Summary: The season of Advent calls us to watch and wait for Christ's coming.
November 29, 2020
Hope Lutheran Church
Not Knowing When
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
This Sunday is the beginning of a new Church Year. Advent launches the new year with its deep blue and four candles. Each week we progressively light more candles. The light of the wreath intensifies as we wait for the Light of the world.
Advent is characterized by waiting and anticipation. John the Baptist will arrive on the scene next week in all his camel’s hair intensity. And on the final Sunday we’ll accompany Mary as she opens herself to the divine plan for the world’s salvation.
But the first Sunday of this brief season always begins with the end – the VERY end. This first Sunday of Advent doesn’t focus on Christ’s coming two thousand years ago. We center instead on Christ’s return at the end of time.
When will the end come? During this very unusual year, sometimes it has felt like the world might be coming to an end!
• The first-generation church believed that Christ’s return was just around the corner, something that would occur in their lifetimes.
• In the 16th Century, Martin Luther also believed that the end of the world was near.
• When Y2K rolled around, there was speculation that it might spell the end of the world.
• And in 2012, the Great Cycle of the Mayan Calendar came to a conclusion. People waited to see if the world would end, but it did not. Instead, a new great cycle began its 5000-year course.
We hear today a passage where Jesus discusses the end of time. He says that we’re able to read the signs of our turning seasons. But when it comes to the return of the Son of Man, “about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” His advice: “Keep alert!”
Waiting and watching. Since these Covid Days have befallen us, we’ve been spending more time waiting. We wait politely at the grocery store while the person in front of us in the aisle lingers over the section we also want to investigate. We wait in takeout lines at restaurants. I’m staggered by the aerial pictures of people in large metropolitan areas like Houston waiting in lines at food pantries eight cars wide and a half mile long. We wait for the results of a COVID-19 test, for a 14-day period of self isolation to end. And we all wait and yearn for the advent of a vaccine to deliver us from this trial.
Waiting on COVID-19 and waiting for a vaccine we understand. But waiting for the end of the world seems very distant. We’ve become numbed to this future reality that loomed so large before the eyes of the first-generation Church.
Christians have been waiting for nearly 2000 years for Christ’s return. The long wait has lulled us into thinking that our world will survive forever. And yet, and yet, our earth is showing signs of strain from too many years of neglect. Global warming looms over our head like the Sword of Damocles. Do we still have time to right the ship? Can we restore balance to our environment? We feel the catastrophic dread of global warming more than we look to Christ’s return.
We’re not waiting for Christ. We’ve become lulled by having waited for so very long. Nevertheless, Christ calls us to keep alert.
There’s a difference in how we wait. Waiting can be active or passive. Christian writer Henri Nouwen addresses this:
“Most of us consider waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? We cannot do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.” Words like that push us into passivity.
“But there is none of this passivity in Scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. Right here is a secret for us about waiting. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, believing that this moment is the moment.”
Active waiting. Something already has been set in motion. The seed has been planted. Now we wait expectantly. Each day we return to the garden. We look for signs of the new life emerging.