(I Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37)
What do you really want for Christmas this year? Do you remember when you were a child, and you wrote a letter to Santa with your list of toys and games? On Christmas, were you ever disappointed when your list and Santa’s gifts didn’t quite match?
Sometimes as adults, we still live with great longings: we think we know what we need to be happy. After all, our culture says that happiness comes from having more shiny toys – if only I had a Lexus, or Range Rover, a new laptop or I-pad, or some bling, I’d be happy. Or, if only we found the right companion, all our dreams would come true. Now I must admit that I wouldn’t mind a Mercedes, and I wish I had the keys to the Mercedes that is often parked in my clergy spot, even when there are lots of other places in the parking lot– then again, perhaps the owner wants to be a minister and envies my beat-up Highlander!
As we grow older, we may discover that happiness is an “inside job.” The result of decluttering our spirits and focusing on what’s truly important – peace of mind, compassion, care for our communities, healthy relationships, and an abiding sense of God’s presence in the ebb and flow of life. We may discover that the greatest gift we can have is recognizing the wonder of this moment and the bountiful world in which we live, and the people who truly love us.
In his words to the Corinthian community, Paul says something astonishing. In a world of scarcity thinking, Paul tells this fledgling and troubled community, “God is enriching you in every way…You have every spiritual gift you need.”
Can you imagine how they felt – this chaotic little church – on the verge of splitting over economics, theology, competition, and poor communication? They might have thought Paul delusional and yet the apostle reminds them that beneath the challenges of life there flows a river of grace. God is in them and with them and will guide them, if they let go of their scarcity thinking, argumentativeness, and spiritual competition.
The Gospel reading is often interpreted as evidence that Jesus will return in our lifetimes. In contrast to end-time preachers, who calculate from a hodgepodge of often obscure scripture passages the day of Jesus’ return, and then recalibrate their calculations when they are found over and over again to be wrong, this passage is not about chronos– or clock time – but about God’s nearness, what theologians describe as “Kairos,” the right time, the full time, the time when we wake up and discover God is with us, giving us a vision for our lives and our community.
If God is loving, active, and omnipresent, then God is as near as our next breath, a chance encounter that changes our lives, or an intuition that shows us the way when there is no way!
Still, we need to take Jesus’ rather frightening words seriously. Darkening moons and falling stars portend trouble on the horizon. As we look at the leaders of two nations talking about nuclear war as if it’s a child’s game; the growing polarization over race, economics, and politics in our country; the growing level of gun violence reflected in mass shootings at concerts, clubs, and churches; and the ongoing destruction of the ecosystem, Jesus’ words take on new meaning. We need to be awake to threat as well as possibility; we need to be aware of danger and respond with grace and determination to take our role as God’s partners in healing the earth.
Now I believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, and also in the third, and the fourth, and the fifth, and thousandth, and the millionth. Jesus doesn’t need to be imported into our world, nor do we need a divine rescue operation, piercing the heavens. Jesus is already here. The fig tree is putting forth leaves. In this moment, we can choose life and love, and respond to God’s vision for us and our congregation. We have, as Paul says, all the resources we need; we have every spiritual gift we need to fulfill God’s calling in our time and place.
Each Christmas season, many of us take a few hours to watch Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Bankrupt and threatened with jail, George Bailey wishes that he’d never been born, and a clumsy angel Clarence gives him his wish. He discovers a bleak and broken community, a woman living alone, and an abandoned house where his family was supposed to live. He also discovers that what he assumed to be a meaningless life is in fact a life of wonder and meaning. Despite the challenges he faces, he has a wonderful life: he has everything he needs – even with sick kids and a broken-down home – to live joyfully and add to the beauty of his community.
There are Christ-comings and God sightings everywhere, and that’s the message of Advent. We live in the tension of fear and hope and not-yet and now. God is here and we still struggle. We chant “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and pray for an outpouring of grace, and new vitality in our personal and congregational lives. But, right now, what we need is right here.
While there is more to come, and new possibilities ahead of us, we have everything we need to be happy, to find peace of mind, to fulfill our vocation, and to be God’s partners and companions in healing this good earth, because Christ is constantly coming into our lives.