The Adventurous Lectionary – The First Sunday of Advent – December 1, 2019
Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 22, Romans 3:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
In my junior year of high school, the group Chicago released the single, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?” In many ways, time is the theme of today’s scriptures. Paul asserts “you know what time it is” and Matthew’s Gospel speaks of the day and time of the Messiah’s coming, expressing the importance of agnosticism and mystery when trying to discern the signs of the times and reminding us that despite uncertainty, we are called to be faithful. Chicago’s question is worth noting as we enter Advent in the middle of national turmoil over presidential impeachment, an uncertain and uncivil political climate, the threats of climate change, and the eclipse of the American empire occurring right before our eyes.
Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
If so I can’t imagine why
We’ve all got time enough to die.
Isaiah charts time by God’s coming realm. God’s light is emerging over Jerusalem and the whole earth. A new day is upon us with radically new possibilities. Let us walk in the light of God, so says the prophet Isaiah. With darkness descending in the Northern hemisphere and fears of darkness politically and globally, these words are good counsel. The dark night – whether in terms of weather or the social order – challenges us to embrace God’s enlightened paths. Open to the light, we can see growth within darkness. Following the light, can also find our way through perilous personal, congregational, and political pathways.
Isaiah proclaims the impossible possibility. Destroyed and despairing, the once proud Jerusalem shall become a center of spiritual pilgrimage with seekers coming to create, not destroy. Jerusalem’s vocation is to promote world peace not national aggrandizement. Strangers will find a home in the holy city. Refugees will experience safety once more. The world’s leaders shall beat their swords into plowshares, war will be abolished, and nations will no longer plan on destroying on another. Laughter and joy will fill the city streets. The days of mourning will be a thing of the past as the horizons of God’s future beckon us forward.
Advent is a time to imagine the impossible and to take the first steps toward achieving it. Advent is a time for hopes and dreams, for provocative possibilities that take us beyond the world as we know it to the world as it could be – and should be – a place of healing, restoration, justice, and Shalom. In Isaiah’s vision, Advent joins the personal and the political. It can’t be otherwise for Jerusalem and ourselves. We are shaped by our communities, for good or ill. Our communities promote human and planetary well-being or move against it. The spirit of Advent invites us to examine our values and lifestyle: How shall we experience peace in the onslaught of the Christmas season? How shall our Advent be holy and whole-making? What behaviors do we need to change to be part of the peaceful world Isaiah visualizes? How will the quest for peace shape our foreign policy and domestic priorities or our protest against the policies and appointments of the President-elect?
This isn’t so much a matter of holding off on singing Christmas carols till Christmas Eve or feeling free to say “Merry Christmas” to strangers, but having an attitude of expectation, hopefulness, and prayerful waiting. Advent calls us to be persons who already have one foot in God’s new age and who imagine ourselves as being already the change we want to see in the world. We must have a holy unrest, inspired by God’s own unrest, God’s own lure toward novelty in our personal lives and social structures.
The Psalmist also looks toward an era of peace not just in Jerusalem but in the world. “Peace be with you,” is not just a casual greeting but the hope of the nation and the dream of Jerusalem. Wishing one another “peace” will transform the spirit of Jerusalem and our nation as well. While speaking truth to power, we need to get beyond alienation, and experience divine connection, even as we challenge the injustices of our time. We need peace in our city streets and in the halls of Congress. We need the peace of sacrificial living and self-transcendence not that of anesthesia.
“You know what time it is!” so says the apostle Paul. The passage from Romans continues the theme of God’s creative transformation of our world. All time is sacred time, and God’s vision is on the horizon calling us forward. All time is the right time, the Kairos time, to say “yes” to God’s way. Salvation is nearer than we thought. God’s wholeness is just around the corner – or could it already be here- and we need to be prepared. We need to be mindful of the moment by moment revealing of God’s providence in our lives. Divine omnipresence, active in our world and shaping present and future, means that in ways large and small, dramatic and domestic, God is with us in saving ways. The apostle Paul counsels: Don’t miss out on God’s vision embodied in our lives! Act as if God’s realm is here right now, become a citizen of heaven in your everyday life by your commitments, values, and actions. God’s coming is here, forget the end time preachers, and get with God’s program today!
“Keep awake,” you don’t know what time it is, Jesus counsels. “Don’t create timetables or end time scenarios, universally inaccurate, because they may prevent you from seeing what is right in front of you, the coming of God! Recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ words to his first followers complement the more time specific counsel of Romans 13. Although there is an implicit threat in the unexpected coming of God, ultimately this passage is about mindfulness. Stay awake. Holy moments may catch you by surprise. A pivotal life event may be happening right now, and you are too dull-witted to recognize it. Don’t sleep through your life. Don’t miss God moments occurring throughout the day. God is coming to us in every encounter. We need not wait for a world-transforming catastrophe or Second Coming. As a matter of fact, waiting for a divine rescue operation is the worst thing we can do if we want experience God right now. Don’t pay attention to apocalyptic thinkers and their time tables – they have been wrong for two thousand years and there is no reason to believe they will be any more accurate today. Creative transformation – awakening to God and living in God’s realm – is available to us all the time. The future is in our hands as well as God’s and we need to prepare moment by moment to experience God’s vision of Shalom, God’s provocative possibilities embedded in every encounter. (For more on theology of possibility, see Bruce Epperly, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God and Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed.)
Jesus’ words challenge us to live faithfully. We are to have a lifestyle of expectancy. We are to live as if God is with us, precisely because God is. This challenges us individually and politically. We don’t know the tipping points in civil unrest, climate change, or congregational life. But, we can choose to be open to God’s guidance, look beyond self-interest, and chart a path toward wholeness for ourselves, our churches, and the world.
So stay awake. Walk in the light. Open to your role in the divine adventure. Salvation is here, Christ’s coming is now. Rejoice in the glorious and challenging splendor of this wondrous holy moment.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over fifty books including
“Thin Places Everywhere: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Celtic Christianity” and “Piglet’s Process: Process Theology for All God’s Children.”