Posts Tagged ‘Facing the Truth’

What Advent is All About

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Westminster Towers Wednesday Ecumenical Service

Luke 21: 25-36

By Deacon Larry Brockman


Sounds so ominous, doesn’t it- signs in the sun and the moon and the stars; people dying of fright; the powers of heaven shaken; and the son of man coming in a cloud with power and glory.  And so much has been written about these events as described by Jesus as well.  People try to predict when and where all this will all happen.  They try to piece a story together from this and other cryptic sounding scriptures, especially the books of Revelation and Daniel.  These scriptures have vivid imagery and bold predictions.  They are called apocalyptic scriptures.  They are written in codes; and they can be interpreted in many ways.  These interpretations are fascinating, and have led to many movies and books and all kinds of fiction.

Personally, I feel they are distracting.  They distract from the messages that the scriptures hold for you and I right now.  Because realistically, whether any of these writers on the end times is right or not, the chances that you and I will live to see all of it play out according to these predictions are slim to none.  Oh, if the book or movie is vivid enough, we might die of fright all right, especially the older and frailer we get.  But that’s not the point of the scripture for you and me.  So let’s put all of the grand predictions to the side, and see how this scripture speaks to us today.

First, let’s look at the context.  One element of context is why this reading is appropriate now.  Well, this is the Gospel Reading for this coming Sunday according to most of the Church Lectionaries.  That means that all Catholics, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists, and a whole host of others, are all hearing the same Gospel this weekend!  By the way, I don’t know whether the Baptists are hearing it, but they do like to talk about this scripture, I know that.

So why is this the scripture for Sunday?  Well, besides the fact that there was an attempt to make the readings common between all these denominations, the basic reason is that we came to the end of the Church year last week, and beginning with this Sunday, we begin a new Church year with a season called Advent.  Advent is where we prepare for the coming of Christ.  And there are two comings of Christ- the nativity, or Christmas, and the second coming of Christ.

Advent gives us six weeks to prepare for these comings.  It’s a ritual type preparation, isn’t it?  We play out rituals every year in remembrance.  We do Christmas cards, set up bright lights and Christmas Trees, dress up with lots of green and red, bake cookies and other treats; make eggnog (and I hope yours is spiked like mine is!); and talk about a chubby old bearded man with a jolly smile called Santa Claus.  There are things we do every year; they are a ritual.  All of that is fine; but it can be a distraction from the real event we are called to prepare for in the ritual- the birth of Jesus; the coming of God made man into the world, the fulfillment of the Covenant between God and Man, to send us a Messiah who would redeem us and guarantee us a chance at eternal life.

Now this Sunday, our emphasis is not on this first ritual preparation; rather, it is on the second one- the second coming of Christ.  And that is really what I want to discuss because I’m not sure that we go through a ritual periodically to grasp the full meaning of the second coming of Christ.  But we really should.  So, are you ready for that?  And does this scripture really give us any insight into it?  Can this Gospel help us to reflect on things, and prepare for the second coming?

Now some of the Gospel words don’t seem to fit this crowd here.  As I look out at you good seasoned God fearing folks, I am confident that few of your hearts are becoming drowsy from carousing and drunkenness.  If any of you are, I’m sure that the word has spread like wildfire.  And that brings me to an interesting twist.  What if we change the words in the Gospel just a little bit?  For example, could any of us have our hearts become drowsy from gossip and from preoccupation with our next meal?  You see, Jesus is trying to wake us up to our mortality, and if we are preoccupied with our daily ritual- the anxieties of daily life, the latest take on what’s really going on behind the scenes; what so and so did; and what is on the cafeteria menu, then our hearts may miss another kind of ritual, a ritual whereby we examine our lives periodically and find out what really prepares us for Christ and His Kingdom.

