(1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Mark 13:24-37) J G White
1st Sunday of Advent, Dec 3, 2017, UBC Digby
It’s that time of year – time for me to get my gifts in order to send in the mail. So the annual family calendar is put together, with photos of family members and my own photos of scenery and birds from the year that is past. Fifteen or twenty family and friends will get my calendar again this year.
Now, every Christmas gift that arrives at my door I like to keep wrapped up until December 25th, or later. I don’t want to open anything early. I like to have as many surprises as possible at Christmas. Do you?
Not everyone is like this. My Aunt Jeannie, for instance. She is famous in the family for opening things early. Each year, when I drop off the calendar to her ahead of time – wrapped in Christmas paper – she soon would have it opened. On Dec. 10th I read on facebook a note from Jeannie: “Thanks for the calendar, Jeff & Sharon.”
Last year I decided to play at trick on Aunt Jeannie. I wrapped up a pile of scrap paper as if it was the calendar, and that’s what I gave her before Christmas. Only after the 25th did I drop off the real gift – the calendar.
Wanting to sneak in and open the gifts… or wanting to save the surprise! This is Advent. We are in tension: an in between time. We start, today, preparing for the arrival of Jesus the Saviour. We also know the whole story, and we have already started to decorate and have parties and sing the carols. It was not always this way in history.
Friday evening we sang The Twelve Day of Christmas. British hymnologist, Andrew Gant, suggests that
something of the generous spirit of the twelve-day holiday survives in this sprightly carol, even if nowadays we do Christmas in the wrong order. We put our decorations up and file dutifully into our carol services during Advent, or even earlier. Christmas effectively ends, rather than begins, on December 25th.
Advent, for the Church, is billed as a season of preparation for the real celebrations. Advent is also about the second advent of the Messiah, the second coming.
It has been many centuries now for Christians to be an in between people. In between the arrival of Jesus born Bethlehem, and the second arrival, His future return. For almost two millenia now the saints have waited.
We remember the death of Jesus today, with shared bread and fruit of the vine. I so often, at the table, quote the words of the Apostle Paul from scripture. For as often as you eat of this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Until Jesus comes back.
That’s what our two scripture readings are all about this morning. Words of Paul from that same letter; words of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel, his little apocalypse, chapter 13.
We are between advents. We are between things being hidden and things being revealed. We are between guilt and total forgiveness. We know about Jesus’ first arrival. We don’t know as much about the second. There are quite a few approaches to the Second Coming of Christ, the Day of the Lord, the Apocalypse, the Eschaton, the Parousia, the Second Advent, the Rapture, etc. As many names as the Bible experts have for it, there are as many theories about how it will happen.
Many Christians are quite keen on there being a real date in the future – maybe the near future – when Jesus will come back and we’ll go up.
Other believers are not quite expecting a literal moment in the future when this happens, but rather look for Jesus’ return to break into history at many times and places all through the present and the future.
Some of the faithful have the idea that the Kingdom of God is growing or being built now, and all the words about the return of Jesus are being realized bit by bit.
And maybe some of Jesus’ present day disciples think of His return being very close all the time, but never really quite happening; it will always be in the future.
So we are a people in between all these theories about the second Advent of Christ. Somehow, it is to be my proclamation to you that God is faithful, no matter what all these Bible promises mean. As Paul wrote: you are not lacking any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end. God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
God is the God of the in between times. All the in between times of life, I’m sure. And that’s good news. For being stuck in the middle of where we were and where we want to be is often uncomfortable and hard.
I’ve reflected on this when I remember the different people I have met this week who are in between – between one part of life and another. And I have seen so many others in similar situations. God has got to be there, in the long times of waiting.
I think of people I have seen this week who are like so many others. People between having faith in Christ and having no commitment. I remember back to a dear church friend in another town. I’ll call her Beth. She and her husband grew up in the same downtown Baptist Church. They married and settled in a different town – both serving as busy volunteers, taking turns as deacon, trustee, small group leader, all that. But regularly, in prayer times, Beth would have us pray for her father, a man who had never become a churchgoer, never made a commitment to Jesus Christ, as all the women in Beth’s family had done.
How many people are in between – between faith and no faith, joining a spiritual path and not joining? They remain in the hopes and prayers of you, their loved ones.
This week I have also thought of people who have been hanging in that place in between life and death. For Sharon and I got called in to visit with an elderly woman in palliative care, and her family. Like others I’ve known, the tiny body, under the covers, is quietly carrying on. After ten days of no food or water, her heart is still beating, lungs still breathing. Her mind, ravaged by alzheimer’s, is quiet under the morphine, but perhaps still aware of loved ones in the room, hearing their voices, feeling the touch of their hands, hour by hour. It is a long wait, that in between time.
The in between of life and death comes in many other forms, and in it all, the God of in betweens is there. It is a special time, a hard time, a sacred time. Jesus on the cross is God in between life and death. Remember God there.
And this week I have been aware again of the many in between people who are between home and home. The refugees in our world. I think Christmas will now always make me think of refugees, for it was two years ago on Decemeber 22 that Syrians Rema and Shekrallah Kenaan and their six children arrived in Digby from Lebanon.
I think of the transient people I have met in my towns, people who came for a while but did not get to stay. Like that thin young man in dark clothing who sat in a back pew one summer Sunday. He thought we were so fearful. These in between people have a life, and often rely upon the grace and goodness of us who are settled, but often too scared and skeptical to help. What does the God of in between times do in the lives of people who are so often between home and home? Remember Mary and Joseph and their little baby, fleeing to Egypt for a while, when Herod the ruler was having children executed. God knows.
And I see every week people who are doing their best at buying and selling their home – trying to make a move. Sometimes the waiting is long and confusing. Sometimes the deal is messy. Sometimes the move comes quickly and smoothly. Some of you are in this in between chapter. God is the God of these in between times, the in between people. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. So said Jesus about His Day. So His Spirit might say to us in our in between times.
We wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only the end of time, as we know it; the end of the situation we are in now. Look at how the Divine One is appearing in between, now. This is our Hope. AMEN.