In the popular current series of âleft behindâ books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, there is a focus on the last days, the end of life as we know it. Topics like The Rapture where some are spirited away and others left behind, great battles between good and evil, and the triumph of faithful Christians are the stock and trade of this 12-book series. They are very popular with believers and non-believers alike.
The readings for the First Sunday of Advent present these themes, but with a lot less detail and a lot more challenge to the reader. First, in the prophet Isaiah, we read about a political cataclysm in the 8th Century, B.C.E., when the kings of Israel had offered to pay tribute for protection from invaders. Isaiah proclaims the vision of a new Israel where tribute will be no more because all kingdoms will come to the âmountain of the Lordâs house.â And then comes the vision of universal peace where âthey shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.â No one will learn war anymore. Anyone reading a daily newspaper would agree we are far from that vision today. But this vision has given people hope. A few years ago one organization provided people with pins made of metal from a scrapped bomber, molded into the shape of a plowshare as a reminder of that vision from Isaiah.
In order of time, the next passage we focus on is the Gospel, part of the apocalypse from Matthew where Jesus addresses peopleâs concerns about the end. He does this, incidentally, from the Mount of Olives where he is about to begin his own arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Jesus was certainly aware of what might happen to him as he spoke. We have a suggestion here of how universal that end will beâit will affect everyone, believer and non-believer alike. People engaged in work, and people partying are two extremes of those who will be caught up in the coming of the Son of Man.
And people were just as curious then as now. They wanted to know when, who, and what they had to do to be saved. Jesus doesnât answer these questions directly. He wants people to live a different way, not be afraid of living altogether.
Now we come to the latest passage that was todayâs second lesson from Romans. In it Paul, who also senses the immediacy of Jesusâ return, focuses not on when it will be or what it will be like, but how we should live as expectant people.
Paul tells us to be awake, lay aside works of darkness, put on the armor of light, and live honorably. He doesnât have any interest in doomsayers or seers predicting destruction. What Paul wants is for people to behave like disciples, followers of Jesus.
Being a disciple is always a life of tension. Paul says we are supposed to honor the civil authority but not be subject to it when it threatens our freedom. Earlier in Romans he has taught us that we are responsible for the new humanity, a new moral order. But itâs not a morality of just being pure as the driven snow. No, this is a gutsy morality that stands against oppression, injustice, and anything the state does (including making war) because it suits the state. Treating others with respect and dignity is a part of it. Actively seeking peace and justice and refusing to participate in actions that lead to violence are the rest.
Can we, then, as responsible disciples bring in the Kingdom? Can we make the vision of Isaiah come true? No, not if we think we are the only people who can. Rather, our job in Advent is to break down barriers that separate us from others, to find in others, including those not of our faith, the potential new humanity.
Some people think Advent is a time of quiet waiting. It should be a time of active searching! Searching for the spark of Jesus in others, repairing and polishing our own armor of light, and looking for hope when people say there isnât any.
Advent is not about getting ready for Christmas, either. It is a separate, intense season of looking for, and listening for, the hope planted by God within each of us. It is a time of shutting out darkness, refusing to accept it as part of life. Even though it is the darkest part of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, Advent is a time to light the lamps and scatter the darkness, not brood over it.
There are many references in the Scriptures today to âthe day.â âDayâ should be thought of as floods of light banishing the lies we tell ourselves that keep us from the truth. Day should be though of as light scattering the darkness from before us. Day should be thought of as energy, morality, and joy. Day should be lived as new behavior, casting away the works of darkness and finding wonderful things that disciples have always known were there. Day should mean letting the light shine into your soul and revealing the things youâve been hiding there, the things you know displease God and keep you from living as a person of light. Day can be cleansing as well are revealing. The light from Christ's birth, death and resurrection surrounds us all. This Advent walk in it, live with it and behave in response to it, and your Advent will be one to remember.