Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
I am Kelli Martin and I have been a parishioner here at Epiphany for 2 years.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. This is the time when we wait for and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus during Christmas. We put out wreaths and candles to make our homes all glowy and welcoming. We start Christmas gift shopping for our loved ones to show our care for them in a thoughtful, tangible way. We reflect on Mary and Joseph and the Magi, marveling at how fixed and undeterred their faith in God was. For us Christians, Advent is the opportunity for us to pause. We pause to contemplate Jesus’ birth – his first coming. We sit in that anticipation, we settle into the quiet of it.
But Advent is also the time when we prepare and we wait for something else – the return of Jesus at the Second Coming.
When we think of the Second Coming, we often read Scripture like today’s Gospel as a warning, it can sound almost harsh, apocalyptic, like something out of the Book of Revelation. Just the other day, I heard a commentator on CNN talking about the days getting shorter and he was saying that it’s thought that we are now entering into the darkest winter in modern history. And it struck me how similar that is to today’s Gospel:
Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
I think it’s safe to say that recently we have all been through a lot of suffering and darkness together. We have our wounds from this year, that’s for sure, and it’s been difficult to find the joy. We’ve been waiting for vaccines and verdicts; waiting for outcomes and recounts which symbolize justice and equal treatment and democracy. We’ve been waiting for the okay to go back to school in person, or to return to our workplaces, waiting for the ok to leave our homes or to be able to physically be around one another again. We have done a lot of waiting.
So Advent marking the end of this Ordinary time that we’re in, and ushering in the beginning of a new sacred time is definitely welcome to us! We’re probably desperate to find any sacred during this time. I know I am. I want to take out my calendar, draw a big ol’ heart around today Sunday November 29, and write in it “Advent: It is ok to prepare for joy today!” Like we have to give ourselves permission!
This Advent is a tender time. We’ve gotten new rules to live by – guidelines to hunker down inside, guidelines for how to isolate and how to NOT congregate. We could read that as more loss. Or, we could look at this Advent as the PERFECT time to pause. The IDEAL time to pause. This is the ideal time to take stock of our lives and ask ourselves, How will we wait and prepare for Jesus to return. What if that was tomorrow or next month or next year? How would we prepare for that?
Here’s the thing that captivated me about this Scripture. It talks about being alert and keeping awake for Jesus’ return. I don’t think it’s enough to keep awake. I don’t think it’s enough to be alert. We can be as observant and as aware as we want to be. We can have all the accoutrements of being “prepared.” But none of that will do us a lick of good…unless we are one thing: open. We have to be open.
What does that mean, what does that look like, being open to Jesus’ return? Since we don’t know WHEN Jesus’ return will be, since sometimes we’re a little unsure HOW to envision it…since some could look at it symbolically, metaphorically, literally, realistically, allegorically (all the “ly”s, lolol)….
What if we were also open to the mini Second Comings that we have in our everyday lives. Those little Second Comings of Jesus that happen throughout our common life. In my life, these are not simply encounters where I’ve caught glimpses of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, those are important too. By mini Second Comings, I mean when Jesus comes to us with the intention of telling us something or revealing something to us that is pertinent to the way Jesus wants us to live our lives.
This Advent – when we are hunkered down indoors, with our pared back living – maybe our preparation can be, maybe our waiting and our quiet joy can be, reflecting on Jesus’ mini Second Comings that happen in our own lives.
Maybe one of your mini Second Comings was in the form of a dream to alert you that someone you dearly love was unwell or in danger or needed you, and so you went to them. This mini Second Coming can be loud and sudden and clear.
Maybe Jesus came to you while you were recuperating, to instill in you the knowing that even if a part of your body has been wounded or cut into or taken out, you are not missing, you are not alone, you are still intact, your life will find its rhythm again. This little Second Coming can be soft and insistent.
Perhaps you’ve had a mini Second Coming that Jesus is calling you to a new career. Or a little Second Coming where you were sick and vulnerable and someone comforted you, and you received it.
Maybe a mini Second Coming in your everyday life was the ending of a close relationship that had turned unhealthy; or the beginning of a friendship that spiritually enriches your life; or a little Second Coming that is a person or an event that sees your grief or regret or fear and helps steer you back to your life again.
Maybe we see the Second Coming when we die…or a mini Second Coming comes to us in the birth of a child – all of a sudden you look down and there’s this new life, this new promise right in front of you.
