Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. V. Lord, you have blessed your land: you have put an end to Jacob’s captivity. (Philippians 4:4-6; Psalm 85:1)These are the opening words of the Roman Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent, which takes its name from the incipit (opening words) of this Introit: Gaudete! Rejoice!
So we are come to Gaudete Sunday, one of the two days a year when we can trot out our rose vestments and altar hangings, should we be so opulently blessed as to have them (which most of us are not).
[I do have several yards of rose moiré fabric but have yet to turn them into a chasuble and stole. Christ may come for me before that happens.]
We are one week closer to the Feast of the Nativity than we were last Sunday, one week closer to the consummation of the ages, one week closer to our death.
Oh yes, our Advent tradition has not forgotten The Last Things. Advent is nothing if not all about being ready to meet our Lord. At every level. In every sense. On every occasion. Everywhere. Every day. Every moment.
God doesn't just come for us once and there's the end of it.
God comes to us and for us repeatedly. God walked with Adam and Eve. God came to Abram to call him and Sarai into an unknown place and unknown future. God came to Moses on Mount Horeb/Sinai. God came to the prophets, placing a message in their mouths and igniting a fire in their hearts. Christians see the culmination of God's continuing drawing near to us in the Incarnation, in the eternal Word taking on flesh and joining to us intimately and forever. This is why Christmas is such a high feast and why it takes us Twelve Days to celebrate it.
Immanuel: God with us. This is one of the key messages of the entire Bible.
Advent reminds us to prepare for God's presence, to be ready for God's coming, to cleanse our hearts and purify our minds and mostly to WAKE UP! We cannot go about our lives in a stupor, half-awake at best, our minds and hearts clouded with torpor, unaware and shrouded in illusion.
Christ has promised to be with us always, which means he abides with us. He is always present, at home in our hearts and in our midst. Given the quality of our readiness and our hospitality, this is an amazing miracle bespeaking incomprehensible grace on God's part.
Not only is Christ perpetually present with us, he also visits us afresh each day. We know that what we do to the least among us is done to Christ, and this means he comes to us in many guises.
Our Baptismal Covenant reminds us to seek and serve Christ in each person. Each. Person.
The homeless vet and the AWOL assshole in the White House who sent him to a pointless war and didn't support benefits when he got home. Well, there you go. I didn't do a good job of seeking and serving Christ in W, did I? It's an ongoing challenge. Much easier to lobby for veteran's health care or give a buck or two to the homeless vet on the street. (If I stop and do it, but most often I don't.) I've struck out big time already.
The immigrant and the elderly, the officious and the obnoxious, the frightened and the frightening. Each. Person.
The person I (accidentally?) cut off on the freeway and the person who nearly got us all killed passing at 95 mph. The person whose review I have to write this week and the boss who din't give me a raise this year. The friend who worked the precincts to defeat Heather Wilson (NM-01) last year and the relative who donated big bucks to her. The CEO of the big oil company and the widow who cannot afford oil (or coal) to heat her house this winter. Each. Person. Because Jesus loves every last one of them. And comes to us in each of them.
He may not have much patience for the ones who oppress and abuse others, but they too are made in God's image and Jesus died for them as much as for anyone else.
Once when at the Oakland International Airport waiting for my beloved to debark and emerge from the jetway I made a practice of silently saying to myself as each person came through the door, "The Body of Christ." Wow. I saw them all in a new light that evening.
If only I were that enlightened more often.
So, when is Christ coming to me? For me? The Second Coming in my lifetime? (And here I heed the admonitions of Mystical Seeker who is frustrated with our talk in worship about things as though they were absolutely literal and we knew what they meant when they are mysteries wrapped in layers of symbolism and ultimately we don't really know what they are or will be like....--so, I don't really know what the Second Coming will be like, all the biblical imagery notwithstanding. I think it is a profound symbol for God bringing things to fulfillment and the full flowering of God's life and love in and through all things, but that is pretty vague. I hold that hope and belief, but I cannot make it literal for you, nor do I believe anyone can.)
Will that Second Coming for me be death? Is that when I get ushered into the fulness? Is that tonight? Next week? Five, ten, twenty years from now? Before I finish typing this sentence? (Well, obviously not that last one, but I really don't know that either.)
So the Advent message comes with a pointed force when I ask questions like this. Wake up! Be ready! Be found doing what you are supposed to be doing.
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (James 5:7-10)The farmer cannot make the crops grow or the rain fall. But the farmer must do her part, furrowing, planting, weeding, irrigating, tending, harvesting. What is not planted does not grow. What is not harvested rots in the field. Patience is a mixture of waiting and doing. We cannot sit back, neither can we control what takes place. Such, indeed, is the art of living--engagement without attachment. We do our part. And we trust. Both go together. It is wrong to separate them.
What sort of planting are we to do? What will our harvest look like? What are the fruits of the reign of God? How can we know we are about God's business?
Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ (Matthew 11:4-6)Our lives, if they are to follow in Christ's pattern, are to be spent in serving others, setting free, making whole, bringing Good News. It is not a work we can do on our own or control. Neither is it one that will happen if we do nothing. As has often been said: We cannot do it without God and God will not do it without us.
If it were up to us alone, I should clearly despair, given our track record. And yet...
And yet grace happens amid the bleakest circumstances. Courage arises amid danger and uncertainty. Compassion flows without a thought of oneself. Love blossoms in the unlikeliest places. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness neither understands nor overcomes it.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.’
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.