Wait a second. Okay, just a little longer. Okay, it’ll be any time now…
How much waiting do you do in your average day? Week? Year?
Where do you do your waiting?
What do you wait for?
How are you with waiting?
What do you do while you wait?
Not all churches follow this liturgical calendar, but it is familiar to most United Church of Canada congregations, as well as to those in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist traditions.
Advent is a four week season, that began on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. We tend to look at it as the time to wait for Christmas to arrive. We decorate the church, and put up the trees, and return to old and new traditions such as the collection of items for White Gift Sunday, the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath, placing decorations on our Memory Tree.
These traditions help get us in the holiday spirit, and they are a healthy alternative to the commercially driven messages that come at us at this time of year.
There are other dimensions to Advent that we can hear in the bible readings. In the first centuries after the Jesus’ earthly life, many of his followers lived with expectant hope, or fear, depending on how you see it, that he would be returning to the earth, any day, or any moment now. They talked about something called the Second Coming, at which point Jesus would return, and this chapter of human history would be over. All the kingdoms and cultures, and marketing plans and investments, and building projects, and governments, and wars, and distractions of life in the world as we know it would instantly grind to a halt.
Maybe think of it this way: What if everything that humans do, and all of our interests and relationships, and travels, and work, and study, and all the things that occupy us, were actually happening not in this world, and within time as we understand it, but were actually happening inside a massive computer? It all seems real, and engaging, and of ultimate importance, until it just stops. Jesus returns, and it is as if he pulls the plug on the computer, and everything that was happening in our world is just suddenly over.
For followers of Jesus who lived in slavery, or under the domination of the Roman Empire, or who were suffering great pain, or grieving the loss of loved ones, the idea that in one moment all things could stop, that Jesus could interrupt all the programs in the universal computer, might be a source of great comfort, and of hope.
The underlying message is that Jesus is part of something much grander, much larger, than the world and history as we see it, and that Jesus would come back, into our history, and put an end to all the small human things, and introduce us to life outside the computer.
The Greek word for this ending of time event was Parousia. In Latin it was translated as adventus, which means coming, or preparation. It is about something about to happen. We have watered it down to something a lot less scary, which is waiting for Christmas. But listen again to these words Dorothy read earlier:
“With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.
But when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a huge conflagration, earth and all its works exposed to the scrutiny of Judgment.”
This world ending, history smashing event for which some Jesus followers have been waiting for over 2000 years does not seem to have happened. Some churches, and some preachers invested a lot of time calculating the exact time and day when it might occur, and so far they have all been wrong. Some of them placed so much emphasis on the end of all things, they lost track of how wonderful and beautiful and meaningful life is while we have it. It is like going on a car trip, and being so focussed on the destination that you never look out the window. You can miss so much that way.
Each of us only has so much earthly time. We will live a certain number of seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, years. We don’t know how many, or how long, and that is probably just as well. But we all know that at some point, all the programs running on the universal computer that is our life will stop. We will no longer be in this earthly life. Will we face judgement? A lot of preachers have made a lot of that idea as well. They have busied themselves scaring people to get them to straighten out their lives, and live by a certain set of rules.
Simply knowing we have a finite number of days should be enough to make us pay attention to what we do with the time we have. Not only should we look out the window, we should enjoy the view, and share our excitement and joy with our fellow travellers. We should do useful things. We should be of help to others. We should pass on what we have learned, to those we love.
We will not always be here. While we are here, we have the opportunity to live, and love, make a difference. What are we waiting for? Amen