Friends, technology is a wonderful thing. And in this technological age, we have developed many new and wonderful forms of communications. The Internet, the facebook and the twitter, iPhones and smartwatches, smarthouses, smart everythings.... But none, friends, nary a one can hold a candle to that greatest "old school" communication device
The bumper sticker.
It's subversive: You hardly see them. They worm their way into your subconscious and, before you know it.... Boom! You're aware that the kid in the car in front of you is an honor student at the local high school.....
And the bumper sticker is a great theological tool: You're minding your own business, driving down the road, when all of a sudden your under-brain fixes on the bumper sticker on the car in front of you spouting some profound theological message.
And all of a sudden the message hits you:
Hey.... That guy brakes for Jesus!
Well look at that.... That car is powered by Jesus!
A personal favorite: Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him.
And here, friends, is my gentle segue into Advent, because some of the best of those bumper stickers have a very Advent-y message:
"In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned."
Or the slightly wittier: "Come the rapture, can I have your car?"
The return of Christ. The second coming. Apocalypticism. The End Times. Merry Christmas!
These are just the words that come to mind during this time of the Christmas season, aren't they? No?
A brood of vipers.
Chaff thrown into a raging fire.
These are the images that come to mind just before Christmas, right? No? Well, welcome to Advent.
You might think that the images of Christ's return and the images of the Christmas story have nothing in common and are even out of place during this time of the year. But think about it for a second. The two ideas share a very common theme...the advent of Christ into our world.
The first advent, or "coming" as the word means, was about Christ's birth and his coming to the earth. The second advent, is about Christ coming to the earth also to give his people and kingdom a new birth.
It makes all kinds of sense that we prepare our hearts and minds for this coming, this advent. Life's not all about trees and parcels and frankincense! This time of year is not just about getting all the gifts bought for our friends and family. It's about getting ready for this coming of Christ.
There's a comedy movie that came out a few years ago called Talladega Nights, in which Will Ferrell plays a racecar driver named Ricky Bobby.
The film is a spoof of NASCAR racing culture, and in one memorable scene, Ricky and his family are at the table getting ready to eat. And when he asks the blessing, he prays to "the little baby Jesus." But in the middle of his prayer in which he returns thanks for the bountiful harvest from dominoes pizza and taco bell, his wife interrupts him and tells him how she doesn't like the fact that he always prays to the baby Jesus. She says, "Jesus did grow up, you know? You don't always have to call him baby!" To which Ricky Bobby responds, "I like the Christmas Jesus best and I'm the one saying grace. When you say grace you can pray to grownup Jesus or teenage Jesus or bearded Jesus or whichever Jesus you like."
Now, while no one is ever going to call Talladega Nights a cinematic classic, there is an important message here: I think we all like the Christmas Jesus best. I mean, who among us doesn't prefer the tiny infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying away in some manger to the Jesus that comes near us riding on the clouds ushering in his kingdom, coming upon the world like a trap?
The story from Luke's gospel this morning is not a story of Christmas Jesus. It is a story of Advent Jesus. It is a story full of troubling and even confusing imagery. It's the Lucan parallel of the message from Mark we read last I was here. Not a stone left standing in the temple, "Keep calm and carry on...." remember?
There are certainly no cute little fuzzy sheep or shepherds watching their flocks by night in this lesson from Luke. Christmas trees are replaced by fig trees getting ready for the upcoming harvest.
The forecast for a white Christmas is replaced by roaring waves and ominous signs in the sky. The eager anticipation that comes on Christmas morning before we open our presents is replaced by fear and foreboding and fainting.
The first coming of Christ is much easier for us to imagine—a perfect child being born into an imperfect situation. We can wrap our minds around that kind of story. But the second coming, that's a much more difficult thing for us to embrace.
