The Meaning of Advent
The onset of Christmas music everywhere and shopping malls full of people can mean only one thing. That the season of Advent has begun. These days when I’m in the car ride with my kids, the first thing Nathan asked me is, “can I turn on the Christmas radio?” so that’s what I do. Christmas music, it’s everywhere. Today is the first Sunday of advent. Advent stems from the Latin word for coming. So during Advent, we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Christian tradition, there are three meanings to this coming. The first, which we’re most aware of, is the coming of God in the human form of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. The second is awaiting the coming of Christ daily into our hearts. And the third is where we await the second coming of Christ. The language of today’s passage seems to deal with this last part about the second coming of Christ. This passage in Luke is part of the final public teaching of Jesus when he’s at the temple in Jerusalem. Because right after this he’ll have his last supper with the disciples. Then he’ll be caught, captured, trialled and crucified. So this certainly was an interesting way to end his public ministry talking about these last days.
Anxiety for the Future
As I reflected on this passage, I wondered if the second coming has any meaning for our lives today. For those of us who live in this scientific-technological era of the 21st century. For us, time is just a part of nature. It always has and always will continue to march on, but as I read this text carefully, I see a great irony, the language used by Luke in this passage is coached in very symbolic and metaphorical language. He borrows language from the Prophets of ancient Israel. Now the Prophets use this kind of language of nature and stormy things to convey God’s judgment upon the nations. But the great irony is that this language doesn’t seem to be so metaphorical today. It actually seems quite literal. See first here, “there will be on earth distress among nations, confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves”. I mean the seas and the waves, they’d been roaring quite ferociously these days. You see the hurricanes, coastal countries are distressed. There are changes in our ecosystems that are causing confusion. Nations are arguing about what’s causing all of this and what we should do. And also people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. There are great fear and anxiety about the future. I mean, I see it on the faces of our youths. I see it in the faces of parents. I mean, when I think about the world that my own children, you know, Nathan and Abigail and all of our other lovely children when you think about the world they will inherit. I too at times become anxious. Will there even be a world for them to inherit? You know, human beings now single-handedly have more impact on the earth systems than every other natural system combined. This is what some scholars termed the era of the Anthropocene. Never before have we as a species had such an impact and we see this impact only accelerating. We know that our actions are affecting the earth, but can we really come together to do anything about it? And if there is an earth, can they survive in it?
Pressure of Society
You know, I’m with the Hi-C every week. I see how hard they study and my heart aches at the stress that you feel inside and the pressure to perform well just to keep up and not fall behind, and I know for many of you who are working, that the pressures and expectations only increase, not decrease. Technological change is relentless and it keeps shaking up the way we do things, but perhaps they can survive materially. But what kind of world are they entering into? We’ve become increasingly disconnected from one another. Community is central to our wellbeing as human beings, but our world makes real community so hard to come by. Everyone’s doing their own thing and the commitment and sacrifice it takes to build a true community is so easy to avoid because there are so many other things for us to do. We take care of ourselves and those closest to us. That’s all that matters or that’s just all that I have time and mental space to take care of. Toronto recently broke the record for homicides this year, in one year. I mean this should be very disturbing for all of us as we should be asking what’s going on in these communities to cause such desperate violence, but we are too busy in our own worlds to worry much about that as long as we’re safe. Community. God’s gift to humanity, I believe has broken down in an individualistic world. I think some of our great musical artists ask the right questions for our time. Marvin Gaye asked what’s going on and the Black Eyed Peas asked, where is the love?
I saw some of you Hi-Cs mouthing that. I mean I’m sure this past week for many of the GM workers in Oshawa who heard that their plant is closing down. I’m sure that for some of them, it really did feel as if the powers of the heavens have been shaken. You know, when we’re faced with a difficult or unexplainable situation, there’s a popular phrase we often use. It is what it is. It is what it is. I mean, sometimes we say to accept a situation that we have no control over and that can be a good thing, but I suspect many times we say this to excuse ourselves from inaction or to convey our resignation over the situation as if to say, what is is what will always be. ‘It is what it is’ can lead to the resigned tune of same old, same old. Luke writes, “then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. This image comes from the book of Daniel. Daniel saw this vision of the son of man in a dream. In this dream, there are four ferocious animals that he sees and they symbolize the great powers of his time, Babylon, Persia, Greece under Alexander the Great and finally the mightiest beast of them all, the Roman Empire. This last beast comes and devours the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. There was no hope for those who are weak, and it was an utterly impossible situation. But behold, amidst this rampage, Daniel saw this vision of the son of man coming in clouds of power and glory. I mean, what he was seeing was a vision of God breaking into history and the impossible situation to liberate people and restore his dominion. In other words, Daniel saw a vision that was saying to him, what is, is not what will be. What is, is not what will be.
