What are you waiting for?? Christmas? For the Dow to go back over 12,000? For the next national election? For Retirement?
All of life is waiting. We are born, and then we basically wait till we die. And we fill up the time in between with all sorts of activity and stuff. And the question of today’s readings is, ‘what do we wait for?’ What do we expect?
St Paul in the second reading today tells us in his typically round about and convoluted way: “I give thanks to my God ... for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus ... so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for (and here it comes!) - the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“The revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Is that what you are waiting for? What does this revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ mean, and more importantly, what’s in it for me? Well our belief is that Jesus, in his own body and soul conquered sin, and with it death, on the cross. Jesus, by His radical obedience, by His perfect harmony with the Will of the Father even unto death, healed the wound of disobedience that plagued all people. And in doing this Jesus healed humanity, and made it possible for us to live in accord and harmony with God’s Will for us, and so fulfill the purpose and meaning of our creation. No longer essentially frustrated from being who we most desperately and fundamentally yearn to be - that is, true children of God - we now have the opportunity to live in harmony with God.
The Lord Jesus Christ will be revealed at the end of time. We don’t know when this is, or very much what it will look like. However, we do know that when Jesus comes in Glory our true identity as children of God is going to be made real and manifest and triumphant. Then God’s Will will be done, and all people will live in harmony and peace with God, with each other, with their own inner selves, and with all creation. And that will be wonderful, fantastic, spectacular! It is something definitely to look forward to. So we “wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” as St. Paul today tells us.
But, ¿Do we wait for that? Do we long and yearn for that? Do we want the world to be the place that God wants it to be, a place of justice, of compassion, of care for the environment, of truth and beauty and love? That is what the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ will bring, and we are supposed to long for it.
There is a wonderful example of this longing in our first reading today. The Prophet Isaiah is discouraged and disgusted and fed up. All the news is bad, nothing is the way it is supposed to be. The government is corrupt, the bishops are out of touch and stuck in the past, the politicians can’t agree on the budget, the Euro is going down the toilet, there are riots and revolutions everywhere, the company you work for is going broke because of dumb mis-management, the family is all at odds with each other, the NBA season is on hold, Mopac and I-35 are parking lots, and it is just one miserable thing after another. And the Prophet Isaiah sees everything so badly screwed up and so out of whack that the only hope – the ONLY HOPE - he can see is God’s direct intervention. He cries: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.”
Have you ever felt like that? That everything is so bad off and so messed up that only God’s direct intervention can save this mess? I have. The Prophet Isaiah states, “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.” That is what we wait for; God’s direct intervention: or as St. Paul says, “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is important not only what we wait for, but how we do our waiting. That is the point of today’s Gospel. “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert!” The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates that as “Beware!” The Jerusalem Bible renders this warning as “Be on your guard!” In any case this is not a passive waiting, like in a doctor’s waiting room, a waiting of just killing time. Rather it is an active waiting that demands preparation and vigilance, like soldiers expecting an attack. We have to be actively involved in this waiting.
Jesus warns us: “You do not know when the time will come. ... Watch therefore;” The NRSV states, “Keep awake!” It is too easy for us to become complacent, and then NOT watchful. We are then unaware, we are asleep spiritually.
We either become cynical: nothing will ever change, it is all hopeless. Or we become complacent: everything is what it is and that is fine, because I am basically OK.
Advent, and the whole Christian life, requires a sort of holy discontent. We can never become satisfied with the way things are, because they are not the way God intends for them to be. Genocide, human trafficking, drug abuse, starvation, abortion, racism, poverty, ignorance, war, raping of the environment, and a whole list of many other evils, are NOT what God wills. We can never become complacent with this.
We have to stay alert and vigilant and hopeful, yearning and longing for “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have to be open and willing to welcome God’s Kingdom wherever and whenever we find it, especially in our own hearts.
God can come to us demanding a response from us in unexpected and startling ways: in forgiveness of those who hurt us, in compassion for those who are hurting, in appreciation of beauty, in generosity to those in need, in sorrow and repentance for the wrong we have done and the good we have failed to do. God can call us at any time and anywhere. The writer, Ann Lammot, in one of her books has an insightful passage about finding God in the Ladies Room. God can find us anywhere ... even in church!
And so Jesus warns us: “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch!” “Stay awake!”