On this first Sunday of Advent we begin by looking forward. And I don’t mean that we’re looking forward to Christmas, no, we’re looking way beyond December 25th. Today we begin our new Christian year by looking forward to the end. To the day when God will create a new heaven and a new earth, to the renewal of all of creation, to a time when every tear will be wiped away, every wrong will be made right and even death will be no more. To the day when Christ will come again.
You see, our fundamental orientation as Christians is to be a forward looking, not backward looking people. We begin with the end in mind. And right off the bat, that generates for us two colliding realities: Hope, because we know the promises, we know where it is we’re headed. And tension because we know we’re not there yet.
There is tension in the present moment. We look around and we know that all is not right. God has promised to put things right. God has promised us his peace, shalom, a day when swords will be beaten into ploughshares, spears turned into pruning hooks and war shall be learned no more – but today is not that day.
The fullness of God has not yet been disclosed in our world – but it will be.
God is not finished with us yet – but that day is coming
The kingdom of God is not yet realized in our midst – but Christ will come again.
A future hope. A present tension. How then shall we live?
That’s the focus of the readings that we heard this morning. They invite us to begin with the end in mind. And so the very first thing we do is we choose hope, we assert hope, and we articulate our hope. That’s what we do every Sunday when we gather. Every week, as we pray the creed, we assert that Christ will come again. Every week our response to the Eucharistic Prayer is to proclaim, “Christ will come again.”
We proclaim our hope. And yet we do so with a certain amount of tension, for we also know that in this present moment, we don’t have a full understanding what it is we’re saying. Because when we talk about the end times, about the promise of a day when God will be all in all, we leave the world of prose and logic behind and we enter into the language of poetry and the imagination.
Jesus in the gospel of Matthew tells us that with respect to the future coming of the Son of Man, we can know neither the time nor the place. Indeed, we’re talking about something here that actually explodes the boundaries of time and space as we know them. And so in our scriptures, the prophets, Jesus, the apostle Paul, all use a rich and sometimes frightening variety of images to give us a picture of the end. Isaiah speaks of a great mountain, the mountain of the Lord’s house being established as the highest of mountains, with all the people of the world streaming up to hear the word of the Lord. In our gospel from Luke two weeks ago, Jesus draws on the apocalyptic language of his time to speak of war and conflict, earthquakes and plagues as signs of the great transformation that is to come. In today’s gospel, Jesus draws a parallel with the sudden flood of the days of Noah. In the Revelation of John, we are treated to beasts and angels, and to a vision of the holy city, a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, with the glory of God as its light. Paul in his letter to the Romans pictures the coming of Christ as the dawn of a new day.
Now, what are we to do with all of this?
It seems to me we have two options. The first option is to speculate. We can wonder about when all of this is going to take place, and what it’s going to look like. We can parse the scriptural texts for clues, try to predict the exact timing of the apocalypse and develop some sort of science fiction which fleshes out the details. This sort of speculation has been going on for millennia, despite the rather clear teaching from Jesus that we will never know the day nor the hour. One of the most popular of recent incarnations of this speculation is the Left Behind series of books and movies which take some bits of today’s gospel and develop them into a full blown science fiction which both quenches our thirst for detail and traumatizes way too many young children along the way.
The other option is to leave aside the details and to focus on the promise, and to begin with the end in mind, to ask the question “how then shall I live?” That’s the approach that Paul takes in the brief text we heard today from his letter to the Romans. In light of our hope for the future, Paul enters right into the tension of our present day, and he does so with an image that is immediately familiar to all of us. The beginning of a new day. That moment when we wake up in darkness, but know that the dawn is coming. You know what time it is.
This is the time of year in Canada when many of us do wake up before the dawn. Maybe it happened to you this morning. That first moment of consciousness as you lie in bed. It’s still night, it’s still dark. It’s tempting to simply roll over and go back to sleep. But you know what time it is, it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. The night is far gone, the day is near. And so you wake up, and you lay aside the blankets and bedding that covers you. And you get dressed.
What do you put on? Well it depends. Who do you want to be today? What are your hopes for the day? What is your purpose, what are you going to do? If you’re going into the office, you may be the young professional who puts on a suit and tie. If you’re going to paint the house, you will put on your old paint-splattered clothes. When I have a meeting with the Bishop, I put on my collar, because I am a priest of the diocese. When my kids were little and used to have early, early morning hockey games, we would wake them up before dawn and put them straight into their hockey gear, ready to jump on the ice and score a goal.
When you think about it, what you put on in the morning has a lot to do with who you are and what you plan to do. When we dress, we choose an identity and a purpose.
And whether you even wake up in defiance of the darkness, or simply roll over and go back to sleep has a lot to do with your hope for the day.
Paul says to the Christians in Rome, wake up! You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us live honourably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
You know who you are. You are followers of Jesus and children of God. You know what your purpose is, to live honourably, to love God and neighbour, to be part of God’s great promise to redeem all of creation. You know what your hope is, that despite present appearances to the contrary, Christ will come again and God will put this world right.
So don’t roll over and go back to sleep. Don’t sleepwalk your way through life. Begin with the end in mind. We know where this is going, we know the promise. We have hope. So wake up, throw aside the covers of darkness and get dressed. And put on the right clothes. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. It may still be dark. But the dawn is coming. Go and live honourably as followers of Jesus.
Because that’s who you are, and you know where you’re going.
Homily: Yr A Advent 1, Nov 27 2016, St. Albans
Readings: Isaiah 2.1-5; Ps 122; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.36-44
Image by Miles Davis (Smiley) Creative Commons