by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, December 1, 2013:
First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm: Psalm 122
Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
Gospel: Matthew 24:36-44
This Sunday’s Gospel plunges us right into apocalyptic Advent. Maybe you don’t think of Advent as an apocalyptic time. Maybe you’re one of the church members who says, “Why can’t we sing Christmas carols?”
Advent is a time of getting ready, not only for Christmas, but also for all of what is to come. Many people have interpreted these passages in today’s Gospel reading quite literally, as a prediction of what will happen at the time of the final Judgment. You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that proclaims “In case of Rapture, this car will be driverless.”
Most scholars agree that those ideas of a Judgment Day are fairly recent in Christian thought and interpretation, fostered in the heat of 19th century Revival meetings. If Christ isn’t talking about the Rapture, then what do those passages mean?
This year, the first Sunday of Advent is also World Aids Day. As I read those Gospel passages in the context of AIDS, I’m remembering how terrifying that disease was in the 1980’s. As it quickly became clear that this disease was not just a gay, male disease, it did seem that one day we might be dancing, and 6 months later, we might have lost half our friends.
People with access to protease inhibitors can now see this disease as a chronic disease that can be managed, but in much of the world, the words of Jesus describe the experience of people. Two people are working or walking one day, but quickly one of them is gone.
And even those of us in the first world will face that loss. We can’t travel with our companions forever. Our pets leave us first, and all too soon, friends and family members die.
We don’t want to let mortality intrude, especially not into a festive time. But it’s important to remember that none of us will be here very long.
So, that leads us to the question: if we’re not here very long, how should we live our lives?
Over and over again, Advent reminds us to keep our focus on God. Our culture wants our focus on holiday festivity so that we’ll spend, spend, spend. Advent reminds us to slow down and to listen for God. Advent reminds us that we don’t know the day and the hour, but God is coming.
Advent also reminds us that God is already here. The redemption of the world has begun. Even in the devastation of human tragedy, like a worldwide pandemic with treatment but no cure, God is present.
We won’t realize the presence of God if we’re not alert. The Gospel lesson implores us, as so many Bible passages do: “Stay awake! Stay alert!”
And the Gospel reminds us that God won’t be coming in the form we expect. Throughout the Bible, God shows up in the most unlikely places wearing the most unlikely forms.
Where will you see God this Advent season and beyond?