First Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them away. I remember the Category 4 hurricane that was approaching the Carolinas. They were trying to evacuate people from the coast and warning them of the storm surge which when pushed ahead by 150 mph winds can be devastating. There were some people, right on the coast who refused to move. They actually had storm parties. They figured they would easily ride out the storm. Until it was too late the surge was exactly as predicted – it came and carried them away. I often wonder what was going through their minds. Did they think that weather men were just exaggerating? Or they were somehow untouchable when it came to death. People are strange not just in the middle of storms but even in real life. We all have a defense mechanism that helps us deal with what it overwhelming – we go into denial.
I think when it comes to the Second Coming of the Lord, most of us are in denial. He said ‘therefore stay awake for you do not know on which day your Lord will come. So, too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. I think we are in denial because when you think of it, it is oddest part of the Creed – I believe that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I say oddest part because there are whole cultures that see it differently. In India for instance, if you ask someone to describe the times were are living in – they call it the Dark Ages. The age of corruption (it is endemic), the age of murder, the age of greed for money, the age for the breakdown of family. But for them no one is coming to stop time. No Person is going to appear. At some point, for them in the very distant future – thousands of years in the future, this world and all who are living in it will go up in a huge bonfire and a new age of truth will be ushered in. And then the cycles of time will repeat themselves. There is no sense of Time itself coming to an end with the advent of a Person.
But our belief in the Second Coming is very odd because Jesus will come to judge the living the dead. In other words, there will be a sudden disruption of time. It is hard to imagine something like this – the end of time. We are so used to everything having an end in time. But time itself ending? This is an article of the creed. It is not something cooked up by the rapture people in the deep South. It just may be that we do not pay attention because it is too odd and even disturbing to think about.
Let’s say under the new Presidential administration – the budget is finally balanced. The trade deficit with China tilts in favor of the US. There is full employment with the trillion dollar infrastructure new deal. The Middle East, by some miracle, is democratic. There is complete peace in the world. What happens is we imagine this will last forever. We put more of our faith and hope into this. Politics is the new religion. The fact remains that all of a sudden, the Son of Man might come to judge the living and the dead. It is totally counter intuitive. He should not come when are just getting it right. But that is only because we are in the habit of judging heaven by the earth. But he says ‘at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’ We expect what happens on earth to determine what happens in heaven. But the opposite is true. Heaven determines what will happen on earth and we do not know the decrees of heaven. St Paul reminds the Thessalonians ‘While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.’
Advent reminds us that as Christians we always live in a state of tension. I know this is difficult to do in a very comfortable civilization. We are apt to go to sleep or on auto pilot. But the world is not our final resting place. We are expected to give an account of our time on earth but heaven is our final home. And we have to learn to live with this tension. We must be awake for the even greater battle is the inner battle to keep our eyes focused on the Lord. What does this being awake look like? St Paul says ‘Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desire of the flesh.’
Those are marching orders for us too. To awake from the sleep of sin and ignorance and complacency. To put on the Lord Jesus each day and always await the second coming the Lord. We all fear stress today. The big thing is de-stressing. But believe me this is one tension that is healthy, the one stress that can heal us – to live in this passing world with our eyes fixed on Jesus who is to come.