The First Sunday in Advent, 2022
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 24:29-44
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
“But about that day and hour, no one knows,” Jesus says. I hear those words, and I can’t help but personalize them, remembering my very special moments, as I’m sure all of us here today can. The day and hour I met Anne. The day and hour Anne and I were married—both times! The day and hour I knelt in front of Bishop Stevens in the Cathedral in Fond du Lac and was ordained to the Priesthood. The day and hour my father died. The day and hour I committed him to the earth at the cemetery. The day and hour I found out that my mother had died after suffering a broken hip. The day and hour when Anne and I realized that after 38 years, we wanted to remain married to the same person. Maybe, especially, on those days when I have felt lost and confused.
The day and hour about which we do not know comes to us in a thousand different ways, shapes, and forms. It comes to us as an unexpected gift, an unwanted loss, an unimagined future, or as a dream, long held on to, that comes true. We, I, had no way of knowing when, how, or if it would come, and no way of knowing what all of the fall0ut, the results, would be. All of this, is, of course, in spite of our best efforts to plan and prepare for the future. We live in a continual condition of uncertainty and unknowing.
There are days and hours and circumstances that take us completely by surprise, in good ways, and not-so-good ways. Think about the day and hour about which you did not and could not know. What was that day and hour that took you by surprise and caught you off guard? What happened on that day and hour that you never expected, wanted, or could have imagined? The day and hour of uncertainty and not knowing are what Advent is all about.
Advent isn’t just a season in the church’s calendar year. It describes our life. All of the seasons of the Church year are a lens through which we see and reflect on our lives. Advent, whether it is in the Church or simply in our lives, always begins with the day and hour about which we do not know, and can’t even guess. Nobody knows when, where, or how that day and hour will come. It is unforeseeable and unpredictable. It comes, Jesus says, like a thief in the night or as a flood that sweeps everything away.
Every year, the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent sounds ominous and threatening. We call texts like today’s “apocalyptic”, and we tend to hear them as end-of-the-world texts. That’s often how it feels when life is uncertain, the future is unpredictable, and we are absolutely powerless to control what comes next. It can simply feel like the world is ending. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus never says that the world is ending.
Jesus is not predicting the end of the world. He’s talking about how to live in the face of impermanence and changes that are neither predictable nor controllable. Impermanence and uncertainty characterize today’s Gospel. It begins with the day and the hour about which we do not know and ends with the unexpected hour. And everything in between is about not knowing.
Jesus speaks about not knowing five times. We do not know the day, the part of the night, or the hour in which it—whatever “it” is—will happen. What we do know is that it—whatever “it” is—happens in the ordinariness of life, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, working in the fields and grinding meal at the mill. And all of that makes me wonder if we’ve misunderstood what apocalypse is really about.
What if apocalypse is NOT about some unknown day in the future, but about today, and every day? Maybe every day is an apocalypse. Maybe we always live in apocalyptic times. Look around you at our world today. Read the news. If there is a consistent theme it is uncertainty, not knowing, of not having a firm grasp on much of anything going on, and a feeling of chaos and powerlessness.
So, what if apocalypse is not about the grand finale, the end of the world, but about living in the midst of uncertainty and unknowing, living with the unpredictability of the future, living in the middle of chaos and disorder? Apocalyptic days and hours are difficult ones. Life feels chaotic and out of control. We don’t know what to say and what to do, and sometimes, we don’t even know what or how to pray. Questions are all over the place, and answers are scarce. Explanations—even ones we come up with ourselves (maybe especially those) don’t make sense or satisfy us.
That day and hour is not so much about what is happening in our head but what is happening in our heart, in that deep interior place where the mystery of God and our own lives meet The question is not about the end of the world, but about how we live with uncertainty, not knowing, and powerlessness. What does our faithfulness look like in those times? How do we live in the midst of impermanence and constant change? Where is the center of our being on that day and every day and in that hour and every hour?
In today’s Gospel, we read about the Second Coming of Jesus, the great awe-inspiring day, when the Son of Man returns. There is a modern “left behind” theology that paints the Second Coming of Christ as the worst thing ever to happen to humanity, but for the Apostles, and for all of the mothers and fathers of the Early Christian Church, the second coming of Christ was seen as the best thing ever to happen to the world. Instead of praying to be raptured away and not have to face Christ’s return, the early Church prayed daily, “thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and one of the oldest Christian prayers that has come down to us is so ancient that it wasn’t written in Greek, but in Aramaic, the native language of the Apostles.
This prayer is “Maranatha”, “Come, O Lord!” It is a prayer literally begging Christ to return—here and now. The end of time is not the terrible destruction of the world, but its restoration, its healing, its perfection. In this life, we catch only fleeting glimpses of the nature of God: in an embrace, in a joyous conversation, in a beautiful object, in a delicious meal. In these, we have intimations of what pure goodness is, what pure love or beauty is. But at the end of time, God, who is the actual source of all joy, all peace, all light, all love, will permeate every fiber of creation.
St. John tells us that on that day there will be no light from the sun or the moon, because they will be as nothing compared to the light radiating from the face of Christ, from the throne of the Father, from the presence of the Holy Spirit. The fire of the glory of God will radiate from all things, and fill the whole of God’s new creation. So, how do we respond to such a vision?
Paul says to “remove our dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living… clothe yourselves with the presence of the Lord… Constantly focus on him, and loving him and all our neighbors… Be ready, for [he] will come when least expected.” And be ready to meet him with love and great joy.
That is a certainty for our lives. He is what we can know for certain in the sea of unknowing of this time and this world. He is coming! So, “come descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the Light of the Lord!” Enter his kingdom with our Lord and King.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!