Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, November 27, 2022

YEAR A 2022 advent 1

Advent 1, 2022
Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44
Psalm 122

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So . . . as I remind you every year, the church and the society around us are not in sync when it comes to Christmas.  Five seconds after Halloween was over, people started putting up Christmas decorations.  Stores started selling wrapping paper and lawn displays.  And, best of all, the breweries started releasing their Christmas ales.  

HOWEVER, in the life of the church, we don’t celebrate a thing until it happens.  Easter begins at sundown on Holy Saturday, and goes for 50 days.  Christmas begins after sundown on Christmas Eve and goes for the 12 days of Christmas.  (If only there were a song to remind us of that.)  Point being, in the church, we are now waiting for Christmas, no matter what the piped-in music in the stores might be telling you.

We get to soak up four weeks of blue before Jesus gets here.  (Well, plus also a little bit of rose two weeks from now, thanks to our awesome sewing guild.)  Nonetheless, the contrast between what is happening all around us and the Gospel reading we just heard is pretty stark.  But speaking of scary readings, let’s start here . . . 

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Left Behind” series.  If you haven’t, good for you!  Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins teamed up to write a bunch of books based on their premillennial dispensationalist interpretation of the end times.  (I’m just gonna let that sentence sit there because we don’t have nearly enough time.)  The first book, called “Left Behind,” was inspired by the Gospel reading we just heard, based on what some people call “the Rapture.”  In a nutshell, some Christians believe that God will snatch away the believers to a safe place and then let evil take over the world.  In this misunderstanding of the passage, you do not want to be left behind, because that means you will have to go through the great tribulation to come.

But if you look at the words we just heard, that has it all backwards.  In the story of Noah, which Jesus mentions, the other people are swept away, and Noah is left behind.  If there is a big flood that sweeps away everything around you, you want to be left behind, in that ark, with the animals.  And, though I don’t want to get too deep into the Greek weeds here, a legitimate way to interpret the other two examples Jesus uses is that one woman will be “taken away,” and the other will be “forgiven.” 

Being left behind means you are spared, not cursed, is the point I’m making.  Not only that, since all the biblical references to heaven indicate a time ON EARTH in the future, rather than a time right now SOMEWHERE ELSE, the place you want to be is right here, in the future.  You want to be left behind.  So, please leave behind any “Left Behind” thoughts you might have from this reading, because those books are just misinformed fantasy writing.

Now.  The two things I want to talk about this morning are promises and hope.  Promises and hope are tied together, and especially in today’s readings.  When we go back to the text we heard from Isaiah, we hear a promise that, “in days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains.”  It is a promise for the future, though we are not told when it will come to pass.  And here’s a tricky thing about promises and the future:  God can already see that future.  It is not a thing that might happen, if everything goes according to plan.  It is not a promise that will occur, if we all behave, or whatever.  No, from God’s vantage point, it is a done deal.  We just can’t see it because we are constrained by time.  But, in days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains.  Shall be.

Promises and hope. If God has promised something will happen, and we trust in that promise, then we hope for the future.  Our hope roots our focus in the future, you could say.  We’re not there yet, but when we have hope, we have a stake in that future promise.  Hope keeps us in two places at once, confident that a thing will happen in the future, and living in the present, before that thing takes place.  You can maybe see how that is different from just wishing a thing might happen.  Hope anchors us in the future, a lifeline to the time when God's promises shall be fulfilled.

But, of course, we want to know when these promises will be fulfilled.  In fact, a few verses before today’s gospel reading from Matthew, the disciples come to Jesus asking him when the end will come.  And Jesus says that he “will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Salvation will come.  But we don’t know when.  And the angels don’t know when.  And Jesus doesn’t know when.  So we live in the sure hope that it shall happen, because God’s promises are true.  Our salvation is already accomplished, but it is not yet here.

So, it’s like Advent.  As you and I move through the Church year together, we always know what is coming before it gets here.  We know there’s a baby coming, but he is not yet born.  We know who his mother is, and we know he will grow up and gather his disciples, and be arrested, executed, and rise from the grave, telling his disciples to tell the world that we too shall rise from the grave and  . . . But he is not yet born.  We know what is coming, but it is not yet here.  The cycles of our church year get us in the habit of trusting a thing is coming, even though it is not yet here.  We know it will happen, even though we still wait for it.  That’s Advent.

I want to briefly touch on the Psalm we read together a few minutes ago.  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’. . . Pray for the peace of Jerusalem . . . For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you’.  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”

There is a theme throughout the scriptures that peace is always accompanied by justice.  I don’t mean 21st century legal punitive justice.  I mean a just society, where the naked are clothed, and the hungry are fed.  And if you give it some thought, you’ll see this is not just a biblical concept.  There really can be no peace where there is no justice.  Even if you take compassion and love out of the equation, if some people have nothing while others have everything, no one will ever really have peace.  There will always be anger and bloodshed and violence.  And look at what the psalmist says in that closing line:  “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”  

If I truly seek what is best for you, truly love my neighbor as myself, there will be peace on earth.  From Isaiah today, we heard “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”  And here we see, it’s not just that war stops, or that the need for war stops.  There’s a second step, a constructive step.  A step where we stop turning the tools of violence toward our neighbor, and instead turn them into a means of helping our neighbors.  Swords into plowshares.  Fists of violence into hands of help.  Peace and justice go hand in hand.

And so, back to waiting for Jesus . . .
The sudden and unexpected return of Jesus we heard about means . . . what?  Well, clearly that will vary according to what you’re expecting, and what you feel is expected from you.  But the Spirit of God convicts each one of us to do something to get ready.  And the reason we want someone to tell us the exact date is because deep down we’re each afraid we’re not doing enough to get ready.  

Sure, the Spirit convinced Noah to build an ark.  But remember the other examples:  two people working in a field, two women grinding grain.  We are not all called to build arks.  (If we were, the world would be awfully crowded, and there would be no trees.)  We’re also not all called to work in the fields or grind grain.  But in our baptismal covenant, we do all promise to work for justice and peace.  We can’t all clothe the naked, or feed the hungry, or do whatever.  But you are uniquely called and equipped to do something to bring about God’s Kingdom.  

There is some part of preparing for Jesus’ return that you alone can do, because of who you are, and where you are, and because of what you are:  a claimed and redeemed child of God, a living witness in the world, proclaiming the hope of the one we are longing to welcome.  That same one who offers himself to us this day, at this altar.  

We do not know the hour that Jesus will return, but we do know that in this hour he is present among us.  We know that when we gather together in his name, he is already here.  So, as we wait for God’s promises to be revealed, I invite you to come to this altar, and welcome Jesus into your life once more, in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.


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