As we were visiting with my sister and her family during the Thanksgiving holiday we began to talk about movies that would be good for us as a whole family to watch – from age ten on up. Someone suggested the “Back to the Future” series, and my about to be twelve-year-old nephew, said “How can it be back to the future? That doesn’t make sense?” And his question launches us firmly into Advent – for that is where we are: Back to the Future.
Advent is a season that messes with our minds, because it is all about time: the intersecting, overlapping realities of future, past and present as lived in God’s time. We begin by hearing the ancient promises of God made to the prophets, about God’s vision for his people, what is the ultimate goal of life. This year we are hearing the promises as they came through Isaiah, two thousand, seven hundred years ago, words that speak of the end of war, and of turning weapons of destruction into farm tools; they are the words on the Isaiah wall across the street from the United Nations: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” This is a vision from a time long past for the future that is yet to come.
In the Gospel reading Jesus speaks of the time of his return, referring to himself as the Son of Man, and he says that no one knows when that time will be, but that we should be ready, be on the lookout. The time of Christ’s return is the future – when he will come as Judge at the consummation of history, but as to trying to assign a time or date…we are getting way out in front of ourselves. I’m sure you have heard or read all kinds of predictions and supposed “de-coding” of Biblical passages that purport to tell us when this will happen, but they all fall into the category of over-reach. The truth is, we just don’t know when Christ will return, and all Jesus tells us is that we need to be awake and alert – prepared and ready for God’s future.
And then, of course, Advent is the season when we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child, the baby in the manger at Bethlehem, the Feast of the Incarnation. That event took place two thousand years ago, and yet we are still celebrating in the present, because God who became fully incarnate in human life in the person of Jesus, is always present with us. In God, it is always “now.”
Past, future, and present – in Advent they weave together too tightly to fully unravel. And the pictures around the walls of the church, and on your bulletin covers, remind us visually of present, future and past existing together. The photos are from the Hubble Space telescope; it was launched by NASA twenty-three years ago, and ever since has been sending photographs to earth of galaxies, nebulas, stars; some of the most recent photos of extreme deep space are pictures of light that has traveled six billion light years into to the future and is just now reaching us. When we see those photos we are seeing the past in the present, and yet it is new every second; the future is unfolding in front of our very eyes. Like I said at the beginning – Advent messes with your mind! We wait and prepare for the coming of Christ – in his first Advent in Bethlehem, and in his second Advent at the conclusion of this age, and we do not wait alone; the stars and planets and galaxies, the entire cosmos, waits with us.
In his letter to the Romans Paul said: “you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” The day is near, the time is now, God is present with us always – so what do we do while we wait: wait for Christmas, wait for the return of Christ?
We do the things that will keep us spiritually awake and alert, ready to respond to God with a glad and generous heart:
· be attentive in prayer;
· be eager to deepen your understanding of God and the Christian life by reading Scripture or theology or a book on spirituality;
· be curious about other people – what their life is like, what their needs are, what brings them joy or sorrow, what you might be able to do to help;
· be willing to work and speak and pray for what is good and right, especially in the places our society needs it most;
· be a blessing – let God use you to bless others, most often in ways that you could never have imagined for yourself;
· be quiet – especially as this Advent season has come to be defined by frantic and out-of-control shopping; be quiet and calm within yourself and a non-anxious presence to those around you.
As we allow ourselves to be in this way, to just “be” in God’s presence as future, past and present is woven around us, we will be ready for the coming of Christ – at least as ready as we’ll ever be, as ready as God wants us to be. May your waiting be full of the quiet wonder and glory of God, and may you know yourself to wait in the company of God’s magnificent and mysterious cosmos.
Let us pray.
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ~ Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
First Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2013