Year A, First Sunday of Advent
Psalm 122 is one of a series of fifteen psalms that include the title Shir Hama’alot—song of ascents. It is generally presumed that these are songs of pilgrimage, evoking the ascent of pilgrims to the hilltop city of Jerusalem. Three obligatory annual pilgrim festivals are included in the Torah, the Mosaic law, although the destination of those pilgrimages is not identified. Following the biblical narrative, Jerusalem would not have been established or become the locus of Israelite worship until well after the Mosaic law had been written.
The city of Jerusalem
By the time of the events of the New Testament, Jerusalem has become the destination for pilgrimage and we see Jesus, on a number of occasions, attending, not attending, even saying that he will not attend and then secretly attending, pilgrim festivals. In the Book of Acts, the Church is born on the pilgrim festival of Pentecost, the Greek name for the festival of Shavuot, the festival of weeks, as pilgrims from many nations gather to offer the first fruits of their harvest at the temple in Jerusalem.
Matthew 24:36-44: Jesus Is Coming. Get Busy!
Today, we begin a new liturgical year. In the Episcopal Church our year runs from the first Sunday of Advent through Christ the King Sunday. So, the year begins with a time of prayerful, expectant waiting, waiting for the coming of the Messiah, God’s anointed one. With the new liturgical year, we begin reading from a different Gospel story, passing through each of the first three gospels in annual succession. This year we read mainly from the Gospel of Matthew. And, we pick up in Matthew right where we left off in Luke two weeks ago before we made that surprising jump last week to the crucifixion for Christ the King Sunday. Jesus warns of the tumult that is to come when the Son of Man returns in power and great glory.
My mother law, devout and dedicated Episcopalian/Anglican that she is, is also a bit of a prankster. Seeing that I needed a coaster for hot drinks on my piano at home she bought one for me with a nice picture of Jesus, shepherd’s crook in hand, wearing a purple robe, knocking at a wooden door. You know, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
Except that’s not what the coaster says. The coaster says, “Jesus is coming, look busy.” Which is funny, I think, exactly because sometimes we’re not sure how we feel about Jesus coming again. What will he think about how our lives as individuals and communities are going? As the artist formally known as Prince once sang, “Would our Lord be happy, if he came today?” Maybe, when the Lord arrives, it would be best if we just tried to look busy so it doesn’t seem like any of the bad stuff going on around us could possibly be our responsibility. Don’t blame me, I’m too busy just minding my own business.
Now, there are many aspects of our lives that are going well. We are caring, prayerful, faithful people—helping those in need, supporting each other, praising God. But, forget the thief breaking into the owner’s house that Jesus spoke about in today’s Gospel. What if the owner of this house—the house of our communities and nations, of the whole earth—came back at an unexpected hour, how would things look to him?
Maybe it’s like this: mom and dad go on an extended vacation. They’ve got, say, a year-long around-the-world ticket, so it’s not entirely clear when they will return. They leave the beautiful family home in the responsible hands of their five teenage and young adult children. You might say, to use a biblical term, the kids have dominion over the family house and garden. After the parents leave, everything is fine for a while, but soon, well, there’s no other way to say it, all hell brakes loose. Like the people in the time of Noah, the kids were eating and drinking and a host of other things while the ’rents were away. And things end up sort of like in the movie Risky Business, but without Tom Cruise’s dramatic catch of his mom’s favorite glass egg or the speed clean up once the party is over. Cracked windows, salsa stains on the carpet, the limited edition Picasso print sold for beer money, a broken garage door, the roses trampled in the front yard and so on. Meanwhile, youngest brother has a black eye from fighting with oldest brother, sister has been in her room for days crying from being teased relentlessly by her brothers, the two middle brothers are yelling at each other in the kitchen in the most colorful language imaginable. And guess who walks in the door at an unexpected hour?
Yup, mom and dad.
Mom and dad are loving, progressive parents, so they forgive their children the mayhem and destruction that they witness. They, too, were young once and they know that things happen. Nevertheless, boy are they pissed!
It’s time to look busy! Or better yet, it’s time to get busy—busy cleaning up the mess we’ve made, in particular, given our Advent study theme, cleaning up the mess we’ve made creating vast plastic islands in our oceans, turning our air brown with vehicular and industrial exhaust, poisoning our rivers, tearing down once mighty mountains. No one would run a house this way, so why God’s magnificent earth? And part of that work will be getting un-busy as it is so much our obsession with activity and productivity that is at the root of the problem. We have forgotten how to be still and know that God is God.
That’s one part of the story I just told. The other is that it’s time to get busy getting along with each other—recognizing each other as equal members of God’s family regardless of the color of our skin, our language, or our country of origin.
Over the next months we will be addressing both of these topics as a community. First, during our Caring for Creation program this Advent and second, perhaps as a Lenten program, a series of conversations about seeing beyond difference, living into what we called last week Jesus’ kingship of kinship. I look forward to continuing this essential, holy work with you as we look and wait expectantly for the coming of Messiah Jesus.