Sunday, November 27, 2022
By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Okay, I’m about to ask a series of highly fraught and contested questions, so just be assured that this is a judgement free zone, alright?
Raise your hand if you’ve started listening to Christmas music.
Raise your hand if you’ve already put up and decorated your Christmas tree.
Has anyone here purchased, wrapped, and placed gifts under that Christmas tree?
In my mind, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. The Christmas season starts when you need it to start. If tinsel and jingle bell rock and Fraser firs bring you cheer, then why not? Life’s too short to put off these simple things that bring us a little extra joy.
And, and, here in this place, the weeks leading up to Christmas mean something different than they do out there. In this place, we observe Advent, and Advent is not just a Christmas pre-game. Once again, nothing wrong with decorating our homes and participating in the lovely culture of Christmas all December long. However, we as followers of Jesus are also called to participate in this season, these four weeks of Advent, with intentionality, in the way that our Christian ancestors have year after year since the 5th century.
Advent is this time when we are to remember and prepare. We remember when Jesus came to our world as a baby in a manger, and we prepare for that day when he will come again. Now, remembrance we do pretty well. The church universal has mastered the telling of this miraculous story through pageants, nativity scenes, Christmas hymns, the Jesse Tree, and scripture countdown calendars. We have built tools for people of all ages to relive and remember that first coming of Christ on that holy night.
And the other half of Advent, the part about preparation, well, what do we do to intentionally prepare for the final Advent, the second and final coming of Christ, in these four weeks? The more I thought about this over the last few days, the more I realized that we as Christians are brilliant at retelling the story of how Christ came down to us, but it’s harder for us to talk about preparing and watching and waiting for Him to come again.
It’s hard for us to live it out, even. To know how to exist in this already-and-not-yet sort of placeholder that we are in, in which the redeeming and salvific work of Christ has been already done, but the fullness of his perfect and eternal kingdom has not yet been made complete here on earth.
And perhaps it’s hard to talk about and even harder to live out this watching and waiting for Christ to come again, because maybe we’ve lost sight of it in the first place. Not due to any fault of our own, but because of the fact that it’s been a long time since Jesus was here on earth, and it’s been a long time that we’ve been waiting, and it’s hard to prepare and keep ready for something that, frankly, we may have lost hope in anyway. We remember that Jesus came to us once before, and we will retell the story with gladness in our hearts, yet we’ve forgotten, I have forgotten, how to prepare for his coming again.
Looking at our gospel passage today, this text is taken from Jesus’ final sermon to his disciples in which he talks to them about the time he will come again, and how they might live faithfully until then. It comes from the Gospel according to Matthew, which, as a reminder, is one of four accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings. This Gospel which is attributed to the disciple Matthew was written later in the first century, after the writing of Mark and Luke, maybe around the year 80, and so the community that it was written for was living 50 years after Jesus’s time on earth.
Many first century folks really expected Jesus to come back soon after he ascended, like any day now. And as each day passed, they got a little more concerned and a little more anxious. And Matthew is writing his account of Jesus’s life for that community, this people that has been waiting and waiting and waiting for Jesus to come again, a people who had forgotten how to prepare for his coming again, a community that had lost hope in His return, having watched half a century go by since he last left them.
Like any good author, Matthew wrote with his audience in mind, and so this portion of Jesus’s final teaching, his final sermon, is tailored to them. Matthew’s account that we read here has its own spin… is unique to this Gospel….because Matthew was focused on giving a word of hope to a congregation that had lost hope. He emphasizes that Christ will come again, he is coming, and at a totally unexpected time, thereby pacifying their anxiety that if it hadn’t happened now, it wasn’t going to happen at all. And he also encourages them to keep working and keep watch. Keep living faithfully in this in between time, the already and not yet, even when you can’t see the end.
At the end of his time on earth, Jesus wanted to prepare his disciples in his final sermon, for the time when he’d be gone and the time when he’d come back again, and Matthew wanted to reignite the hope of the later generations of believers by reminding them that Jesus’ promise was true and encouraging them to shape their lives around this expectation of Christ’s coming kingdom.
And Matthew’s poignant take on Jesus’ sermon is a word for us, still today. Because even all these years later, even though we’ve lost hope or simply lost interest, Jesus’ promise that he would come again to bring about the fullness of his Kingdom is as real and true as ever. Some 2000 years later, Jesus’ promise has not run dry. And in the meantime, in this already-and-not-yet, we are invited to shape our lives around this expectation, to keep watching and keep working to prepare our world for this reality. We are called by God to be a part of the preparation of the world for Jesus’s return. As scholar Wesley Allen says, Having already been transformed by the first coming of Christ to this world, the church is invited to participate in the transformation of this world yet still in process.
And in no uncertain terms, Jesus gives us an idea of what this preparation, this transformation, might look like. In this very same sermon, just a chapter later, he tells the famous parable that demonstrates how, when his followers served the world in need, the least of these, they served him, and in serving him, they were partaking in the work of the Kingdom. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
So, these next four weeks, as we continue our really good work of remembering the first Advent story, when Jesus came to us as that humble baby boy, and as we lean into the challenge of preparing the world for that final Advent when he comes again, keep hope that Jesus’s word is true and he will arrive one day, once more to be with us. And keep watching, and keep working, for the service of all God’s people, so that we can prepare ourselves, and prepare this place, a world that is still becoming, to be more and more like the perfect, radical, life-giving Kingdom that Christ promises it will one day be. Amen.