What is, is Not What Will Be
Life can have a way of grinding down our expectations for it. When we’re continually faced with forces and powers that are greater than our hopes, the dark night of life can settle in where the flames of new possibilities get extinguished. And so we often settle for the same old, same old, but what Jesus is saying to us in this passage is that in this dark night, we will see a glimpse of hope for something new. A spark that says what is is not what will be. And when you catch this vision, Jesus tells us, stand up, raise your heads for your redemption is drawing near. God will deliver you when you see the spark of hope, God will liberate you from distress, resignation, fear, and anxiety. What is not what will be. His passage is that in this dark night, we will see a glimpse of hope for something new. A spark that says what is is not what will be. And when you catch this vision, Jesus tells us, stand up. Raise your heads for your redemption is drawing near. God will deliver you when you see the spark of hope, God will liberate you from distress, resignation, fear, and anxiety. What is is not what will be. The very first action God did in the beginning of Genesis was to separate the dark night and the light day and how real that is in life. In life, we experience the darkness of night, but also the light of day. There is the darkness of despair, but also the light of hope. God came in human form to experience the fullness of this human existence and to live it with us, Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus experienced the darkness of night when he took the path of the cross on that dark Friday, he experienced the ultimate pain of being utterly forsaken and abandoned by God and the whole world. That Friday, despair, prevailed and death triumphed. That Friday he was all alone, but because of that Friday, we have a glorious Sunday where light overcomes darkness, where hope overcomes despair, where death is defeated. On Sunday a new life is born. The Jesus who comes on cloud is the resurrected Jesus who now exists and comes in power and great glory. This is the Jesus of Sunday and I thank God because even though today, for me, might be Friday where the world is crashing in on me, where the situation seems impossible, where nothing seems to change. I thank God that I can die with my Lord Jesus on Friday and rise together with him on Sunday. I thank God that even though today might be Friday, it’s gonna be Sunday. Today might be Friday, but it’s gonna be Sunday. What is is not what will be. This is the essence of our Christian Confession and proclamation. The whole world may be like mountains crumbling to the sea, God May feel absent like the desert wilderness, my heart may be cold like the desolate winter, heaven and earth itself may pass away, but God’s word still remains. Who are we and what are our lives? The Prophet Isaiah said, “All people are grass. Their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades. Surely the people are grass”, but then the messenger of God replies, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Our lives will come and go. Situations will come and go, but ultimately, God prevails and reigns
The “Will Be”
All things will ultimately work out according to God’s purpose. This is the “will be” of God’s reign. The “will be” is God’s reign in justice and peace, like James prayed. It will be a time where fear and anxiety subside and are replaced with joy and thanksgiving. It will be a time when all people join together in love declaring that our God reigns and suffering and injustice will be no more. The “will be” is also the ultimate fulfillment of our life’s purpose, not the ‘what is’ of the same old, same old or going through the motions, but the “will be” of a life created and destined by our creator to have meaning and purpose. I know that this is often difficult to believe when we are mired up in the “what is”, but this is the promise of God. When our lives are built on this promise, we can stand up and raise our heads to whatever may come our way. When our eyes are fixed on the “will be”, how we see and live, our “what is” changes. We will have the strength to fully engage through the “what is” we press on and strain toward bringing the what is closer to the “will be”. I mean that’s what St Paul was talking about when I press on. What vision is God planting in you about the “will be” for your life and for this world? God has planted in each of us a vision for the “will be”. There is a “will be” for each of us. Have you caught a glimpse of this vision or have you been so drowned in your “what is” to see it? We must be alert and on guard, because Jesus also said be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life. Don’t want to be consumed by the worries of the “what is”. Don’t drown in the self-indulgence of only the “what is”. Set your eyes instead firmly to the god of the “will be”. Don’t let yourselves be pressed down by the darkness of Friday, but wait for and seek out the light of Sunday. Be alert at all times about where your heart is at. Reverend Kim reflected on this verse in yesterday’s inner voice. Pray to be alert about your heart, about this world. During this advent season, we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We await with faith that what is is not what will be. We await with the hope that today might be Friday, but it’s gonna be Sunday. We await the coming of our Lord. Are you weighed down by the worries of life? Is your heart ill at ease? Stand up. Raise your heads because your redemption is near.