Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44
Imagine with me a world without Harry Potter, or, at least if you can, your world before Harry. It’s a world without muggles, witches, Hogwarts, Horcruxes, lightning scars or He-who-must-not-be-named. Or, if you’re not a Rowlings fan, imagine a world without Narnia, Alice’s Rabbit hole, Middle Earth, the Matrix, angels or the spiritual world. It’s a world that looks stunningly like our own: normal, predictable, rational. Now I want you to remember back to that magical time you first set foot on Platform 9 ¾ or felt the crunch of snow as you passed through the back of the Wardrobe. Suddenly, two things become unavoidably clear: you’re not as smart as you thought you were, and second, you have a lot to learn!
This, my friends is the message of Advent. Today marks the first Sunday of the liturgical year and the first Sunday of Advent, a 4 week period of waiting and preparation prior to Christmas.
Whether you know the story Harry Potter or not, the point is equally illustrative for everyone: there are some things we don’t completely understand or comprehensively know yet. One thinks of science, a spouse, a family member, yourself. Or, the deepest longing of all: God. God, creator of heaven and earth. God, three in one. God, present everywhere and present here. God who says, “Were you there when I laid the foundation of the world?… Have you ever given orders to the morning or given dawn its place? (Job 38:4,12)” “My thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord.” “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than humanity’s strength (1 Corinthians 1:25).” What’s so beautiful about Advent is the reminder that we don’t know everything! We don’t have to, and God certainly doesn’t expect us to! Our gospel text says, “About that day no one knows, not the angels in heaven or even the son, only God (Matthew 24:36).” The ignorance I feel about God and God’s ways doesn’t condemn me. In advent, I’m learning to see ignorance as freedom. It frees me from the responsibility of perfection, and effectiveness.
This is exactly what our prophetic text is telling us from Isaiah 2: “In days to come…” in other words, maybe tomorrow, but not today. Transformation, relationship with God, peace: It’s not reality today, but it will be someday. There’s more, more more, so much more of God , and we stand on the threshold during Advent, bow our heads in dignified humility, and proclaim for all to hear, We need more! And we don’t do this once like an adolescent necessity or midlife crisis. We say the same thing year after year after year.
Advent is an annual invitation to humility. 4 weeks out of 52 set aside for us as followers of Jesus to play-act, to practice, the fine art of humility. It’s our chance to live out in liturgical form Paul’s words, “Not that I have already attained it or arrived.” No, no we haven’t. And so we wait on the edge of another world, hands sweating and heart pounding for the possibility of newness, and watch as others wiser than we charge ahead into the pillar at Platform 9 ¾.
But Advent is not just our humiliation, it is also an invitation to wake from our sleep, from the normalcy of daily life and embrace this upside down world that God is creating. In other words, we have a lot to learn! In all of these fantasy stories, the heroes become icons of the literary world precisely for their willingness to believe in and cross into this other world.
Our gospel text this morning challenges us to “Keep Awake,” keep looking for God in the world, keep searching for peace and goodness in the most unlikely places. The ultimate question is, “Will we, or won’t we, truly wake up to the purposes and life for which we have been called (Mark Labberton, pg 82ish)?”
And if we do decide to wake up to God, gospel, and the purpose of life, what would a life of wakeful waiting look like?
Would it be like so many modern day folks who live their lives and wait for God to do all the work in something called a “rapture?
Would it be instead like so many modern activists who work in desperation as if everything depended on them, and only them?
No, I don’t think it’s either of those two extremes. Instead, I think the lifestyle of wakeful waiting we are called to is living the eternal of kind of life now. We live today how God intends things to be in the future. As someone much wiser than me put it, “On earth, as it is in heaven.” Paul says it time and again that we are co-workers with God, working, because God is at work in us.
And what is this eternal kind of life we’re called to live this side of death? Isaiah pictures a world where the nations stream to God’s people who are an example of peace, who do not train for war, and who turn the instruments of war into tools for productivity. Jesus lives this life and clarified this vision, believing so strongly in Isaiah’s vision he was willing to die rather than deny its power.
Thus, Advent is not just a waiting on the birthday of Jesus. No, it is much more a celebration of God’s love for all by sending Jesus into the world. Advent is not just a waiting on the baby, but the man, the teachings, the life, the ministry, the presence of God in our midst. And thus it is a calling to enter deeper and more holistically into the world, like Jesus. Our Christian faith “doesn’t take us out of this world, it deliberately and purposely sends us into the world (John 17:15,18). We still live in the same world, but we understand it differently. We still function within the same culture, but the windows and doors are thrown open, so we see what we didn’t before (Labberton, pg).”
“Peace on earth! Good will towards all.”
Don’t wait for the rapture or the Second Coming to bring reconciliation to your workplace- you embrace Isaiah’s vision and bring peace where now there is conflict! Don’t wait for the Baptists or your pastor to spread the word- you invite your neighbor to come to the house of God that they may walk in God’s path. Don’t expect local politicians to bring peace on your behalf- you go onto the streets and hallways of Houston and teach people the lifestyle of Jesus. After all, when the angel came announcing that very first advent, the message was simple: “I am bringing you good news of great joy (Luke 2:10)!” To believe in this alternative universe is to live the eternal kind of life now.
Advent is a waking up to the God-breathed world we live in: the 24-7-365 day presence of God at work in your life at home, at work, at school, at play, and yes, even at church. Like a fish in water our world is filled with God. Do we have eyes to see it? Will we take the risk and run through Platform 9 ¾, or will we remain asleep and run back into the consumerism that surrounds us at every corner? For those of you who have taken the leap, I invite you to take it again. The beauty of celebrating Christmas every year is that we’re reminded every year that we’re not as smart as we thought we were, and that we still have a lot to learn! “Transformation takes a lifetime of practice, patience and slow slow growth (Chittister,pg 60).” Commit for that slow, long journey of transformation. If, you haven’t yet taken the leap of belief in God’s new kingdom, I invite you to consider baptism. Baptism is the Christian’s Platform 9 ¾, an ancient way of praying that opens up God’s good new world to us in all its beauty and creativity. There’s nothing more fulfilling than following Jesus on this everlasting adventure, and I hope everyone here today embraces faith in the one true God.
This advent season, may you be reminded why Jesus came here in the first place. But most of all, may you be called to determine for yourself why you are here. AMEN.