Saturday, November 27, 2010

Waiting for Jesus

Matthew 24 36-44; Romans 13:11-14


Today we begin a new church year, the year of reading Matthew.  Matthew’s Gospel is written to Jewish Christians, intentionally including details that show Jesus to be the new Moses,  and the new King David. This King will lead God’s people in a new, more faithful direction.
Advent is the season of waiting, waiting for the birth of Jesus, again.  But we don’t get to start with the birth, or even the genealogy, 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. The lectionary calls for us to begin at the end of Jesus’ life, so we can never forget that Jesus’ birth had a purpose: death on the cross, and life after that death. As the people of Israel waited for a new King David, a new prophet like Moses, in Advent, we wait, and we get ready. We decorate, we count the weeks, we shop.
… And we party. When we get ready for company,  Mike and I clear away the clutter, and ask our house cleaner to come and clean a day or two before guests arrive. On the day our guests are due, I touch up the bathrooms and kitchen, and make sure the cats’ litter boxes are fresh. I get the dishes and glasses and silverware ready, as well as the serving pieces. If I am cooking a meal, I plan the timing for the various items so everything comes out at roughly the same time. I try to give myself a few moments to rest, and to change clothes just before guests arrive. I imagine you all do similar things. You may also choose to decorate, cut fresh flowers, light candles, and much more. I usually never get around to that.
That’s what we do when people are invited. But, what do you do if people show up unexpectedly? Some of you may always have your houses so clean, they are always ready for company, and unexpected guests are no big deal.  My attitude has usually been that those who come unannounced deserve to see the house as it normally is. Don’t get out your white gloves – they’ll get dusty! Beware the stacks of books and magazines, all partially read.  You’ll need to brush off your clothes when you leave, since they’ll be full of cat hair.
What would you do if Jesus came to visit? If you knew he was coming, you would probably give the house an extra-thorough cleaning, get out your best dishes and clothes, put the big Bible on the coffee table, and wear your best clothes.
But what about if Jesus showed up unexpectedly, with your house dusty and cluttered, you wearing your most casual clothing, and next to nothing in the refrigerator to serve him?
In the Gospel reading, we hear that Jesus will come again, but when and how he comes is unknown, except to God. It appears that his return will be a cosmic, gigantic event. Jesus warns that one will be taken and another left. Lutheran and many other scholars agree that what Jesus meant by these statements is that those who are taken are the unbelievers. Those who believe in Jesus will be left to continue his ministry. They will be like Noah’s family who alone were saved from the flood when the others ignored the warnings.
Jesus is warning his followers then – and now – that it is important to be ready.  But we need to find a balance in our readiness. If we are constantly on the alert, watching to make sure we are always perfect, we won’t really be ourselves, to each other or to Jesus. If our houses have to be perfectly ready for Jesus, all the time, we will be living fake lives, much like the Pharisees Jesus tried so hard to reach.  
If we think, it’s been so long since Jesus said he’s coming back, maybe he’s never coming back, or it’s going to be thousands more years before he returns, we begin to think we can live any way we want to and forget about God and Jesus, then Jesus won’t recognize us as believers.
We need to find a middle ground, somewhere between constant anxiety and total oblivion regarding Jesus’ return.  Some obvious ways are to pray daily, worship regularly, attend Bible study, volunteer our gifts and talents to help the church and the people in the community, and give generously of the abundance God has given us.  We must not just go through the motions, but do these things with our hearts, intentionally honoring God with our actions.
The Apostle Paul reminds us of our baptism; he says “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are clothed with Christ, bearing him in our hearts and spirits. Jesus lives within each of us, not just in the space around us, or in that mysterious somewhere we call heaven. When we meet others, we can remember that Jesus lives within them, too. When we welcome those who come, expectedly or unexpectedly, into our lives we have an opportunity to welcome Jesus. 
… Mary once told me about her experiences riding the commuter trains in Chicago. She always tried to get to know the person sitting beside her. She wanted to know their name, how many were in their family, where they lived, where they worked, and where they worshiped. Often, the conversation lasted the full 30 or 40 minutes of the train ride. Mary wasn’t content to politely smile at her fellow passenger and return to her book. She wanted to meet the Jesus inside the passenger.
… Advent is about waiting. Being faithful Christians is about waiting with purpose. Jesus has put us on earth to do ministry in his name.  Instead of waiting and watching for Jesus to return in cosmic power, we can look for Jesus in our every day lives, in every person-to-person encounter we have.
We don’t need a clean house; we don’t need the right food with the right timing; we don’t even need to be at home; we do need to be ready to see Jesus in everyone we meet. So, this week, as you clean and cook and decorate and make plans, be alert for those chance – or maybe not so chance – encounters. The people you chat with this week are clothed in Christ, and bear Christ in their hearts; try to see Jesus within them.
Please pray with me: Jesus, you promised so long ago to return. Sometimes, we get so caught up in day-to-day living that we forget to even look for you. Help us to find you wherever you are, including within ourselves and each other. Amen