Our text from Luke this morning can be a little confusing and hard to understand. And there is a billion dollar industry behind writing fiction around these words of Jesus and theorizing about the specifics of his return. It is easy to get caught up into this craze of knowing when this time will be and plotting out a timeline for the return of grown-up Jesus.
But there's no real need to worry about these things. If you remember, Jesus tells us that even the angels in heaven don't know when the second coming will be. Jesus says that he doesn't even know, but that only the Father knows.
And as we discussed in my last message, we don't really need to concern ourselves too much with the confusing part(s) of this lesson. Jesus left us explicitly clear instructions about the things we need to worry about (you remember: kindness, love, generosity) and also explicitly told us that we weren't meant to know or to worry about the end times. And so his words about the subject of those end times are more poetic; more obtuse. And friends, if you don't understand every sentence in the Bible, good...that means you are human.
I think the main thing we should try to remember about this story this morning comes in verse 34. "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap."
Mark Twain once said that it wasn't the parts of the Bible that he didn't understand that bothered him, but the parts that he understood all too clearly.
It isn't those places in the Bible that confuse me that I worry about. It's the places in the Bible that I understand all too well that I hold with me: love your neighbor, turn the other cheek, come... follow me. Those are the sections I worry about.
And still, Jesus is coming. So we watch, and wait. And the waiting is hard, sometimes, isn't it?
Advent isn't about Christmas, Advent isn't about judgment. Advent is about being prepared and then waiting...And perhaps waiting for a long, long time. Can you think of anything less like the world we live in?
Our modern world would have us rush right out to deck our halls and jingle our bells. And here's the hardest things we are asked to do: During this time of wrapping paper and shopping lists, Santa Claus and black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, we're told that we need to stop.
We're told we need to stop and be still and quiet and to seek the Lord who once came to us as a baby. Christmas has exploded all around us, but in the midst of that, we wait. In our church, and out in the world we're are singing the carols and planning our big plans for Christmas.
And there's nothing wrong with that. As long as we remember that we are waiting. We wait because there is something far more important than wrapping, and tinsel and colored lights.
God came to Abraham and told him that he would be the father of a great nation and he waited.
God promised his children that they would have a land of their own and they waited.
The prophets told the Jews that the Messiah would come and
The archangel told Mary she would bear the Son of God and she waited.
Christ told us that he would come again and we wait.
That is what this season is all about. It reminds us that we are waiting. It reminds us what we are waiting on. It reminds us why we are waiting.
Advent hymns and readings and lessons are about this waiting and this preparation. They tell us that this is the time for us to wake up from our sleep. They tell us that, though the night is deep and dark, the day is drawing nearer.
And if we are to live in the light — and Advent is all about the coming of the light — then we are need to put aside all the potential for darkness that our modern world tries to force upon us.
It is time for us to wake up, and stay awake, as we wait for our coming Christ! It's time to be ready!
And all of this reminds me of another bumper sticker I saw this week (and the impetus behind this message).
I was stuck in Montreal traffic on my way to a gig. I was sitting, grumbling on Autoroute 40, when a small car merged directly in front of mine on the highway. On its bumper was a sticker I had to read twice. Fortunately... I had the time.
Despite the fact that it was hard to understand at first, it became remarkably clear and simple to me once I just looked at what it said.
It read: "Jesus is coming soon!" And underneath were the letters R U and an E? Rue, I thought? This fellow rues the fact that Jesus is coming?
Then of course, I noticed that the E was red. Which, in typical bumper-sticker vernacular, means R, U, red-E.
Are you ready?
Jesus is coming. Are you ready?
Gotta love those bumper stickers.
So, are we? Are we ready for the return of Jesus? I'm not just talking here about the time we celebrate baby Jesus, Christmas Jesus.
I am talking about grown-up Jesus, Advent Jesus? Are you ready for his return? We don't know when, but we know how to wait: By helping make the world the Kingdom he wants it to be.
Come, thou Long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, (Slow) let us find our rest in thee.
Amen and Amen.
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