Advent one B When Life Makes Us Wait It is hard for us to understand Jesus' delay in his coming. God's time clock is certainly out of sync with ours as Little Jimmy learned one day as he was laying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day. Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape. Soon, he began to think about God.
"God? Are you really there?" Jimmy said out loud. To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. "Yes, Jimmy? What can I do for you?" Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked, "God? What is a million years like to you?" Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. "A million years to me, Jimmy, is like a minute."
"Oh," said Jimmy. "Well, then, what's a million dollars like to you?" "A million dollars to me, Jimmy, is like a penny." "Wow!" remarked Jimmy, getting an idea. "You're so generous... can I have one of your pennies?" God replied, "Sure thing, Jimmy! Just a minute."
Little Jimmy wasn't ready for that response was he? Our text this morning seems an unlikely scripture for Advent. It has nothing to do with Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, of shepherds watching their flock. Instead it is story about a wealthy landowner going on a trip. The servants left behind were given charge of the estate and when the master returned he would check on their stewardship. It is a story about being prepared, getting ready. In that sense then this is an Advent story, for this is the season of preparedness. Consider with me a moment that... God Identifies with the Human Situation. And Advent Is Time to Get Ready for the Return of Christ. I often wonder if the first generation of disciples didn't have it worse than us. Sure, some of them had seen Jesus, so there was that. But the earliest writings in the New Testament, including today's Gospel reading from Mark sound to me like they were having a hard time waiting.
I wonder if they expected something more from Jesus' death and resurrection. Perhaps they now hoped their world-altering expectations would happen when Jesus would return. Whatever they were expecting, these words from Jesus were both important enough for them to remember, and confusing enough to have puzzled the disciples through the ages, from them all the way down to us . Jesus describes a cataclysmic event of cosmic proportions and suggests that, like the seasons of the year, the signs that such things were about to happen would be easy to read and recognize. At least people today, the religious among them, seem to operate under the understanding that such things are not likely in our lifetimes. It must have been very discouraging in the first century when folks started dying before Jesus' words of return would be fulfilled. Here we are, these many centuries later, still waiting. The waiting is spiritually challenging. We are tempted to lose focus and as a result we turn to many things that distract us from our calling to be the Body of Christ in the world. More importantly, these distractions, as they become our focus of attention, replace God in our lives. They become the gods to which we bow and to whom we look for our identity and purpose. And there are so many such gods: the gods of self-satisfaction, the gods of material wealth, the gods of family or relationship, the gods of addiction, the gods of work, even the gods of play. We are capable of making anything, everything, into a false god to worship. And this is not new. When the people of Israel tired of waiting for Moses, who was meeting with God on the mountain in the wilderness, they made a golden calf to worship. So I ask, in my own life, where are my golden calves? Where are the things I make to give me meaning apart from God? And though I ask this question often, I find every time that the answer is, simply, everywhere.
It is for this reason that Advent comes as a welcome season for me every year. The blessing of Advent is that it invites me into a focused time of waiting. I am invited back into the intimate mystery of my adoption into the family of God, the Body of Christ, and there to renew my awareness of God's activities in the world and for the world. My cluttered heart requires sweeping, no more than that, it requires wholesale emptying, if it is to become a place fit for the habitation of God. Fortunately for me, God has given me the very things for that cleansing: confession, forgiveness, renewal, new life every day. In the process, I find that God's cleansing gives me fresh eyes to see. Indeed, the signs of God's new life and action are all around me (just as the false gods were all around me). The difficulty is that I have been looking in the wrong places. I have been looking for signs and wonders, earth changing moments.
But God's revolution happens one changed heart at a time, and for me that happens daily in my own life of drowning to my sin and being raised to new life in Christ. The thing is, that when we become accustomed to God only acting in the big things, then we lose sight of God acting in the small, the mundane.
But it is in the small and mundane that God's promises come true. Is God present only in the large gatherings, or is it rather where "two or three are gathered" in Christ's name? Is God present in the uncommonly miraculous or rather in the smallest, most common of elements, water, bread, wine, and a word of love spoken and shared?
Ah, now, see! God comes, as promised, every day. God's coming is not delayed. The final fulfillment may yet be far off, but the coming is timely and daily, as promised. Is it not these things that we should be alert for? Is it not this coming that should be the focus of our attention?
Is there not more to be found as we experience and share God's great love in small ways than in the large headline grabbing ways that we might long for? We know, we know, we truly know when God is coming. Now, at this very moment! Daily, weekly, on time as promised!
Another New Year is upon us, and what will we do about it? Will we put off changes for yet another year, or will we heed the Holy Spirit’s prodding. The final word in this week's gospel text from Mark is to "keep watch," to "watch out" for the signs that will reveal the approach of this "son of man" and that it is imminent...let’s open our eyes, and watch, being patient as we await the coming of Jesus once again in our hearts and minds as we move forward in our Advent journey to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. Amen.