This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on November 29, 2015.
My oldest son and I walked into a home improvement store in September and were confronted by the first of the signs of Christmas’ distant arrival, a giant air filled Santa greeted us at the front door. Halloween decorations were side by side with Christmas decorations.
Our American culture is skilled at anticipating Christmas. This is not a skill that is lacking. We so engorge ourselves on Christmas spirit that we are bloated with the stress of the season, and nearly sick of Christmas music by the time the twelve days of the Christmas season actually arrive. All anticipating the arrival of Santa… er, Baby Jesus.
So in this mood of Christmas cheer and the anticipation of carols, nativities, and gifts, we find the first Sunday of Advent in the lectionary Year C arrives with a resounding clap of thunder, rather than a “seasonally appropriate” jingling of bells. For those familiar with the cycle of the church calendar and the lectionary, this clap of thunder (Luke 17:24) comes with no surprise or astonishment.
Nevertheless in a world caught up in Christmas cheer, which seems to view Jesus at this time only in newborn nativity form (like Ricky Bobby from Taledega Nights), the words of the adult Jesus are far less appropriate or palatable. Jesus is not “using his inside voice” in Luke 21:25-36.
Instead we find the Son of God speaking of “earth-shattering events” (The Voice) – astronomical events, political upheaval, stormy conditions, and people paralyzed with fear (v. 25-26). This is not “seasonally appropriate.” This is not Buddy the Elf’s “the best way to spread Christmas cheer, is by singing loud for all to hear.” This is a loud voice for a deaf culture. This is forewarning. This is foreboding.
Perhaps this passage and event is a helpful moment to remind our congregations that Jesus often did not just bring messages of consoling and comfort, but messages of warning. He spoke against injustice, the established powers of oppression and opulence, and he called people to return to lives of humble obedience and worship of God.
It’s this type of warning message that Jesus brings to us on the first day of Advent. He sounds a warning bell that the day of his return will spring like an unforeseen trap (v. 34). It is this warning which sets the tone for the season of Advent. A season of expectation of two comings – the peaceful silent night of newborn baby Jesus, and the cataclysmic day of the Son of Man. Two themes that are at first glance not in sync.
But the thematic link is hope. Hope that with the first coming of God into the world, the first inroad of peace and restoration has been made. That the Kingdom of God is on the move. The first foothold has been gained, and a beachhead of the Kingdom’s advance is established. The apocalyptic hope of the second coming of Christ is that the second and final wave of the advance of the Kingdom of God is coming. Heaven is coming down.
Once this confrontational message of Jesus on the first day of Advent is heard, the stage is set for the hope filled message of Luke. Justice will prevail. God will triumph, and God’s people will be restored. But this event will be sudden and unexpected.
Were Christmas morning to come on some unforeseen day in December, and were it to arrive on a random day with no warning or premonition, but rather a day that springs forth in joy and wonderment like a jack-in-the-box, then I imagine that quite a few parents would have presents stashed away waiting for that day. That those in love, both young and old, would have a little something wrapped neatly and laid aside for their beloved.
But holiday shoppers do not get surprised on December 25th by the arrival of Christmas. They see it coming a long way off, because they notice the signs of the approaching day. Jesus tells us that we are surrounded by signs of the approaching day. The exact day is not known, but that it approaches should not be a surprise.
If the date of Christmas were to be a surprise, people would be ready for it. Jesus merely asks the same thing for the second coming. That we would be waiting for it. Prepared and full of anticipation. That when the bells of joy peal out ringing in the coming of Christ, we would be ready, because we have heeded the signs, and have been looking forward to that glorious day.
Cyprian wrote, “The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world; already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. What room is there here for anxiety and solicitude?”
J. David Tate
Coordinator, Certificate of Ministry Program
George W. Truett Theological Seminary,
Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Tags: Christmas, hope, Advent, anticipation, Kingdom of God, warning