“Coming and Going”

Advent 1

November 27, 2016


Text:  Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44


    Today we enter into the season of Advent.  The word Advent, of course, means “coming”.  This season is all about preparing for all the ways in which Christ comes to us--past, present, and future.  

    Of course, in our culture we are involved in getting ready for Christmas, the celebration of the first coming of Christ as the baby Jesus.  I imagine that because of this, many of us may find the focus of the Scriptures for these early Sundays of Advent a bit jarring with their talk of Christ’s second coming in glory, complete with images reminding us of those who perished in the great flood at the time of Noah, of people mysteriously disappearing, and of a thief showing up in the night.  

    The point of all of this is that God comes to us--unexpectedly.  In the days of Noah, people were going about their usual business, thinking Noah was a fool for building this enormous boat--until it started raining and wouldn’t stop.  They were not expecting this.  

Jesus’ comments about people working side by side, and one being taken and the other left, also tells of people going about their usual work, working side by side, and suddenly one of them is no longer there.  We are not told whether the one taken or the one left is actually the one better off--much interpretation over the years has assumed that the one taken is better off, but Jesus never actually said what happened to the one taken.  The point is the unexpectedness of it all.  Similarly, no one ever expects to have their house broken into.  It is an awful surprise when that happens.  

    God comes to us--often when and how we least expect it.  How many people actually expected that God would come to the world in the person of a baby born in poverty?  It’s no accident that the wise men who sought the Christ Child went to the palace of King Herod first.  They expected a new King of the Jews, and kings are born in palaces.  But that isn’t how God came to us in Jesus, is it?  

    The adult Jesus continued to be unexpected.  Most people who expected God to come in the person of the Messiah in those days were looking for a conquering king, a military hero, someone who would deliver God’s people from the hated Romans.  Instead God showed up as an itinerant rabbi who had previously made his living in the building trades.  Instead of being a warrior, he was a teacher and healer.  He associated with people respectable people of his time would not associate with, such as foreigners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers.  In the end he was arrested as a dangerous revolutionary and executed as a common criminal.  And then he rose from the dead.  Who could possibly have expected that God would come to humankind in this way?

    In our lives, how does God come to us?  It is not always in the ways we expect.  It is not always through the formalities of worship or through acts of prayer and devotion, although sometimes God does come to us that way.  But God also comes to us as we encounter those in our world who are weak, hurting, poor, broken, or who we experience as “different”.  Sometimes God comes to us in unexpected ways as we show God’s love to others in serving them.  I confess I don’t always expect to meet God in such ways.  Sometimes I do meet God and am surprised.  Sometimes I fail to notice God coming in this way and miss recognizing God.

    God comes to us.  But it seems to me as I say this that our job is not simply to sit around and wait passively for God to show up.  In studying the Holy Scriptures, I see ample evidence that we also need to go to God.

    The prophet Isaiah had a vision in which the nations of the world stream to Mount Zion, God’s mountain, the mountain on which Jerusalem is built.  They would go to God there to be taught God’s ways so they could walk in God’s paths.  They would also go there to have their disputes and conflicts settled, so that God’s vision of a world at peace might be fulfilled.

    Our psalm today is a song that ancient pilgrims sang as they were going to Jerusalem to worship:  “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let’s go to the Lord’s house!’”  They went there because the thrones of the house of David, which administered God’s justice, were there.  They went there to give thanks to the Lord and to pray for the city’s well-being.  

    But what does it mean for us to go to God?  I believe the Apostle Paul gives us an answer in our passage from Romans.  

    First of all, Paul tells us we need to wake up.  We need to be alert and aware of the ways in which God comes to us in our lives and in the world.  “Our salvation,” he wrote, “is nearer than when we first had faith.  The night is almost over, and the day is near.”

    Second, we need to go to God by living in his ways.  Paul wrote, “Let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light.  Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession.”  Now we know that we live in a world where the  things Paul tells us not to do often happen.  Indeed, even in the church people sometimes get so involved in fighting with each other and obsessing over getting what they want that they totally lose sight of God coming into our lives to accomplish God’s purposes.

     Paul continues, “Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.”  Of course, most often I don’t plan to indulge my selfish desires.  I don’t plan to do what is displeasing to God.  But my selfish desires--for such things as respect, control, and privilege--often trip me up anyway.  The problem with this is that when I am focused on myself and what I want, it becomes very difficult to focus on God and what God wants.  When that happens, I often miss the ways in which God comes to us in our world.  And going to God under such circumstances becomes a duty, an empty drudgery sapped of life and joy.  

But to dress ourselves with Christ, to take into our lives his love, humility, and joy, makes it far more possible for us to recognize God’s coming in the faces of people our world often treats as rejects, and to be in relationship with such people with hearts of compassion and caring.  It also makes the act of going to God in worship and devotion richer and deeper because it is easier to sense God’s presence there as well.

    God comes to us--let’s go to God.  May God open our hearts to recognize his coming among us as the Christ Child, the Teacher from Nazareth, the Crucified and Risen One.  May God open our hearts to recognize God’s coming to us in the hurting people of our world whom Christ loves, to whom we are called to minister in Christ’s name.  May we go to God gladly as we serve these, and as we worship and pray.

    God comes to us--let’s go to God.  Amen.

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