Advent 1 – December 2
Sometimes we feel as if we live from crisis to crisis – breaking news reports every ten minutes, Facebook scare stories, e-mail list serves telling us to be “frightened, very frightened” about something the other political party or national leadership is about to do, and local news touts the “storm desk” with just a sprinkle in the air. There always appears to be something new to worry about. No group of people have ever lived more sheltered and affluent lives, and yet we are often anxious; our personal lives are going well, but the world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket, whether our concern is a caravan from the south, global climate change, changing demographics, the refugee crisis, forest fires in California or an earthquake in Alaska. These are real worries but often they become the sole motivating forces in our lives, and we are uncertain as to whether we should fly, fight, or freeze.
Jesus’ followers were tempted to feel the same way – a small band of women and men under siege, persecuted, and living under constant threat of Roman oppressors. No doubt many succumbed to despair and anxiety, or simply wanted to drop out of the world, fleeing to the mountains to await the victorious return of Jesus, the defeat of the Roman oppressor, the glorification of the church, and the healing of the earth.
The return of Jesus has been breaking news – and inspired best-selling books – for several generations, beginning with the migration of William Miller’s followers, dressed in white robes, to Western Massachusetts, expecting Jesus to descend from the clouds on October 22, 1844. To this day, preachers preach, books sell, signs of the times consulted, and the great day of Jesus’ return updated time after time.
Like the Millerites of the 19thcentury, today’s radio and television preachers proclaim “the end is near, prepare to meet the Lord.” They revel in the bad news of wars and rumors of war and connect the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem as just one more sign that the End is near. They counsel, “Don’t be among those who are left behind.” Though still going to work each morning, they have given up on our world as lost and unredeemed. The great issues of concern for the vulnerable, protection of the environment, and justice for all people are dismissed as unimportant – after the earth will be destroyed, we will escape, and the infidel left to suffer.
In today’s America, such beliefs inspire bumper stickers such as “In case of rapture, this car will be driverless.” Can you imagine the scene, cars hurtling down route 28, chasing down unsaved pedestrians, terrifying children, and destroying property? The scene is both horrific and humorous.
In contrast, some of us think we are on our own without any help from God. We assert “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” Perhaps, this viewpoint no doubt inspired another bumper sticker, “Jesus is coming, look busy.” In other words, fidelity is all about “grin and bear it,” believing that the future is entirely in our hands, and that God does not have any positive involvement in the world.
I believe that the truth is somewhere in between, captured by two other sayings, “Pray as if everything depends on God and act as if everything depends on us” and “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
God is at work in the world, but God’s work is more like the seasonal growth of a tree, as Jesus says – the growth of a fertilized egg into a baby – than a cataclysmic act of chaotic change or destruction. The moral arc of history bends toward justice – and this arc is God’s providence – and it moves deliberately and persistently in dialogue with human actions and priorities. God calls and we respond, and we act and then God responds.
God is not Zeus, acting from the outside, wielding thunderbolts to change the course of history, God is acting within our lives and histories, a still small voice, a prophetic sense of challenge, a dream or intuition, a chance encounter, to get us moving to embody God’s vision in the world.
Yale Divinity School professor Hal Luccock was once walking across the Yale Green, when he was accosted by a street preacher, who bellowed, “Are you saved?” To which Luccock replied, “Every day.”
Jesus is calling every day. We don’t need to be worried about a dramatic second coming or calculate the signs of the times. Jesus is coming every moment of every day. Whispering, inspiring, guiding and challenging through the ordinary events and pivotal moments of our lives. The signs of the times are coming to us every morning. “Wake up. Seize this day. Make the world beautiful and loving by everyday acts of kindness. Stand on the side of the angels. Get busy, and do something, but trust me every step of the way.”
The world is saved one moment at a time. We don’t have to wait for heaven or a second coming, the coming of Christ is here, Christ calls us each moment. We don’t have to wait for Jesus to come, for Jesus is already here.