In the secular world, the calendar year is winding down and drawing to a close, with hopes for increased consumer spending and a good bottom line. In the church, we have already stepped into the new year with the season of Advent, a season of hoping and waiting for something of much greater significance than profits or spending — a season during which we are invited to lean into God’s future unafraid and dare to dream God’s dreams.
Using the prescribed readings that many churches follow throughout the year, during this season of Advent, one cannot avoid gospel readings in which Jesus addressed the matter of the end of time, that is, when he would return to the earth once again but in a far different way than when he first arrived as a baby, complete with shepherds keeping watch over their flocks, angels singing God’s praises, and wise men from afar bearing gifts.
In Matthew 24, for example, Jesus likened his return to the arrival of the Great Flood, which caught many by surprise even though they had been given ample warning. When the flood came, there was mass destruction, people swept away, families separated and communities divided. To add to the vividness of Jesus’ imagery of his return, he went on to liken his unexpected coming to a thief arriving in the night, catching the homeowner totally off guard and leaving him terrified and unnerved.
I am convinced Jesus chose these troubling images to make it clear that, in order for God’s reign to take hold here on earth, life as we know it will need to be disrupted. We will need to be jolted out of our complacency and open to viewing life differently. However, Jesus was also quite clear in emphasizing that no one knows when his return will occur. The angels are not in the loop and Jesus himself is not privy to God’s timetable. So, forget about trying to predict the end of time: the real challenge is to live in such a way that no matter when it takes place, we will be ready.
In a sense, we are being invited to live our lives as though it were always Advent — a season of preparing, anticipating and waiting with a sense of focus and purpose, living one day at a time and taking nothing for granted. How exactly do we do that? How would we do well to fill our time? Making time to worship is one way to begin, because worship invites us to step away from the fray for just a bit, to regain perspective, and to recharge our batteries so that we might be better equipped to face the complexities of each new day.
Beautiful words of benediction that were shared with me recently also provide a helpful guide for living our lives as people of faith, very aware that although we do not know when Christ will return or even what that might look like, we can know how best to fill our time. May we take these words to heart: “Because the world is filled with fear, may we go out in courage. Because the world is drowning in lies, may we dare to speak the truth. Because the world is sick of despair, may we go out with joy. Because the world is seldom fair, may we do the work of justice. Because the world is under judgment, may we go out with mercy. Because the world is poor and starving, may we go out with bread in hand, and because the world will die without it, may we always go with love.”
As we prepare for Christ’s coming in a way that is familiar to us — as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lovingly placed in a manager — may we choose to live in such a way that our readiness for what God has in store is reflected in the gracious and mercy-filled way we go about living each day.