Walking with Jesus: Advent Week 1

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Advent is a season of anticipation - of great joy and hope. Advent is also a reminder that there is more to come, that we are on a journey toward a new reality, a new way of being.

The texts for the first Sunday of Advent are:  Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122 (Hymnal 845), Romans 13:11-14, and Matthew 24:36-44.

Follow this link for Advent worship resources written by Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball.

Rev. Rick Swearengin
Madison UMC
Midland South District

“It’s impossible!” I can’t help but think that what the disciples asked and what they were thinking were two different things.  Sure, they asked, “When will this happen,” but what they were most likely thinking was; ‘It’s Impossible!”

The conversation the disciples were having with Jesus centered around the destruction of the temple and the “end of the age.” As Jesus spoke as to how the temple buildings would all be turned into a pile of rubble, I can only imagine the eyes of each disciple focusing on the massive size of each stone. Standing at the foot of the wall in Jerusalem I put myself in the shoes of the disciples. ‘If I were there at that moment hearing the words of Jesus, would I believe him?” I asked myself.

Looking over the incredibly beautiful valley of Megiddo my eyes focused on not only the beauty, but the activity of the area. Tractors were plowing fields, cars traveling here and there, life was happening all around. Really, everything looked normal. Yet, this is where it is believed that the Battle of Armageddon will be fought. Guess what I found myself saying? “It’s impossible!” How could such a beautiful, vibrant place give way to such brutality? Such bloodshed?  Surely not! “And if it does happen,” I surmised, “It will surely be in the distant future.”

Walking out of the hospital after the last pastoral visit, I couldn’t help but think; “Thankfully, all is well with me. I’m perfectly healthy and don’t have to worry the tests, the needles, etc.” Actually, I think what I was thinking was; “It’s impossible! It’s impossible for all that to happen to me!” Then, a pain that I never felt before startled me into reality.

In the Gospel passage for this first Sunday of Advent Jesus with reality. The reality of what is possible colliding with that deemed impossible. The reality of that which is considered secure giving way to insecurity. Jesus is dealing with the fact that in any given moment the world as we know it can change. The scenarios that Jesus then gives as “signs” serve as remembers to me that “the end of the age” can come at any given moment.

Gazing at the rubble of huge stones and at the magnificent fields of Megiddo there was the temptation to think of “the end of time.” But, I didn’t. Instead of thought of how it is that God comes into our moments. Is this a threat, or is this a promise? Isn’t this what Advent is all about?

During Advent we look toward the coming of the Christ. Is Advent a threat, or is Advent a promise? Just be aware…when God comes in to our moments, the impossible becomes possible.

 

Rev. Krysta Rexroad-Wolfe
Cross Lanes UMC
Midland South District

For ten days as United Methodists from the West Virginia Annual Conference traveled around Israel, we were privileged to see the places Jesus would have walked, worked, taught, laughed and lived.

It was strange to see how the sites of Jesus had been mythologized so that large churches, chapels, and museums could be built in the locations of some of the gospel’s most popular stories. The Church of the Nativity for instance, is a 1,700 year old church built, rebuilt, and expanded over the grotto rumored to be the birth place of Jesus. Rumored to be, believed to be, could have been…these are phrases we heard on repeat about Jesus’s relationship to the sites we visited.

We even saw two different sites with claims to tomb of Jesus after the crucifixion. That we cannot know if the places we visited are the exact locations of Jesus’s biggest moments did not make them less significant or awe striking. I still stood on, breathed in, washed my feet with the same dirt, air, and water as God in flesh. The connection is palpable for those lucky enough to visit.

Despite the speculative nature of the tour, there was one similarity among all the sites.

Prayers in rocks along the coast at the Mount of Beatitudes. The supposed site of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew/Sermon on the Plain in Luke.

People left prayers. On tiny pieces of paper, stuck into whatever crevice or rock or break in the stones they could find, people let the land swallow their prayers.

I knew people famously left prayers at the Wailing Wall,

Prayers in the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall.

with its connection to the Temple Mount, but people also leave prayers everywhere else.

By day three, I was so struck by this practice, I started leaving the prayers I had brought for the Western Wall all over Israel. It made sense to me to leave prayers for our journey along Jesus’s trail. After all, it’s not just at the Temple we come to know God but at the breakfast table and the front porch, in prisons and out in nature.

Prayers in the rocks at Christi Mensa. "Christ's Table" is a site along the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is believed to have appeared to disciples after the resurrection to share breakfast.

The people who leave notes by the Sea of Galilee do so because they expect God to show up there the same as God shows up in the Temple.

In every part of our life, God has the capacity to break in.

Matthew 24: 36-44 is a gospel excerpt often highjacked by people who enjoy using apocalyptic texts to service fear-based preaching. I suppose it’s possible to be afraid of being left behind if you ignore the comparison to Noah, in whose story the people “swept away” are destroyed and those left (i.e. Noah and his family) are the ones who escape death (v. 38-41). I also suppose it’s possible to believe there is a formula for calculating the date of the end of time, if you ignore that Jesus said neither he nor the angels know “about that day or time” (v. 36). If we can leave these outdated and lazy hermeneutics behind, we can hear this as a passage primarily about God’s ability to intervene in our lives at any time and in any place.

Prayers in the natural wall inside the Church of St. Anne, a church built north of the Temple Mount. It marks the home of the traditional site of the Jesus's maternal grandparents, Anne and Joachim, the birthplace of the mother Mary.

As people of faith, we are not merely to live as spectators or speculators about the future God promises in which the poor are kingdom owners, the hungry made full, the reviled brought to a place of honor. We can live with some ease knowing that the God who promises to come among us again always keeps his promises. We do not need to guess when God will come, in fact we cannot. Promises, as Brueggeman writes, do not depend “on the natural possibilities inherent in the present” instead, the promises we tout as Christians may seem “unrealistic by current standards”.[1]  But, even if we can’t calculate the timing of God’s fullness, we are bound by his promise to be future oriented people. People who expect to see God at work, and maybe even God all in all.

In a time when there seems only to be increasing bad news—the drug problem gets worse, there are more unhoused folks than the shelters can take in, the political divide gets wider—it can seem that God’s vision for a world of equity and abundance is a dream disconnected from reality, but God does not depend on what we can see or what our present practices can imagine.

This passage is about God’s hope for the world coming to fruition in the Son of the Man, who enters not only when he is invited but also when we try our best to ignore him in our tasks or lock him out of our homes. At our best we are acting like people who can see God’s future. We are doing those things which Matthew’s gospel describes in chapter 25—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting the stranger, clothing the naked and looking after the sick and imprisoned. But even when we can’t or don’t or won’t do those things, even when we are complicit in the bad news leaking from every corner, we have hope.

God breaks in. God isn’t just in the temple. God has the capacity to show up in every place.

As such, Advent is not a time of waiting for Christmas. It is a time of waiting for the second Advent, a time of remembering the promises made in the person of Jesus Christ. The child has come, thanks be to God. Now, we renew our commitment to a God who promises the fullness of what Jesus started, a God who is making all things new. God does not need us in order to enact his vision for the world, but it is a great joy to those who are awake to anticipate God with faithfulness.

[1] Brueggemann, W.,  Cousar, C. B., Gaventa, B. R., Newsome, J.D. (Eds.).  (1995). Texts for preaching: Year A, A Lectionary commentary based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Publishing. p. 8

Follow this link for an Advent Study specially written for small groups and individual reflection
during the season of Advent by Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball.