Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent
Proper B ~ December 7, 2008
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
…with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity,
The Forerunner calls us to repent. This means, I think, to change our minds, open them up to something completely new, to expand our consciousness as we used to say. In a way, that was what the author of II Peter asked his readers to do, too.
There is general agreement that the early Church expected the Second Coming within their own lifetimes. It is obvious that Paul did (hence, his pains to reassure the Thessalonians that those who died before the Second Advent would not be any the worse off). But by the time of II Peter there was a different concern: why the delay? A long time had gone by since the Resurrection. Too long, to suit many. The passage we heard today leads some scholars to conclude that it is very late – maybe as late as mid-Second Century, making it the latest of New Testament writings. Why is the Second Advent delayed? In a way, we share this concern. Either “this generation shall not pass away until all be fulfilled,” or “a thousand ages in thy sight are but an evening gone” Like the readers of II Peter, we are in the latter camp.
Last week, I harshed on existentialism. Or rather a certain kind of existentialism. But I have to confess that I am an existentialist myself, in that I completely agree with Kierkegaard about the “leap of faith”: that part of the dignity and of human life is our responsibility for making a decision for or against meaning.
We make the same kind of choice regarding history: either it is meaningful or it isn’t. Modern scholars detect in the Hebrew Scriptures a thread of history-as-meaning thinking. Events are moving in an organized direction, just as the Hebrew slaves moved out of Egypt toward the Land of Promise, so the whole of human history is moving toward something. Something we just heard described by Isaiah: the Messianic Kingdom. But other modern theologians caution us against the 19th Century Hegelian idea that history itself is unfolding according to some inner principle of its own. Rather, the heilsgeschichte or “holy history” of the Bible is a record of God’s acts within history: external interventions, which do not proceed out of the world’s natural evolution, but which happen to the world, like asteroids crashing in from outer space.
Here is the value of apocalyptic writing, such as we heard last week: the expectation of that which is impossible to expect. And if it seems to be taking too long, as it did to those in the time of II Peter, just remember that it is a little silly to think that God operates according to our timetable. So, what are we to think of the time of waiting, the time before the Parousia, or Second Coming? Is it just meaningless? Back to the endless cycle of seasons, in which we just face up stoically, like good existentialists, to the meaninglessness of time? No. I don’t think so.
Our time is flooded with meaning, not by its own nature but from the future. If we will see them, there are signs of this future now:
Get you up to a high mountain, and
See, the Lord GOD comes with might
This time of ours is a time of expectation. Like pregnancy, it is a joyous expectation. Unlike that natural process, what we expect comes from outside, and not from within. Nevertheless the call of the Prophets is not to sit passively and wait. No. We are to Prepare the Way of the Lord. Fill in valleys and cut down mountains and change the world, so that the Lord will have a broad highway to come on.
The Psalm names that highway we are to prepare: peace.
Righteousness shall go before him,
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet
Righteousness ~ justice, that is ~ goes before Him. And the Peace of His Kingdom is not so much brought by Him as it is prepared for Him – the path that must be constructed for Him to walk upon. Shalom is inseparable from Tzedek. Peace and Justice are facets of the same jewel. And it is our job to prepare it. We must forsake our sins and repent. We ~ not just ME but WE as a society ~ must forsake every habit of injustice. We must also repent ~ change our minds so that we actually live in real expectation of the One Who is Coming, and open our consciousness to the Advent we are called to expect And proclaim from the mountaintops.
We cannot force Him to Come. We cannot conjure Him by our own preparations. Still, our work is a pre-condition of His Coming. It may be tomorrow or it may be millions of years in the future. For all we know, the Highway in the Wilderness may be measured in light years. The valleys to be exalted and the mountains to be made low may be new dimensions of time and space that we cannot even conceive. “A thousand ages in His sight are but an evening gone.” And that “generation [which] shall not pass away until all be fulfilled” may turn out to be the human race and whatever we are evolving toward. Those “cities of Judah” may be a trillion galaxies or even parallel universes, but the ancient prophet adjures us not to be afraid to lift up our voice, for we, the Church, are Jerusalem, the herald of Good tidings, and the news isn’t just for us, but for all creation ~ the whole cosmos.
We have to repent, you see, change our consciousness. Maybe the Church, 2000 years old, is nothing but a newborn infant, a couple of days old at most. We have not yet learned to walk or to speak, much less to understand our Mission and its incomprehensible vastness. Like a baby we are almost all potential ~ future possibility. God is pulling us into His future. His Messengers, the Prophets, appear as Emissaries from that future, calling us into ever-greater dimensions of being. And calling us to proclaim to all those numberless cities of Judah the Coming of the One Who will baptize us all with the Holy Spirit and with fire, when
the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
COME, LORD JESUS!