Now in John’s Gospel, Chapter 18, verse 37, during Jesus’ trial before Pilate, Jesus says:  “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Well, the truth then is what Christ bore witness to during His life; the truth is the Gospel and what our Churches teach about Jesus.  The Gospel describes a life in which Jesus did the will of the Father, sacrificing His wants and needs for what God wanted of Him.  The Father wanted Jesus to tell us about Faith in God; keeping the commandments; and bearing our own crosses.  The Father wanted Jesus to show us that finding and doing His will was
the essence of living a life pleasing to God.  Once in a while we need to reflect on those things, and make a correction accordingly in our lives.  We need to make those reflections a ritual; one that we do more at least once a year during Advent.

Why?  So that when we die our focus is in the right place.  Jesus also talks about the coming of the kingdom of God.  It is a Kingdom not of this world, where there will be eternal happiness, real happiness- not the happiness that a comfortable life in this world or total immersion into our daily lives brings- that is a happiness that passes away in a flash either because of age or sickness or circumstances.  Rather, the Kingdom of God brings a happiness in which we share in the Glory of God.  But we could miss our chance.  Because we have to recognize the second coming of Christ when we die and be prepared and ready for it.

At the end of today’s reading Jesus says  “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man”.  Yes, we need the strength to stand before Jesus when we are summoned.  We need to be confident, yet humble, that we belong to the truth and have listened to His voice.  That doesn’t mean that we have to have been perfect.  None of us has been perfect in the sight of God.  We are all human; we are all sinners.  But our focus needs to be on God and things of God.  We need to stand before Jesus and say “I see that my life on earth is over; I have listened to your word; I tried to focus my life on what you wanted me to do; I know I am not perfect, I am sorry about that; Please forgive me because I want to be in your Kingdom.”

I believe that Jesus is trying to tell us that some, those who are not vigilant, and those have been so preoccupied during their lives with themselves and their own lives; will be so frightened by Jesus’ second coming and so out of focus on God that they will cower from the experience and literally panic and walk away and “die”.  And it will be the kind of death described at the beginning of the Gospel reading.  Because when we leave this world, all of the signs described in the reading will come true for us.  The sun and the moon and the stars will all be in dismay.  Indeed, unless we are prepared for it, we will be perplexed, out of focus, afraid, and what is even more sad, we may not even recognize the goodness, happiness, and glory that the Kingdom of God offers.

Well, what exactly should we reflect on then?  I think the parable about the fig tree helps.  We can recognize all the signs of the season in a tree.  Advent, like the growing cycle of a tree is a yearly event that comes at a fixed time.  The dying back in the Fall, and dormancy of the Winter describe a process that is akin to the unfolding of life for us.  In fact, almost every experience in life is like the cycle of a tree.  We get charged up about something- school, our first love, a career, our spouse; whatever.  We grow into that interest or relationship and bear some fruit.  But there comes a time when most of these experiences end, kind of like what the tree experiences during the Fall, and then we come to a point in our lives when we realize   That we are all dying.  But like the fig tree, we have a chance to be reborn into another existence, a new life in the Kingdom of God.  In fact, in Jesus own words he tells us in Matthew 6:33:  “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.”  Yes, we have to seek it; we have to reflect on where we have been, and resolve to sharpen our focus on God.

Now as foreboding as the warning in today’s Gospel sounds, it is really a message of hope for all of us.  You see, when we take all of this in the context of the Church Year, and the fact that preparing for Christ’s second coming is a ritual we all need to do at this time every year; and we recognize that no matter what we have done, God loves us and forgives us if we ask him to; then this is a message of hope.  Like the fig tree, we have a chance to sharpen our focus or even refocus our lives each year as we enter the season of Advent.  We can do it more often if we want, and we should, but we should really do it now as part of Advent.

We can, and should relax as well, because the events described today are probably not coming immediately.  We have the time; we just need to use it wisely.

