Posted by: dacalu | 3 December 2012

Advent and Time Travel

This evening, I was blessed to be with the Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopal Campus Ministries at the University of Arizona for our annual Ecumenical Advent Service.  Here is the sermon I gave

Readings

Jeremiah 33:14-16 (The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise…)

Psalm 25:1-9 (To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;)

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 (How can we thank God enough for you)

Luke 21:25-36 (“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars…”)

 

Sermon

Time is a tricky thing.

Sometimes it seems to stick to you, clinging and weighing you down.

When will the semester end?  When will school end?  When will I be independent?

Other times it becomes slippery and evades your grasp.

Where did all the time go?  Why didn’t I spend more time with him? Or her?

Time is relative, and shifting.

A famous theologian once said:

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect,

but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint,

it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.”

Well, maybe it wasn’t a theologian (It’s from the Dr. Who episode, “Blink”),

but the point remains.

Time is much messier and harder to understand than we want it to be.

 

We celebrate the church year for a number of reasons,

but chiefly, I suspect, so that we can get a grasp on time as it goes by.

The church seasons are a way of marking and sanctifying time.

Every week we remember the six days of creation and the day of rest.

Every Sunday we recall the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

with us and for us.

We orient ourselves to sacred time,

so that we see ourselves as part of the sacred story

and the sacred story as part of ourselves.

 

Keeping time can be hard for this generation,

and I include myself in that;

I’m thinking of generation X down to millenials and whatever comes next.

We find it difficult to maintain the same routine,

day after day, week after week, year after year.

But it is a valuable thing,

a prayer and a meditation that helps bring us closer to God.

We sanctify the week and the year with our observances.

 

 

This Sunday marks the beginning of the church year.

We celebrate the life of Jesus and the life of the world

with every passing of the seasons.

Jesus’ birth or incarnation at Christmas,

God’s presence among us during Epiphany,

Jesus’ ministry and challenges during Lent,

his suffering and passion in Holy Week,

and his resurrection in Easter.

And then comes the season of Pentecost,

when we remember that we are the Body of Christ

made present to the world by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And around we come to the beginning of the cycle again,

but this time, we await not only the first coming of Jesus,

the incarnation,

we also await the second coming,

the end and fulfillment of life in this world.

 

So I think of this Sunday as Alpha and Omega Sunday,

or the apocalypse in a bottle.

Apocalypse is an interesting word,

the more so this year, when there is so much hype about 2012.

You’d think we would’ve gotten over that in 2000,

but no.

We think apocalypse means the end of the world,

and in a way it does,

but it also means the beginning.

The word comes to us, curiously as the first word of the last book of the Bible.

The author writes:

apokalypsis iEsou Christou, the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Greek word means to lift the veil, to see clearly.

 

This, by the way, is why Bible scholars get so upset

when you call it the book of Revelations (plural)

instead of the Revelation (singular).

It is not a series of visions, which John of Patmos had,

it is a single account of the revelation of Christ at the end of time.

 

 

Now for the hard part.

Jesus says:  “Truly I tell you,

this generation will not pass away

until all things have taken place.

Heaven and earth will pass away,

but my words will not pass away.”

What does this mean?

Are we to take it literally, as the early Christians did?

Are we to believe that the end of the world will come in our lifetimes?

That seems … unsatisfactory.

Perhaps 100 generations have come and gone since that time,

and we have been warned that

“no one knows about that day or hour, except the Father.”

Alternatively, we could take it as some vague metaphor,

but I am not inclined to think God speaks so obscurely.

I think that time is complicated.

I think that there is one history, a history of the world,

that runs from Creation through Incarnation to the Apocalypse,

from the beginning of time to the end of days.

I think that there is a second history, a history for each of us,

that runs from our creation through our birth until our death.

And the second history, God willing,

mirrors the first.

We each have our moment of crisis and trial.

We each will experience moments of transcendence,

when we have a chance to see God and reality unveiled,

Jesus coming in all his splendor.

We each, if the analogy suits you,

live through the great battle

between the children of light and the children of darkness.

We each “will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”

 

 

This is not to deny the historical sense,

the story of the world sense.

I do believe that Jesus

will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead

and his kingdom will have no end.

And, as with personal resurrection in the flesh,

so too, I believe the world will be reincarnated.

I believe that there will be a new heaven and a new Earth,

that I will see my redeemer in the flesh,

and I shall see my God face to face.

And I cannot tell you how the two stories fit together … yet.

I cannot tell you how my redemption

matches up with the redemption of the world,

though I suspect they are related.

Still, I have faith in each,

and in both.

 

Perhaps time travel is the right metaphor after all,

for, while we are traveling through history,

we are also on our own pilgrimages,

our own paths toward the heavenly kingdom.

And with Paul, I give thanks for fellow travelers.

“How can we thank God enough for you

in return for all the joy that we feel

before our God because of you?”

It is not a pilgrimage to be taken alone,

but one that we take with others,

a road we travel with a great cloud of witnesses,

saints living in this world, and saints passed on to the next.

 

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down

with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life,

and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.”

There will be signs, and there will be a great Apocalypse,

but there will also be a personal journey and personal signs.

As we mark the week and year to remember the great arc of history,

so God makes plain the salvation of the world

in the salvation of each and every soul that passes into light.

 

 

Christianity is the art of becoming,

we, with the world, are being transformed into something greater,

something more magnificent, beautiful, and holy

than we could have asked or imagined.

It is not a simple journey, or easy.

It requires patience sometimes

and decisive action at others.

It requires following sometimes

and forging a new path at others.

But I think we will always be on the right path,

if we remember this rule:

“What can we do that unveils the glory of God?”

“How can we see God revealed in our lives?”

and “How can we be the revelation of Jesus Christ in the world?”

I call it an art and not a science,

for no one can tell you exactly where or when the opportunity will arrive.

No one in this life can explain fully how, or when, or even why,

but we do know that all things are coming to their proper end.
We know that despite the barrenness of winter,

in spite of trials and tribulations,

the tree of life will bear fruit.

And it will happen in your lifetime …

one way or another.

 

This Advent, this Christmas, I invite you to think about the Apocalypse,

the unveiling of Jesus Christ,

dare I say, the unwrapping of a gift,

the present God gives us of reality,

marked not only in the fabric of time and space,

but on the fabric of our very souls,

or core and our reality.

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