This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Those of us who are not strict liturgical purists can begin singing carols and putting up our Christmas decorations. It is time to let the season carry us away.We will, however, arrive at worship on Sunday and get an unsettling passage of scripture. We will be treated to Jesus talking about nations in anguish, people fainting from terror, and disturbances in the heavens. The text ends with an ominous warning to always be on watch so as to escape what is coming (Luke 21:25-36). Jeremiah does soften the blow a bit with: “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’’ (Jer. 33:16).
But really! Where is the nativity scene with the donkey, mother and cooing child, and moonlit angels? What happened to peace on earth and good will toward one another?
The wisdom of our forbearers in the faith is that in order to understand the first coming of Jesus, we must see it through the lens of his second coming. Thus we begin Advent with passages like Luke 21.
We are prone to domesticate this baby in the manger and make him into the bearer of our desires. He is going to make our lives and our world the way we want them to be. He is going to give us what we want. At his nativity, Jesus cannot speak for himself. In the silence we are prone to fill his mouth with words we want to hear.
By Luke 21 this Jesus has found his voice. The cooing baby has grown into the Son of Man, who cautions: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Luke 21:33). In other words, he will turn all that we have built for our own comfort and security and pleasure to compost.
This is good image to hold in our minds as we move into the celebration of excess and materialism that Christmas has become. I don’t mean to be the Grinch; I love a warm pair of LL Bean slippers as much as the next person, and I can already sense the heartburn that will follow too much rich food and sugar. I am not making the mistake of the unreformed Scrooge. I will wring all the holiday I can out of the coming four weeks.
I will, however, try to let the voice of the Son of Man roll around in the back of my mind as the Christmas carols play. It all will come to compost in the end he warns. This is why we begin the story of Jesus by telling the end of the story first. In this way, we don’t lose sight of where it is all going and who this baby will grow up to be.
Oh yeah, and Merry Christmas.Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister-America Baptist Churches of New York State