Maybe little Second Comings in our ordinary lives reveal to you to get off one path, or affirm to you that you are on the right one; to insist to you that you have found your people, or that yes, you are in the right place and you must stay there.
In my life, Jesus came to me to be sure I discovered this church Epiphany, where my and Jesus’ mutual coming to one another – in prayer, in conversation, in study, in worship, in caring friendships with others, in Scripture, in service – build my relationship with God in a way I thought only happened to other people. This mini-Second Coming in my life feels like endless, powerful waves in an ocean, and it is enduring.
As I thought about today’s text, it reinforced to me that we don’t have to wait for the Second Coming to receive Jesus’ loving judgment. I know sometimes we think of “judgment” like it’s a bad word or a mark upon us, something to fear like being separated and snatched away in those us vs. them images.
But I don’t think we have anything to be afraid of. This is the fun Christian stuff. This is Jesus returning to us! And those little Second Comings in our everyday lives continuously show us what Jesus’ assessment of us is. I know when I have chosen to live as he has modeled for us. And I know when I have fallen short of that. Jesus comes to us to tell us this – through our bodies, through our knowing, through our prayers, through Scripture, through other people. I see this as a loving judgment.
Perhaps we can let ourselves be called by this time of Advent. A time for us to think about these things:
If Jesus returned tomorrow or next month, what would you want him to see and think of you and the life you’re leading?
What would you want his experience of you and your life to be?
How do you want him to feel about you and your relationships and how you treat people?
How do you want him to act toward you?
This Advent, what would you say to him? I was just talking about this with a dear close friend the other day. We were talking about it in the context of prayer. I realized that it had such relevance during this time of Advent.
Seriously. What would we, individually, say to Jesus. Maybe something like this:
Show me the way.
I will always be near you.
Thank you for making me like this.
I will never leave your side.
What would you want Jesus to say to you? Maybe something like this:
You loved and cared for others the way I wanted you to.
You didn’t see them as an other, you saw them as someone to care for.
You listened to me, you let me teach you.
You grew the way I hoped you would.
Look me in the eye, see me, take my hand.
Stay with me. I came for you.
As I wrote down what I would want to say to Jesus, and what I’d want Jesus to say to me, I realized this: most of those words – not all of them but most of them – are what we Christians should be saying to each other: perhaps what Jesus wants us, his followers, to say to one another. Words like this:
I am here for you.
What do you need?
I’ll be right back, let me run in the store real quick and get you something to eat.
I would love to talk about how we can deal with that.
Please forgive me.
I am sorry.
Come talk to me about anything, at anytime.
I forgive you.
I accept your apology.
Take my sweater, you’ll be warm.
If I could, I would take your burden and your pain for you.
I will care for you.
I will stay with you.
Perhaps the things that we’d say to Jesus, and the things that we’d want Jesus to say to us…are perhaps what Jesus wants all of us, his followers, to say to each other. It is my hope that Jesus hears us saying those things to the people God puts in our lives. It is my hope that Jesus knows I mean it when I say them; I hope that Jesus sees me acting on what I say, and I hope Jesus judges me for that. Jesus expects these things of us. Maybe this is how I can do my part in this world, and try to live in the kingdom of God. So yes, I hope for Jesus’ loving, relentless judgment – his tough love and his tender love, as he gathers us near him during all of these mini Second Comings.
This Advent, perhaps we can write down what we’d want Jesus to say to us, write down what we’d want to say to Jesus, and we can look at how our lives line up with what we wrote. Are we close to Jesus’ expectations for us? Or is there room where we need to fill in some gaps? And maybe we can write down those little Second Comings that we’ve had, and quietly treasure the insight and the revelation that came from them.
This is a particular Advent. This tender Advent, this behind-closed-doors Advent, gives us an opportunity to remember what the Second Coming is all about. This Advent we pause, to reflect and to re-engineer how we should live in the world. We wait for all of Jesus’ Second Comings – the ones in everyday life and the one in Scripture life. We remain awake to Jesus’ teachings, alert and observant to the world around us, prepared to respond to whatever the present moment needs. We practice being open. Open to things that come to us for the first time, open to receive the things that come to us for the second time. OPEN, and hopeful, for these little Second Comings of Jesus that punctuate and define our lives throughout time. It may be dark out, but there is joy inside. This is the good news of the Second Coming of Jesus.