“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose.” Isn’t that going through your head now that we’ve flipped our calendar page over to December and have arrived at the first Sunday in Advent here in church? Isn’t it time to get all warm and comfy and binge watch all those drippy Hallmark movies where the blond-haired-blue-eyed people in the suburban house end up having a tear-jerking reunion where all the conflicts have been resolved and all’s well that ends well. Isn’t that what the season is all about? Hmmm?
Then why do we have to come to church to hear St. Mark tell us all about the day where the sun and the moon go dark and the stars fall out of the sky as prelude to the Son of Man bursting onto the scene a second time in one big apocalyptic, time-ending, world-stopping wrapping up of all things for all time. And, you’d better be ready for it. It could tomorrow! Or tonight! Or .. or… right now! Be ready! Be prepared!
One of the things I have come to appreciate about the appointed readings many denominations have in common is that they are … appointed. If I were left to choose my own readings from which to preach I certainly would not choose this one for this day. But I’ve come to appreciate the common lectionary because it forces me to deal with itchy texts. Not only do I usually come away learning something new, but I also learn something I can share with you. So it is with this text from Mark where Jesus compares the second coming to a man who goes on a journey but the servants don’t know when he will return. It could be anytime. So, the servants are advised to stay awake and be watchful.
Now, it could be that I would preach a sermon to you about watching and waiting for the end-time … for Jesus’ second coming. Those are the sermons I heard growing up. But did you ever notice that Lutherans aren’t real big on the second coming? You don’t hear many sermons on it. Oh, it’s not that we don’t believe in it. It’s that we believe in it in a different way. Please let me take the next paragraph of my sermon to talk eschatological theology and then I’ll let you go back to sleep again. Here goes:
One theory of the second coming is called “imminent eschatology.” That is the belief that Jesus will come back soon. Soon! As in, your bananas won’t get brown before it happens. These are the folks walking around with, “The end is near” signs. Paul was one of those people, but that’s another story. Another theory of the second coming is called “future eschatology.” That one says, “Hey, it hasn’t happened in 2,000 years and it may well be another 2,000 before Jesus comes again. Or more. But it will happen. Out there in the future someplace.” But there is a third theory which we need to think about … and is the basis for this sermon. This one is called, “realized eschatology” and it is the concept that the God’s final act of bringing a broken creation back under his loving Lordship has already occurred in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but it continues to occur as God breaks into each and every life at baptism, at holy communion, as those special moments when the veil between heaven and earth becomes very, very thin – moments when, if you are not watching for them, you may miss altogether.
Marcus Borg has taken this concept of realized eschatology one step further. He refers to it as “participatory eschatology.” That means that the process of healing a broken world isn’t just something we sit back and wait for God to do, or watch God do as a spectator. It is something we participate in. Participatory eschatology doesn’t focus on end-time so much as it does on the time we are given now to shape a future which has not yet been determined. It’s like the lyrics to the Steve Miller Band song, “Fly Like and Eagle.” “Time keeps on slippin, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”
Think about it: You can’t get to the future without living in the present. And so the only way you can shape the future is by shaping the present. So, God is working with us continually – not toward one day which is like the words “the end” at the end of a movie – but toward a never-ending future in which his kingdom unfolds and grows and flourishes. It’s like watching the horizon from a ship. The more you go toward it the more it moves away. So, the point isn’t to get to the horizon, it’s to tend to life aboard the ship and to recognize that we are all in the same boat, so to speak.
One commentary I read on today’s lessons said that, since we are not really pretending that Christ is yet to be born in these weeks before Christmas that we shouldn’t hesitate to pull out all the Christmas carols during our season of Advent and sing boldly, “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.” I disagree. I think that, if we are truly to keep watchful and wakeful to the presence of God in the simple and small things of life – in the gifts which come from family and friends and in those occasions when the Holy Spirit touches your heart gently – if we are truly to keep watchful and wakeful to the true meaning of the Christ-mass (the Christmas), that we need itchy gospels like this which – even if we don’t understand them theologically – they communicate to us that the kingdom of God is different than the ads you see on TV pushing new cars into your driveways or the cultural pressures to have all your moments be Hallmark moments. No, we don’t do Christmas during Advent. It keeps our heads in the right place.
How do you know a kingdom moment when you see it? How do you know when the veil between heaven and earth has become very thin? It is different for each of us. But I DO know what keeps us from recognizing the master who has returned home … it is 95% of all the foo-faw which fills our ears and eyes during December. So, at least here in church, one hour each week during all this craziness you can be reminded that, when the kingdom of God comes, it comes when we may have our attention directed elsewhere. We’re looking at the shiny objects when the real action is in a dark and damp stable where the God of all creation has chosen to become one of us, to become “Emmanuel.”
The master returns home continually. Do we see him in Hunters’ Woods Plaza? Did you see him in the faces of the elderly and low income at Fellowship House? Did you see him in those who come in here for a hot meal each Tuesday? In the homeless women at N. Street Village? If we want to change their future we need to change their now.
Let me close with the other verses to Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” go like this:
“Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution
Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’, into the future.”
Text: Mark 13:24-37