Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent 1B

On May 21, 2011 I was on a plane traveling from from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Calgary, Alberta, having just finished attending a five day preaching conference, when I remembered the date, and a bead of sweat appeared on my brow.

How could I have forgotten so easily? After all it had been in the news for months. Warnings had appeared in my email inbox, billboards were erected all over the world, the TV was overflowing with news stories sounding the alarm for us to be aware of the impending scene about to unfold. Houses and businesses were sold in preparation. Millions of dollars were raised in the effort to make sure that the whole world knew what was about to take place on May 21, 2011.

As many of us were told, May 21, 2011 was to be the Day of Judgment. It was the Day when Christ would return in glory. It was the Day when God would judge the nations, and the dead shall rise in judgment, the righteous to be lifted up into heaven and the unrighteous left behind for destruction. It was a day of salvation and chaos. Heavenly joy and earthly suffering. A day when the good receive their reward and the the bad endure eternal punishment. It was a day when history was to come to a screeching halt.

And I was on a plane wondering if the pilot was among the righteous, lifted out of his earthly existence at cruising altitude upon Christ’s return. I wondered if he would go to his heavenly reward at 38000 ft, leaving the plane’s driver’s seat empty. Being that far up I’m guessing he wouldn’t have far to go. But then what would the rest of us do?

But then, three hours later, the plane landed safely in Calgary, the pilot still at the helm. I looked out the window and earth bound existence seemed no worse for ware. There was no fiery landscape, no weeping and gnashing of teeth. No mothers wailing or blood soaked mountains anywhere to be seen. The sun had not been vanquished by the night.

When I stepped off the plane I saw that it was just another day in Calgary. Sunny. Warm. Nothing to get excited about.

“H’uh,” I thought to myself. “It looks like Harold Camping was wrong.”

As many of you know, Harold Camping is the American doomsday preacher who prophesied May 21, 2011 to being the End of the World. Having been a lifelong student of the bible, he believed he cracked the code and did the math, calculating the date when Christ would once again, step foot on terra firma.

And people believed him. Even though he’d been wrong before. Some of his followers quit their jobs and sold everything they had to warn the world of the coming doom. Millions of dollars were spent in advertising.

And then....nothing happened.

After his humiliating mistake Camping said, “Oh! I must have dropped a decimal point. Silly me. I meant OCTOBER 21, not MAY. Oops!”

And when that second prediction failed to materialize, Camping became strangely quiet. His radio talk show ended, and we stopped hearing from him. And then Time magazine listed his warnings as one of the “Top 10 Failed Predictions.”

It’s easy to make fun of these preachers who seem to believe they have special access to God that rest of us don’t have. But what I find so frustrating about Camping and preachers like him, is that they haven’t really read the bible they say they believe to be God’s Word. If it is true that Jesus will one day return in glory and judgment, then surely today’s gospel needs to be part of the conversation

Jesus says,

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

So, if anyone tells you that they know the date, time, and place of Christ’s return, they’re either lying or they’re wrong. And I’m not sure that this passage means what they say it means.

Many people call this passage, “Mark’s Little Apocalypse” but I don’t think there’s anything “little” about it. It’s about cosmic forces colliding, and the power of God returning to fill the earth.

And Christians have been reading this story for 2000 years, expecting Jesus to return shortly after lunch. But of course, he hasn’t. And it makes thoughtful Christians wonder what we mean when we confess that Jesus will “come again to judge the living and the dead” as we do each week in the Apostles’ Creed.

But what this passage assumes is that Jesus will be, somehow, absent, from us. It assumes that his physical presence is more potent than his presence with us through the Holy Spirit. And I’m not sure that’s what Jesus wants. Because if we keep our eyes fixed on what God WILL do we miss what God is ALREADY doing.

When Jesus tells us to “keep awake” I wonder if he also means to keep awake for the signs that he is ALREADY here with and among us.

It’s like he’s saying, Keep your eyes open to the wonderful, life-giving signs of God present among you today. Keep your eyes peeled to God’s promised future reaching back and touching you in your life TODAY! Right NOW! In this place!

Keep awake to the care that’s shared between two wounded people. Keep awake to the concerned phone call to someone whom you know is hurting. Keep awake to the stranger who is looking for food. Keep awake to the prayers said at a hospital bedside. Keep awake to promises of the resurrection to eternal life heard and believed while standing over a loved one’s grave.

Keep awake to the joy of knowing that you are a child of God, beloved and chosen to do great things in this world. Keep awake to the gift of life that rises with each new day.

If you want to see what God’s future looks like, just watch a baby. After all isn’t that what we’re waiting for this season? We’re waiting, preparing to meet Jesus in a Bethlehem manger. We’re waiting with hopeful anticipation for God to show us that God’s world’s is filled with immense possibility. We’re preparing to receive God’s promised future in our lives TODAY. We’re watching to see that God has not abandoned the world, but that God is deep IN the world, transforming it and and US from the inside out.

We’re preparing to meet the one who brings peace and salvation, justice and mercy, forgiveness and grace. We’re preparing to greet the one who brings love and healing to a troubled world.

Jesus isn’t talking about the earth’s destruction. Jesus is talking about the world’s creation and re-creation. Jesus is talking about YOU and YOUR re-creation, as Christ is born within you. Jesus is telling YOU to keep awake to the awesome things God is doing in YOU and through YOU. It’s about the FULFILLMENT of what God is already doing among you and us. It a call to keep your eyes wide open to what God is doing HERE. TODAY. In YOUR life and in mine. And in the life of the whole family of God.

So keep alert. Keep your eyes open. You don’t want to miss what God is doing.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home