Tend to the Now!
Welcoming Christ: An Advent Series Sermon One: “Tend to the Now” Matthew 25:31-40 Mark 13:24-37
The Advent Season is upon us! Hard to believe, isn’t it? Counting today, we only have 22 shopping days left until Christmas... it’s coming!
Of course, “advent” means “coming” - and during this season we remember the coming of Christ 2000 years ago, and we reflect on Jesus’ promise to come again.
It always fascinates me to hear of all the different groups announcing the date of the end of the world!
Of course, we all know that’s nothing new... Christians have been fascinated with the “end” since the beginning of the faith. The scripture itself is proof! And books like the “Left Behind” series... or Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth”... have continued the fascination... capitalizing on the popularity of apocalyptic thought. But they’ve also helped to form a “neo-theological” perspective that, I personally, don’t see as being very biblical. But, then, no one asked my opinion, did they? :)
We’re kind of accustomed to the fringe groups... the wackoes of the religious world, calling for the “end” and offering dates to boot! But, it may be surprising, for some of us, to learn that some of the mainstays of Christian thought and doctrine have actually held to such beliefs, too. I read a couple of weeks ago... that during the great plague of Europe in the middle of the fourteenth century, prophets predicted Christ’s return within ten years. Two centuries later, Martin Luther predicted the final conflict would pit the Pope against the Reformed Church. John Knox predicted that Christ would return in the year 1547. And in New England, a farmer predicted that either 1843 or 1844 would be the end, and even though it didn’t happen, his prediction led to the creation of the Adventist Church. The Watchtower movement held out for 1874, then 1914. Even John Wesley chimed in... his choice was 1836.
So... speculation as to Jesus’ return has been an occupation (sometimes a preoccupation) of the church from the beginning.
Our Lesson presents Jesus as both a cultivator of such thought... and a naysayer against it. On the one hand, “Learn this lesson from the fig tree” (in other words “watch for the signs” (13:28). On the other, “About that day and hour no one knows” (v. 32).
Jesus clearly encouraged a certain forward-leaning disposition toward God’s coming Kingdom... a future Kingdom that’s certain... and true to God’s promise of redemption. But at the same time, Jesus clearly calls us not to “go off the deep end” with speculation and predictions. It’s kinda like Jesus is saying, “Look toward the future, but stay in the present.”
It’s a balancing act between the “now” and the “not yet!” How are we to faithfully balance living in the “now” while anticipating the “then,” the sense of leaning forward with the sense of being grounded in the present?
Walden Pond gave Henry David Thoreau much to contemplate, explore, and write about. In one journal entry he made an interesting observation... “Walden is blue at one time and green at another, even from the same point of view. Lying between the earth and the heavens, it partakes of the color of both” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden [New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995], 172).
Blue and green, partaking of the heavens and of the earth... all in the same place. Thoreau offers us an image for a Christian life that’s both expectant and grounded, hopeful and helpful, spiritual and practical. We’re blue and we’re green, we partake of heaven and earth, Christ’s promise of the future and Christ’s mandate for the present.
I think it’s pretty clear what it means to “partake” of the future hope offered by the gospel... the hope of redemption... the hope of a new heaven and new earth... the hope that all things will be made new. The hopeful assurance that Christ will completely redeem the whole of creation... at some point, some day... but not yet. It’s the future-leaning blue.
What about the green, tangible, physical dimension of life... the grounded-ness, the helpfulness, the here-and-now? What about the sensible dismissal of predictions and prognostications, which Jesus prescribes; the turning of our energies to the work of our hands over and above the wishes of our hearts?
Well, to answer that, Jesus, true to form, offers us... a parable (vv. 33-37). In the parable servants are put in charge of a master’s household while the master is away. There’s a sense of expectancy... the assumption of the eventual, if not immediate, return of the Master. The “blue” aspect of faithful living has found its way into the parable... the “not yet”... the anticipation of something to come.
But what about the now? As the servant waits for the master’s return... what’s actually expected of the ones left in charge? Well, the answer’s both surprisingly obvious and remarkably hidden from view; the servants are responsible for everything the master owns... the household... including (it’s assumed) the care and nourishment of the others in the household. Because the most basic, foundational purpose of any household, is to make sure the members of the household (the family) are cared for... or fed.
It seems important to Jesus... that while we wait, expectantly, in the now, for the Master’s return... that we, as servants of Christ, make sure that everything... and everyone... is cared for... that the members of the household are fed.
The simple act of caring for others... is a pivotal part of our calling to follow Christ... and essential to our ministry in the name of Christ.
Jesus has given us a basic, simple, unpretentious way of keeping ourselves prepared for the coming of Christ in glory and judgment: be certain everybody is cared for.
It reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?” (see v. 44). In other words, “When did we see you in need, Lord?” And Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
As you and I begin Advent... as we anticipate the Lord’s return... as we wait expectantly... instead of inquiring about dates and making predictions, Jesus calls us to ask the less-attractive and less-enticing, but far more morally relevant question, “Is everyone being cared for?” And by everyone... Jesus would mean from the least to the greatest. Is everyone warm? Is everyone remembered? Clothed? Loved? Is everyone fed?
The operative question’s not “When is Jesus coming?” but “What are we called to do in the meantime?” The answer? Tend to the now...
That’s how we welcome Christ, at Advent... and into our lives every single day.