James and John come to Jesus secretly and ask for positions of honour and power in His coming kingdom. When the other ten find out about this, everyone is mad. And again Jesus has to try and correct their understanding of what the coming glory means. If this were not bad enough, after Jesus resurrects and just before He is about to ascend into the heavens, as the last thing the disciples can talk to Him about, they ask Him when He will establish His kingdom on earth.
Now the Gospels are not going out of their way to make the disciples look bad. So what this repeated theme of misunderstanding is telling us is that this is simply the way it was. The first followers of Jesus could not shake the expectations that God’s glory had to be shown as power and majesty. And we’re no different as Jesus’ followers some 2,000 years later. It almost sounds sacrilegious to talk of God’s glory as NOT power and NOT majesty. But I think what we need to consider as we begin another Season of Advent, is this idea of overlap, that the Jesus who comes to us at Christmas is the exact same Jesus who will come back to us. Just think for a moment about the fact that God has invested so much of Himself in the coming of Jesus at Christmas. In Jesus we see the fullness of God’s revelation. In Jesus, the church came to teach, we see the fullness of God. If this wasn’t some sort of grand act by a superb actor, then Jesus reveals to us a God whose glory is love, whose power is compassion, whose goal is community, whose majesty is self-sacrifice. Why would we think that when Jesus returns to heaven after His time with us on earth, that He becomes someone completely different? Wouldn’t this make Jesus’ life a lie?
We saw how hard Jesus worked to try and convince His first followers that He was not in the business of power and riches, and they just couldn’t wrap their imaginations around such a God. We can’t let that continue to happen forever. Advent, as I mentioned, is the beginning of a new liturgical cycle. A cycle is the completion of the circle. Another word for that is revolution. When the earth revolves once around the sun, for example, when it completes its cycle, it completes one revolution. But we all know that revolution can mean something more than this, and revolutions as a fundamental and dramatic change from the way things were comes from that idea of turning. It’s not only about turning in place, of beginning turning to end, and then the cycle, the revolution, starts all over in the same place. The liturgical cycle, the revolution of the liturgical year, is like the revolution of a wheel. The wheel doesn’t just move from top to bottom and back to top again. As the wheel revolves, it moves forward. Today’s we’ve completed the cycle. We’re back to Advent, but not the same Advent as last year, or a hundred years ago, or even 2,000 years ago. This Advent has us moving forward. And I think one of the Advent themes we need to look at with a new perspective is our expectations of the heavenly Jesus, who He is now and who He is that will come again to us.
Jesus’ birth took everyone by surprise. No one thought God would enter the world without fanfare and power. But Jesus came the way God intended. And this same Jesus said He had no idea when the end-time would arrive. So I think we may be surprised again. I think it may be worth our while to re-imagine our expectations of a kingly Saviour and to instead take this time of Advent preparation to think more about the revelation of God in the way He came to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe as we lay out our manger scenes in our homes we should think again why God would choose to be born like this. It sure says a lot about the kind of people we are supposed to be, but it also reveals who God already is. And this is a revelation that moves us forward. It doesn’t just turn in place so that all we do is wait for God to come back and do everything for us. This is an Advent theme that challenges us to become more like the God revealed in the Christmas story. Then the when becomes unimportant like Jesus says today, and we can concentrate on the who of Jesus, and trying to be more like that. And may this be our prayer, in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo