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Taken Up In Christ

Advent 1A-16

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago


Jesus sat and spoke to the disciples. He is somewhere on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron valley from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The time and manner of his coronation as Lord and King remain unimaginable and largely unanticipated to his little band of followers. The disciples still don’t know what’s about to hit them although Jesus had told them on three separate occasions.

The Day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. The kingdom arrives like the floodwaters that bore up Noah’s ark. (Matthew 24: 38, 43) Like the first winter storm, these scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent disrupt the lengthy Pentecost season of ordinary Sundays. Advent presents a sharp contrast to spiritual and religious things that have become familiar to us. We may have settled for our current reality, gotten too comfortable with it. We may be dangerously close to accepting the ordinary as normative. Advent shocks us from complacency. In the life of faith, Advent counsels us expect the unexpected.

The people who lived in the days of Noah or the unlucky person whose house is about to be robbed were not singled out by Jesus because they are especially sinful, but because they are a bit too comfortable with business as usual. They’re resigned to thinking nothing will change, at least not for a while.

They risk accepting politics as usual, of accepting lies as truth, of becoming complacent in the face of injustice, of recklessly blaming victims and outsiders, of becoming cynical, or thinking too small. They risk becoming completely unaware of the precariousness of their position before God. The purpose of Advent texts is to wake us up from resignation to the status quo. Advent is strong gospel medicine to opens our eyes, hearts and hands to the surprising presence of God in our midst.

Simply “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (24:38) as they did in days of Noah will not put us in the sheep line as opposed to the goat line on the day of Christ’s final judgment. Isaiah’s prophecy is shockingly bold: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Measuring our progress as a civilization against this goal reveals just how far we still have to go.

Expect the unexpected. The lesson of Advent is not that life is capricious—although it often is. Rather, it is a reminder to turn our attention to the things that endure, to look for God at work and play all around us, to free our imagination, and to ready ourselves to follow when the moment comes.

Little by little and all at once the gospel trains us to expect the unexpected just as Joseph did in responding to the Angel Gabriel’s re-assurances and in reconciling with Mary—or just as Noah before the rains came—or as the disciples did in following Jesus. Be open to the spirit moving in unexpected ways in your life and in our life together to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace.

This passage from Matthew has been badly abused by silly talk about God the so-called rapture—the non-biblical idea that some of us will disappear or be taken into the air to meet a descending Christ when he comes again. It’s interesting the bible never uses the phrase, second coming, but we are already in Christ. The Greek in our gospel does not mean, “to go up” or “to meet”, but rather “to go along with” as in to take someone along on a journey. To be taken by the coming Jesus isn’t about floating up into the air. Rather, Jesus is saying, ‘Come follow me. Let’s walk down this road together.’

Today we begin again an intentional time of faith growth and renewal we call On The Way inspired by this idea. Christianity is incarnational. To be left behind or taken up is always primarily about whether we embody the Spirit of Christ in our very own flesh and blood.

So often, we don’t act until life brings us up short. Today, Jesus has set a deadline. Each of us receives a report card, but will never know when the grading period ends or the bill comes due. Therefore, the mission of Christ must be a everyday way of life, not a hurry up when the Lord comes, or I’ll save it for later kind of project. The message of Advent carries urgency. “Wake up!” Rise from your cynical slumbers. Open your eyes. Get to work.  Practice now the deeds of love and mercy that will count in the final judgment. Advent is about the transformation of our hearts for the way we live our ordinary, everyday lives. Jesus explains with unmistakable clarity that when the Son of man returns, we will be judged on how we tended to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned.

A few years ago, Methodist Pastor Kermit L. Long told a story of what expecting the unexpected and being taken up into Christ is all about. It happened right here in Chicago on Christmas Eve. He writes, “A gentle snowfall added to the already magical, mystical beauty of the season…a young boy of about seven or eight came into a flower shop. His clothes were torn, and his tennis shoes had holes in them. He asked the shopkeeper, ‘Do you have any roses for my mother for 10 cents?’ The man replied, ‘Wait just a moment. Let me see what I can do for you.’ After serving other customers, the owner turned back to the little boy and said, I have good news for you. On Christmas Eve, we have a special deal on roses for young fellows who want to buy them for their mothers. The boy traded his dime for a dozen long-stemmed roses. With a big smile on his face the boy left the flower shop and headed home.”

Pastor Long concluded, “Those of us who looked on were warmed by what we had seen, and I know the shopkeeper felt the blessing of God for his generosity.”

In second lesson, Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, “…you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…” (Romans 13:11-12a).

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