29 Nov 2015
“‘People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’” (Luke 21:26) In the name …
This morning we begin a brand new church year and it begins in a very logical place. Today we begin to anticipate the coming birth of Jesus on Christmas. Basically, we’re talking about the beginning of our preparations for the beginning. I would think that this would usher in all kinds of fresh thoughts and new perspectives, but the old won’t let go easily. Last week as we closed out the church year we spoke about the terrifying prophecies of the end of time when Jesus comes in all His godly power. Today we prepare for Him to come to us at Christmas, and yet we still hear that “people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” Nothing has changed and I find that surprising because shouldn’t Christmas have recalibrated our expectations about the nature of God? The time of the end has been misjudged for thousands of years, and maybe that should be a cautionary tale for us about the theology of the end and of Jesus’ Second Coming.
I imagine that the intention behind keeping the readings the same is so that we make the connection between Christmas and the Second Coming, the image of the child in the Bethlehem manger with the image of the one shrouded in glory coming on the clouds of heaven. But I also wonder if that connection undermines the radical meaning for us here and now of what God is saying about power when He comes to us as a humble Saviour born in the poverty of a wandering family in a defeated nation. When we lit the first candle of the Advent wreath, we said, “In Him the prophecy is fulfilled,” we have to see in His surprisingly humble birth the real face of God.
The world today is a pretty frightening place. We don’t need to wait for the end of time to hear of wars and rumours of wars. Violence, prejudice and fear abound. A Russian jet was shot down this past week by a NATO country. I don’t know if that has ever happened, not even in the coldest days of the Cold War. ISIS is just plain evil. There isn’t the slightest value of human life in their strategy, and the worse they get the more recruits they find. We have to live with the thought of random bombings and shootings as our new normal. (Colorado shooting) The Bible prophesies the “powers of the heavens will be shaken.” We haven’t gone there yet, but most of the world’s scientists are telling us that the climate is changing in dangerous ways and they’re meeting in Paris this week to talk about it. Floods, storms, crop failures and disease will follow, but this also is taken in stride as our new normal. These are not signs of the end. Sadly, these are stories from today’s news.
Generations have long imagined the end of time and the coming of God because they thought things were so unusually bad that the only way out was for God to end it all, but they really weren’t all that unusual. When God came into our world in Jesus, there were tyrants, wars and terrorists then too. God’s answer to this repeated evil was and is Jesus. It is a lived message of a way out of this cycle of destruction that turns away from always seeking to fix things through greater and more powerful acts of destruction, even if that destruction is by God’s hand. Erin lit the Prophecy Candle for us. Its light is the first ray of Advent. It says to us, “What God has to communicate is so important that finally God had to say it in person.” There’s just no way of getting around the example of Jesus.
In Him, God has said something surprising. In Jesus we have seen the face of God and it is nothing like what was predicted. In Jesus God has said He has had enough of our illusions about who God is – so He came in person, and He came in the most peaceful and ordinary way that He could imagine. He came as one of us. To see His face is not about death; it’s about life.
He came, as Rev. Daly spoke of at last Sunday’s Interfaith Service, as the embodiment of “A Wild Idea, A Crazy Thought.” The wild idea is that God cares about us, every day, every moment; God knows each of us. We all matter from the richest of the one-percenters to the dirtiest of the refugees trying to find peace somewhere in the world. And the crazy thought is that we are all little less than God, that we have all been crowned with His glory and His honour by His will. (cf. Psalm 8) This is why we can see the face of God and live. God’s coming is not about cataclysm; it’s about challenge – the challenge to follow Jesus and His example, and it’s also about hope – the real, tangible, lived hope that in Jesus God knows that we can do better than we’re doing now and that in Jesus He’s here to help us.
There’s only one candle burning, trying to get Jesus’ light out in our lives and into our world. It’s our privilege and responsibility to make sure that it doesn’t go out, that it has the chance to grow brighter. Let us find the time this Advent Season to prepare ourselves to see God’s power and glory in unexpected ways. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo