“ Advent arrives gradually, like leaves falling off a tree until its summer glory becomes, in the words of Shakespeare, “bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.” This image is also found in the words of Isaiah and repeated in our prayers: “We have all withered like leaves and our guilt carries us, away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:5).
“At the same time, Advent arrives suddenly, without warning, a startling change ‘’in the twinkle of an eye,’ like a snowfall that transforms the landscape in a single night. This image is proclaimed keenly in the gospel warnings of the end of time, a terror made more terrifying by the darkening of the sun and the waning of the moon. With Jeremiah we wail: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and yet we are not saved” (Jeremiah 8:20).”
- Peter Mazer
We are in the first week of Advent. Advent, anglicized from the Latin word adventus meaning "coming", is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year. We are now in Year A of the lectionary, if you have been following along.
Latin “adventus” is the translation of the Greek word “parousia”, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent serves as a reminder both of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah as well as the waiting of we are currently doing for Christ's return from Heaven where he now sits at the Right Hand of God.
For 30 years I have heard sermons about the importance of “waiting.” I had to do lessons and projects in Sunday School about how great it is that we have this season to teach about how to wait, and that there are great things while we wait. WAIT. WAIT. WAIT! It felts like Advent was five weeks of waiting. Just ask my wife, I am not usually too big a fan of “waiting.”
So what do I do with the Church’s “Season of Waiting”?
When describing Advent, writer Peter Mazer wrote, “The despoiling of the world, the frosting of gardens, the slow ebbing of daylight: These are all warnings, as sharp as the prophets, as loud as John the Baptist, badgering us to face injustice, suffering, war - and the labor required of us to prepare the royal highway for the Sun of Justice, The Healer and The Comforter, The Prince of Peace.”
Mazer compares the change in the natural world to the changes that the prophets call for us. Here is the riddle: we are to wait for the coming of Jesus: The Prince of Peace, the Healer and the Comforter; but waiting is not enough.
I feel like we can get a very particular idea of waiting. Like at the Secretary of State’s office, or at a Dentist’s or Doctor’s office. When we wait, are told to sit quietly, twiddling our thumbs, until someone else is ready for us. I believe many Christians have internalized this idea of waiting, we are waiting for Jesus, so let’s keep our heads down and keep on truckin’ until he comes back. We don’t want to rock the boat too much. And We don’t think we can make any change anyway, we will just have to wait for Jesus to come back and do it.
In the first two scriptures for this week are both from the Old Testament, we hear proclamations about the End of Days. Our first reading is Psalm 122. And we hear about how Jerusalem will be at Peace. We can just turn on any of the 24-hour news networks or even watch just a few minutes of the evening news to know that Jerusalem is most certainly not at peace. BUT does that mean we are just supposed to sit around and twiddle our thumbs until Jesus comes to bring peace? Are we to wait while doing nothing?
NO. The psalm actually calls us to action. Starting at verse 6 of the Psalm 122.
Pray that Jerusalem has peace:
“Let those who love you have rest.
Let there be peace on your walls;
let there be rest on your fortifications.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I say, “Peace be with you, Jerusalem.”
For the sake of the Lord our God’s house
I will pray for your good.Pray that Jerusalem has peace:
“Let those who love you have rest.
Did you catch it? The Psalmist says we are to PRAY for these things to happen. We are to PRAY. And as we have discussed before, We do not pray for God to perform a check list of things we want God to do! We prayer to give ourselves the strength to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus Christ to do what needs to be done. When the Psalmist says that we are to pray for peace in Jerusalem, he truly meant that we are to help God in God’s work by actively working toward peace.
And in our reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-5), the Prophet Isaiah is also talking about the End of Days, about the time that God will come in Judgement of all. We heard the words of the Prophet:
Many nations will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the house of Jacob’s God
so that he may teach us his ways
and we may walk in God’s paths.”
Instruction will come from Zion;
the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
God will judge between the nations,
and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
Come, house of Jacob,
let’s walk by the Lord’s light.
This is another case where it would be all too easy to say
“I can’t do it, there won’t be peace on Earth until God comes back, and I cannot give up my sword or spear.”
But the prophet Isaiah ends this passage saying “COME, HOUSE OF JACOB, LET’S WALK BY THE LORD’S LIGHT.”
Isaiah didn’t say, sit tight House of Jacob, the Lord will be back soon. Maybe have some snacks while you wait.
NOPE, he said while waiting, walk in the Lord’s light. WALK, keep moving, be proactive, DO SOMETHING!
But that’s all Old Testament stuff…
It seems like they were always talking about the end of days and this and that… But we have JESUS, So what does the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 24:36-44) say this week?
Big shocker: More about the end of days.
Jesus is talking about when he returns again.
Jesus tells those around him, “Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know.”
Before Jesus says this, he compares what the age of people will be like when he returns to those in the age of Noah. A lot of people get hung up on this idea, saying it will be an AGE OF SIN AND DEBAUCHERY!
But that is not what Jesus said, he could have said it, but he did not. What Jesus said was, “As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One. In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that.”
So what is the comparison it it is not about the sin of the people? It is the surprise factor! They were carrying on with Business as usual. Eating, drinking, getting married. All things we all do. And out of nowhere, BAM, the flood. Jesus coming back will be like that.
So what does Jesus tell us to do? Because something is up in this passage. You NEVER want to be compared to the people of Noah’s time, So we should be doing something different. SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
WE NEED TO BE PROACTIVE!
The problem of the people of Noah's age, that Jesus highlighted, was that they were just waiting around, doing business as usual. God will fix things when God gets here.
Jesus wants more from us. We are to listen to the voices of the Old Testament, and work toward peace, work toward justice, work toward building the kingdom of God here on earth.
Several early church fathers state the concerns of Advent in challenging ways: Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan in the 300s, says, “There is your sister and brother, naked, crying! And you stand confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering.”
These words could be about us today. When we carry on business as usual, we can care more about the carpets and decorations in our home than our brother or sister in our communities who do not have enough.
Saint Basil of Cappadocia, also from the 300s, challenges us even today when he says, “What keeps you from giving now? Isn’t the poor person there? Aren’t your warehouses full? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it.”
I have heard from different people, that we shouldn’t do too much for the poor, because there will always be poor people. What can we do to help them?
Well, Ambrose says, Basil says, the Psalmist says, Isaiah says, AND JESUS SAYS, there there is a lot for us to do!
So in this season of waiting, keep one eye toward heaven waiting for Jesus, but do not let that distract you from using your other eye to see what needs to be done in the here and now.