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First Sunday of Advent, Year A

Matthew 24:37-44 - link to NRSV text

There's a Costco warehouse shop right on my way home from work, and I stop by there frequently to pick up something for dinner. Those vast warehouses can be a little overwhelming any time of year, but it's even more overwhelming at the moment, because several aisles form a gauntlet of Christmas things -- fiber-optic laser displays that flash "SANTA STOP HERE," mechanical snowmen who wave at you with a smile that looks a little too much to me like a maniacal leer, and all kinds of gadgets squawk electronic tidings ahead of the season.

But it isn't Christmastime yet. We're in the season of Advent, and time of prayerful reflection and keen watching for Christ's coming.

This is not the second coming of Christ. We call that one "Easter." It's not the third coming we're looking for either. Wherever two or three have gathered in Jesus' name since Easter, Jesus has come among them, so we must be on about the ummpteen kajillionth coming. The coming, or "advent," we look forward to in this season is, in a sense, as mundane and as special as all of those other "advents" have been. It's all of those other "advents," all comings of Christ from the Incarnation up to this Sunday morning, that informs us about what the final Advent, the coming of Christ we look forward to during this liturgical season, really means.

So the first thing to know about the final Advent of Christ is that the person we are expecting in it is JESUS. That's the Good News of Advent. We've met and we know the person who is God's appointed judge for the nations, and it's Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, the healer and teacher, founder of the feast and friend to tax collectors and sinners.

What we expect in Advent is the completion of the work of Creation, when God made the world and us and said, "It is good," and the work of the Incarnation, when God lived as a human being among us and showed us in one package what real humanity and real divinity look like. And in the end, that real humanity and real divinity looks like it did in the beginning and in the middle. It's Jesus, the Word of God from the beginning. It's the Jesus we've known since he was first revealed to us, and he is concerned in the end with the same things he was concerned with before his crucifixion.

A look at this Sunday's reading in its immediate context in Matthew makes that clear. Our gospel for this Sunday begins a series of parables with the theme, "be ready for Jesus' coming." I think that Matthew paired the last two parables in that series deliberately in a way that makes clear just why Jesus' coming is Good News and what it is that we do to be ready for it.

The first of these "twins" is Matthew's version of the "Parable of the Ruthless Master" (which I think is a better title than "Parable of the Talents" is; I blogged about this last week). This parable illustrates how earthly masters use their power, and what results: the rich get richer, and the poor suffer even more.

In Matthew, this parable is immediately followed with a description of what it will look like when Jesus' work among us is completed, "when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him" (Matthew 25:31), and it's the opposite of what happens when the "Ruthless Master" of the previous parable is ruling: the hungry and those who fed them, those without clean water to drink and those who gave them water to drink, the strangers and those who welcomed them, those without clothes and those who clothed them, and the prisoners with those who visited them, are gathered in to the center, to enjoy God's kingdom, while those who failed to address the real needs of those people -- those who buy into the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer" system of the Ruthless Master -- are left in the darkness in which they left others.

A lot of people think, or even hope (or despair) that things will never change, that the Ruthless Masters of this world have the last word. If that were so, if the "way of the world" these masters set up were really the way things are always going to be, then the most sensible course of action for us would probably be to do what the others who served the Ruthless Master did: Keep your head down. Work hard. Line the master's pockets, and maybe there will be something in it for you too. If somebody else loses, tell yourself it's probably their own fault, or just ignore them altogether.

But this Sunday's gospel, and this season of Advent, proclaim Good News to God's people. The Ruthless Masters do NOT have the last word; Jesus does. The completion of Jesus' vision for the world, in which "the least of these" and those who worked for justice for them are finally vindicated, is coming! The signs are all around us, though some people don't recognize them any more than the kings of the earth recognized their Lord when he was a baby, or a homeless man, or a convict on a cross.

Jesus is coming. Will we recognize him? The best way to know, deep down, is to get lots of practice. Whatever we do for "the least of these," we do for Jesus. If we want to see Jesus and know Jesus, if we want to experience the Good News that Jesus is coming, we need to listen to the stories, the hopes, and the concerns of "the least of these." If we want Jesus to recognize us as a neighbor, we must become neighbors to "the least of these, building real community -- shared bread, shared dreams, shared vision -- with them. That shared vision is Jesus' vision. That shared hope is what makes the certain news of Jesus' coming Good News. That shared dream is coming true among us, and Jesus invites us to make it our own.

Thanks be to God!

