So, why now are we reading about end-times at the beginning of Advent. The lectionary is very mysterious to me many times. Where is the hope? Oh, Advent is about waiting for Jesus to come; whether it be the second-coming or preparing our hearts for Jesus to rest there as we hustle and bustle about in preparation for Christmas.
If we are waiting for Jesus second-coming then what would be the signs: Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. I don’t know any other passage in the Gospels that is harder to understand, to feel our way into, to know how to respond to, than these words of Jesus about the Second Coming. He is speaking about the end of the world and about the coming of the Kingdom of God as the climactic last act of history, and he is speaking in words and images as foreign to our whole way of thinking as his subject itself. As the day approaches, there will be a great cosmic upheaval, he says, with signs in the sun and moon and stars, and the powers of the heavens themselves shaken. Is he speaking literally or simply poetically? Does he mean there will be real eclipses and strange comets that have never been seen before, maybe a reordering of the constellations themselves to scrawl some fateful starlit message across the night sky? Or is he speaking symbolically of some upheaval not of the world without but of the world within—an upheaval of the hearts and minds and spirits of the human race? The seas will go wild, he says, and at their roaring the nations will be terrified by whatever it is that is happening or about to happen, and then, most extraordinary of all—as the cause and climax of everything that has preceded it—the Son of Man will appear, he says, in a cloud, “with power and great glory.”
We have all read about these signs; for me I am not waiting for the apocalypse, end-times. I am waiting for the re-birth of faith in the hearts of my family. I am waiting for the secular world to become aware of a power greater than themselves. I am waiting for our communities of faith to fill with God’s children.
I guess to make a difficult statement easier to understand he tells a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves, so these signs will announce that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
Where is the story of the babe Jesus, the shepherds and heavenly choirs? Is it because the coming of the Lord includes much more than the Christmas story? After all, the disciples asked the question, When and with what signs will these things take place? As surely as one can discern the approach of summer by the leafing of the fig tree, so these signs will announce that the kingdom of God is near. I’m not waiting for the second coming of Christ; for biblical believers the second coming was imminent. Over 2000 years later the end-time believers are still waiting. Not I! I believe the kingdom of God came with the birth of a baby boy in Bethlehem. I believe the kingdom of God is not some end time but right here and now. If not, why would people like Mother Teresa have walked with the ill to bring the kingdom of God in Calcutta. Mother Teresa told a story about the time she came down with a terrible fever. Her temperature rose; she became delirious. She had a vision of being at the gates of heaven and telling St. Peter that she was ready to pass from this world to the next. But St. Peter refused her entry into the high vault of heaven. Mother Teresa asked why. Peter replied: “Because there are no slums in heaven.” Waiting for the Christ Child is best spent working for the cause of Jeremiah’s righteous Branch. That cause is justice and righteousness in the land. St. Peter turned Mother Teresa back from heaven’s gate because there was work for her left on earth. Her vocation was in the slums of earth not in the glory of heaven.
So, it is with us. If Advent is anything, it is a season of painful waiting in the world and not detached from the world; a season of darkness before the light comes; a season about a future that is not yet.
Advent is about the coming of the Child of Mary. Our vocation as Christian disciples is to make Advent more about earth than heaven. We must be like Peter at heaven’s gate: We must remind ourselves that there is work, to do as we wait. The best way to wait is to work for the kingdom–for justice and righteousness in the land. That’s what Jeremiah did with his life and that’s what Mother Teresa did with her time on planet earth.
As we light the candles of Advent, we must acknowledge that we have some of the light but not, all, of the light. God’s Church waits each year for the Lord -for we know in our hearts that with the coming of the Christ Child we have work to do, threats to meet and dreams to make real. In Jesus of Crib and Cross, God comes to be with us and for us in the world where we taste and see.
We must travel lightly–with only our prayers, our pained hearts and our willing hands. We must be alert at all times, and especially for the poor, with those with whom we differ and with the earth that is suffering and weary. We must be praying daily to have the strength to stand now before the Son of Man, this Christ Child who will come and who is forever our Lord and Savior, yes, this Jesus, Child of Mary. Amen.