St Mary’s Whitby
There’s a bumper bar sticker I saw somewhere that says, Jesus is coming, look busy!
That is a great metaphor for this time of year isn’t it? In some ways we don’t have to pretend to be busy because with our southern hemisphere end of year coinciding with the Christmas season, most of us have no choice but to be busy. Very busy. I don’t know about you, but I always have to take a deep breath when I start putting all the November and December things into the calendar. There are end of year concerts and performances, school prize-givings and breakups, work dos, lunches and morning teas and afternoon teas and drinks and suppers for all the groups we belong to. No, we don’t have to just look busy, many of us are way too busy already.
We can try and make it easier – I try and count up how many plates I will need to produce over the next few weeks, and do a big batch of vanilla truffles to keep in the freezer, ready to hand out to the next child who says , oh mum, I forgot to tell you, there’s a shared morning tea today.
With the best of intentions this year the truffles were made, put in the freezer to firm up before I put them in cellophane bags with hard- to-open curling ribbon, or shrouded them in layers of gladwrap on paper plates.
But when I went to the freezer to sort them out, I found the pan they were in, with an artistic sprinkling of coconut, but no truffles. Humm. No one has owned up yet. So much for my attempt to streamline the busy season.
Well, we know how to look busy. But how about the important part?Jesus is coming! In our reading we hear that the Son of Man will be seen, coming in a cloud with great power and glory. Wow! That’s amazing! But what does it mean? Does it mean that instead of Santa with his sleigh we get Jesus on a cloud? And why is he coming? Is he bringing presents this year? What’s the point of it all?
Advent is a strange time really. it focusses on two things at once, a bit like a 3d movie, with two images close but not the same, to give us a greater understanding and depth of perception. Waiting for the baby Jesus to be born is the straightforward part. Amid all the tinsel and the Rudolphs and the Santa Clauses, the pokutukawa tree gift cards and the mountain of junk mail, there still seems to be a story of a family, away from their home, who have a special baby. Our children dress up as Mary and shepherds and wise ones, as angels and donkeys, and there is a sweet story with attractive imagery.
But there’s also this other, somewhat disturbing message. Jesus is coming back to earth, we don’t know when, but it’s soon. Be ready! Look busy! Or as Luke has it, 6 Watch out and keep praying that you can escape all that is going to happen and that the Son of Man will be pleased with you.
During the days following Jesus’ earthly life, there was a sense of his imminent return. maybe even in the same generation. A sense that he would be back soon, and all this troubled world would somehow come to a new way of being, a theocracy, with God in charge. But as time went on, it became obvious that it wasn’t going to happen immediately. What does it mean for us that Jesus is coming back to earth? Or maybe we should be asking ourselves, has he ever been away?If we are the hands, the feet , the voice of Jesus in this world, in some ways he’s never been away.
The Left Behind series of books paints a vivid picture of what might happen at the last days, when all the signs predicted come to pass, and Jesus comes back. Well, Bible scholarship tells us that while there are parts of the Bible that are history, much of it is not written that way, and certainly the prophetic pictures are hard to understand. They should not be read as a movie script that tells us what will happen next.Reading Christian writers over the last nearly 2000 years, every generation thinks that things have got so bad that surely the time must be now. Surely the signs are there in the heavens.Well, we don‘t know. But we do know that the world is yearning for Jesus to come back, to set it all free.If we look at our reading from Isaiah, there is a promise that God will appoint a king, from the family of David, who will be honest and rule with justice.Doesn‘t that make you long for it to happen now? For world leaders to be honest and just? Just imagine what the world would look like if that was the case. Food would be distributed justly, no one would be forced into slavery. African people would not be denied the benefits of technology to assuage someone else’s guilt at polluting the earth.
Come, Lord Jesus, we need you now, more than we’ve ever needed you! But we are not to despair. We are encouraged to hope! I think hope is one of the greatest gifts of following Jesus – a sense that there is a reason to go on. We are not to fear Jesus coming back in clouds of glory. Stand up straight and be brave. You will soon be set free.
Being brave through the troubling times is a challenge isn‘t it? The lead–up to Christmas is troubling for many people. We have to work out how to stretch our budget to include presents for the children, special food, travel to relatives, and the list goes on, urged by the colourful ads on tv with smiling people holding glasses of champagne around a fake tinsel tree, while they wear new clothes for the season and silly hats.
Is that really what advent is about? Advent is a time of self-examination. A time to check again our priorities, even while we come under such pressure to act as the world does. Again, we have a warning in Luke . Don’t spend all of your time thinking about eating or drinking or worrying about life. If you do, the final day will suddenly catch you like a trap.
No, this isn‘t meant to be just another thing to put on your ever-growing to-do list. It’s an invitation to turn the dial of your priorities, away from the crazy busy, consumer focus of this time of year, to what really matters.
And what is that? Going back to our Isaiah reading, I think it’s justice. I think it’s making our best effort that everyone in our world has a fair go. Whether that means giving something away, or spending time with a person who is lonely, or using our talents to bless people. Or it might be using our minds and our typing fingers to speak out against injustice where we see it, writing to those in power and urging responsible, caring behaviour.
As you are finding Christmas decorations, and setting out your nativity sets, if you are fortunate enough to have one, have a think again about the little family they portray. They were in an occupied land, forced to go away from home because of a government requirement, never mind if the baby was due any minute. They weren’t Christian. A poor middle eastern family in an occupied country – this could be happening today.
Please, I urge you this advent season, don’t take what we have here for granted. Think and pray about what you can do to make our world better for everyone. Then we will see signs of the fig tree springing into leaf, and we will know that Jesus is near.