November 22, 2004 in Advent, Eschatology, Matthew, Year A | Permalink

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Dylan's lectionary blog: First Sunday of Advent, Year A

« Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year C: Christ the King Sunday | Main | Second Sunday of Advent, Year A »

First Sunday of Advent, Year A

Matthew 24:37-44 - link to NRSV text

There's a Costco warehouse shop right on my way home from work, and I stop by there frequently to pick up something for dinner. Those vast warehouses can be a little overwhelming any time of year, but it's even more overwhelming at the moment, because several aisles form a gauntlet of Christmas things -- fiber-optic laser displays that flash "SANTA STOP HERE," mechanical snowmen who wave at you with a smile that looks a little too much to me like a maniacal leer, and all kinds of gadgets squawk electronic tidings ahead of the season.

But it isn't Christmastime yet. We're in the season of Advent, and time of prayerful reflection and keen watching for Christ's coming.

This is not the second coming of Christ. We call that one "Easter." It's not the third coming we're looking for either. Wherever two or three have gathered in Jesus' name since Easter, Jesus has come among them, so we must be on about the ummpteen kajillionth coming. The coming, or "advent," we look forward to in this season is, in a sense, as mundane and as special as all of those other "advents" have been. It's all of those other "advents," all comings of Christ from the Incarnation up to this Sunday morning, that informs us about what the final Advent, the coming of Christ we look forward to during this liturgical season, really means.

So the first thing to know about the final Advent of Christ is that the person we are expecting in it is JESUS. That's the Good News of Advent. We've met and we know the person who is God's appointed judge for the nations, and it's Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, the healer and teacher, founder of the feast and friend to tax collectors and sinners.

What we expect in Advent is the completion of the work of Creation, when God made the world and us and said, "It is good," and the work of the Incarnation, when God lived as a human being among us and showed us in one package what real humanity and real divinity look like. And in the end, that real humanity and real divinity looks like it did in the beginning and in the middle. It's Jesus, the Word of God from the beginning. It's the Jesus we've known since he was first revealed to us, and he is concerned in the end with the same things he was concerned with before his crucifixion.

A look at this Sunday's reading in its immediate context in Matthew makes that clear. Our gospel for this Sunday begins a series of parables with the theme, "be ready for Jesus' coming." I think that Matthew paired the last two parables in that series deliberately in a way that makes clear just why Jesus' coming is Good News and what it is that we do to be ready for it.

The first of these "twins" is Matthew's version of the "Parable of the Ruthless Master" (which I think is a better title than "Parable of the Talents" is; I blogged about this last week). This parable illustrates how earthly masters use their power, and what results: the rich get richer, and the poor suffer even more.

In Matthew, this parable is immediately followed with a description of what it will look like when Jesus' work among us is completed, "when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him" (Matthew 25:31), and it's the opposite of what happens when the "Ruthless Master" of the previous parable is ruling: the hungry and those who fed them, those without clean water to drink and those who gave them water to drink, the strangers and those who welcomed them, those without clothes and those who clothed them, and the prisoners with those who visited them, are gathered in to the center, to enjoy God's kingdom, while those who failed to address the real needs of those people -- those who buy into the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer" system of the Ruthless Master -- are left in the darkness in which they left others.

A lot of people think, or even hope (or despair) that things will never change, that the Ruthless Masters of this world have the last word. If that were so, if the "way of the world" these masters set up were really the way things are always going to be, then the most sensible course of action for us would probably be to do what the others who served the Ruthless Master did: Keep your head down. Work hard. Line the master's pockets, and maybe there will be something in it for you too. If somebody else loses, tell yourself it's probably their own fault, or just ignore them altogether.

But this Sunday's gospel, and this season of Advent, proclaim Good News to God's people. The Ruthless Masters do NOT have the last word; Jesus does. The completion of Jesus' vision for the world, in which "the least of these" and those who worked for justice for them are finally vindicated, is coming! The signs are all around us, though some people don't recognize them any more than the kings of the earth recognized their Lord when he was a baby, or a homeless man, or a convict on a cross.

Jesus is coming. Will we recognize him? The best way to know, deep down, is to get lots of practice. Whatever we do for "the least of these," we do for Jesus. If we want to see Jesus and know Jesus, if we want to experience the Good News that Jesus is coming, we need to listen to the stories, the hopes, and the concerns of "the least of these." If we want Jesus to recognize us as a neighbor, we must become neighbors to "the least of these, building real community -- shared bread, shared dreams, shared vision -- with them. That shared vision is Jesus' vision. That shared hope is what makes the certain news of Jesus' coming Good News. That shared dream is coming true among us, and Jesus invites us to make it our own.

Thanks be to God!

November 22, 2004 in Advent, Eschatology, Matthew, Year A | Permalink

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