It does not seem possible to me that we’ve arrived at the First Sunday in Advent. Perhaps because it’s been so mild or perhaps because this fall has flown by. The signs are all there. Christmas music in stores; lights on houses; it is frightening to go near a store. The lobby is on our house for when the tree will go up. But I still feel like it’s October. I haven’t even put my snow tires on. Sometimes we arrive at seasons before we are ready. That is why we need Advent. It’s four weeks to focus our hearts and souls on getting ready for the mystery of Jesus’ birth. Advent also marks start of something new. It is the first day of a new Christian year.
So in spite of me not being ready, it seems Christmas is in the air – the joy is building. It is one of those challenges with face as a people of faith. The world tells us Christmas is here. But in church we sing Advent carols like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, we light candles that help us prepare for Jesus birth and we wait. Even the scripture readings are challenging. Like the one for this morning from Matthew:
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be standing in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24: 36 – 42)
You would be in good company wondering why we are reading this passages at the beginning of a festive season when we are getting ready for the birth of the babe in the manger.
Apocalyptic literature; eschatological texts are text that deal with the end of time and the coming of God’s reign. There is a long tradition in the bible of apocalyptic literature. At the heart of apocalyptic literature is the promise of God’s coming reign and it is a theme that runs throughout the bible.
Sometimes the words are so beautiful and sometimes that can seem a bit scary. The book of Revelation describes the new heaven and new earth in which God will be at home among mortal, God will wipe every tear from our eyes and offer us water from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21) Our reading from Isaiah says “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2: 4 – 5) This passage does not describe current reality neither for the people Isaiah spoke to or for us. This passage is a future hope for God’s coming reign.
Our reading from Matthew is less clear. Two people are standing in a field and one is taken. Two people are grinding meal and one is taken. There seems to be no rhyme or reason. Both are going about the same task. It is a mystery. There is no scientific data or reasoned argument that can prepare us for the mystery that is at the heart of our faith. We can try to think through how one gets taken up and one gets left but the answers are few. Many theologian, preachers and writers have tried to make sense of it. One commentator writes, “Christians look backward, remembering God’s mighty acts of salvation over the generation, and forward, anticipating the vindication of God’s ways in a new heaven and a new earth. They live as Karl Barth said, “between the times.” (Feasting on the Word Year A, volume 1 page. 20)
As a people of faith we live between the times. Just this past week on the CBC morning show Anthony Germain recalled spending New Year’s 1999 locked in the basement of the CBC because it was the dawn of a new millennium. Do you remember the build-up to year 2000? Can you remember the panic? Toilets were not going to flush. Computers were going to crash. The really big computers that store all our banking information – kaput all that data gone. Everyone had to be Y2K ready. The world was going to end as the clocks moved from 11:59 pm on December 31st, 1999 and as we entered 12:00 am January 1st, 2000. But the world did not come to an end. Computers worked. Toilets flushed. And all was well.
Jesus said that two people would be work one would be taken and one left behind. The ones left in the fields or grinding meal had to keep going about the tasks of daily living. They had to keep working for justice, for mercy for compassion. We do not know what God has in store for us. Jesus said, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. ... Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:43 – 44) The call of Advent, Jesus call to each of us, is to keep working in the fields – to keep working for a world remade in the image of God. Jim Strathdee describes this work well in his hymn “I the Light of the World.” The work we are called is
“To find the lost and lonely one,
to heal the broken soul with love,
to feed the hungry children with warmth
and good food,
to feel the earth below, the sky above. (Jim Strathdee, I am the Light of the World, Voices United 87)
Living between the times means that we live with the Advent tension of waiting for that which has been – the angels proclaiming the joyful birth of the one called “Emmanuel – God with us” and we wait for that which will be – God’s coming reign. We live into the mystery of the in between times as we wait with Hope, Joy, Peace and Love for the birth of Jesus that changes hearts and lives. Come, let us walk in the light of God Grace. Amen