We have a choice.  We can forget about this Gospel and go on with the anxieties of daily life.  Or we can reflect on the endless cycles that were springs and summers and falls and winters in our lives, the best of times and the worst of times; learn from them; and prayerfully look for God’s path going forward- a path that makes us ready for the coming of Christ, whether it be a rebirth, or second chance in this world, as heralded by the Christ Child. or the rebirth that is coming in the next world- the kingdom of God.

Facing the Truth- the Last Judgment

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Christ The King

Dan 7: 13-14; Rev 1: 5-8; John 18: 33b-37

By Deacon Larry Brockman


Do you belong to the truth?  Because Jesus says this morning that the reason he was born into the world was to bear witness to the truth, and that those who belong to the truth listen to His voice.

The people of this world are pre-occupied with power, not truth.  And so, Jesus’ own people did not accept Him.  They were looking for a leader, a King who would liberate them from the Romans, and make their lives easier.  They didn’t like the taxes; and they didn’t like being under pagan control.  They weren’t looking for a message of truth; they were looking for power and comfort.

Now because of His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, the Romans were afraid Jesus would somehow work one of His miracles and fulfill the Messianic role in the way the people wanted: that Jesus would establish himself as King.  And so, we have the drama of this morning’s Gospel; a cat and mouse game where Pilate tries to get Jesus to say that He is a king so He has an excuse to execute Him.  But even to the very last, as He is standing before Pilate, Jesus emphasis is on His mission to bear witness to the truth, not to defend Himself or His life.

The dialog goes on beyond this morning’s Gospel, as Pilate asks the question:  “What is truth”?  Ah yes, what is truth.  The truth is what Jesus came to bear witness to!  So the truth is the Gospel, and the teachings of the Church.  The truth is not might makes right; and it is not what money buys; the truth is not taxes or a guaranteed life of comfort; it is not having control of the situation; truth is not relative; the truth is not a whole list of excuses for why we couldn’t or didn’t do something.  And the truth is not usually having our way.  Rather, the truth is what Christ bore witness to during His life; a life in which Jesus did the will of the Father, sacrificing His wants and needs for what God wanted of Him.

And what was that?  The Father wanted Jesus to tell us about Faith in God; keeping the commandments; and bearing our own crosses.  The Father wanted Jesus to show us that finding and doing His will was the essence of living a life pleasing to God.  Then, Jesus talked about a Kingdom not of this world where there would be eternal happiness, real happiness- not the happiness that power and money and the world bring, a happiness that passes away in a flash either because of age or sickness or circumstances.  Rather, it is a happiness in which we share in the Glory of God.

We hear about such glory in the first two readings.  We can share in that glory if we show by the lives that we lead that we are also witnesses for Christ, living a life worthy of our roles as sons and daughters of God.  In that way, we can assure that we will be part of the Kingdom.

Today is the end of the Church Year.  The second coming of Christ and the final judgment are the main themes in the first two readings.  The imagery is strong-  One like the Son of Man, a title that Jesus uses to describe himself, will come amongst the clouds.  People will be judged- separated into the sheep and the goats, and everything except the heavenly Kingdom will pass away.

That happens to each of us, doesn’t it, when we die.  Everything that we know of on earth passes away and we will be judged by Christ the King.  It’s a somber theme, and a sobering thought.  But it will happen to each of us.  Christ will be looking for the truth and we will not be able to hide from it.  What did we do for the least of our brethren?  Did we stand up for Christ when the going got rough?  Or did we run away, do what was convenient, do what was comfortable for each of us.

Now we are all very fortunate because today has come, and will soon be gone, and the end that Jesus warns us about this morning will not have come for almost all of us.  We are fortunate, because we have more time.  That is what Advent is all about- the next six weeks.  And while most of us will focus on the coming of the Baby Jesus. the second coming of Christ is heralded in Advent as well.  So let’s all take some time to reflect on the second coming.  What are the priorities in your life?  Are you ready if God takes you today?  Do you belong to the truth, and listen to the Word?