By Rev. Kathy Itzin
The Gospel Nancy read doesn’t feel like what we want for the first Sunday of Advent. I would like the Angel Gabriel announcing that Mary is going to give birth to Jesus, or John the Baptist shouting that we need to “Prepare the Way of the Lord.” That seems more fitting for Advent.
But in a weird way, this does make sense. We need to prepare for Jesus’ coming. This reading focuses on the Second Coming: when Jesus comes again at the end of the world, but the advice is the same. “Be prepared. Pay attention. No one knows when Jesus will come.” No one knew when the Messiah would be born, and no one knows when Jesus will come back.
People try to predict it. I remember in high school one of my girlfriends was very convinced by her church that the end of the world was just around the corner. I’ve heard it several times over the years. ‘Look at the wars! Look at the famines, the catastrophes, the hurricanes and the floods! The end of the world is coming.’ Well, it is coming. But we don’t know when.
I don’t worry about it, and you don’t need to either. We can trust that to God. God will take care of it. But on the other hand, we don’t know when Our end is coming. We could get runover by a bus walking across the street today. And that seems a little more manageable to think about than the end of the world. I don’t know when the end of My life as I know it will come. I can’t control the end of the world, but I do have some control over how I spend my own life.
A few years ago, someone in Chicago invented a Life Clock, and since then, the idea has spread. This is a clock that shows you statistically how much time you have left. It calibrates different lifespans for men and for women. Since then, the idea has taken off, and today you can buy an Apple Watch app that adds or subtracts time to your projected lifespan. If you exercise for 30 minutes, it adds 36 minutes to the length of your life. If you sleep less than you should, time is subtracted, but it is added again if you go for a walk, or eat your vegetables. Spending time with friends increases your life span by as much as seven years.
They found that when people are reminded that their time is limited, they make more thoughtful choices about how that time is spent. We all have different life spans, but right now, we all have the same minutes and hours in front of us. We have all the time there is. Abraham Lincoln, Charles Manson, my grandmother and I all had or have quantities of time, but we chose to spend it differently.
That is part of what Jesus is saying. We don’t know when our end will come. We don’t know when we will meet Jesus again face to face. ‘Be alert! Be prepared! Spend your time well!’
If God is coming again, how will we know it? Where do we see it?
God is coming again, today, now, over and over. ‘Look at the fig tree,’ Jesus said. Look at the buds opening! Look at the leaves sprouting! Here is God. This shows us God coming again! God is here now, and God is still coming. God is in everything around you. God is immersed in every moment of nature, in the growth of every child. God is in every house, and around every street corner!
I was talking with a friend in Kansas City and asked how her Thanksgiving went. She told me how and her husband were visiting a cousin’s family, including their daughter and her new boyfriend. My friend mentioned that the new boyfriend seemed nice, and the cousin said, ‘Yes, he is, and at least this time he’s White!” My friend was totally taken aback and asked “Oh, her other boyfriends weren’t white?” The cousin said, “No, her last two boyfriends were named Tremaine.” She was so shocked that she couldn’t think of what to say, and only later on thought of good responses. One of the most shocking things for her wasn’t just that the cousin thought this, but that she just assumed that since Mariann was white, she and her husband would think the same thing, and that it was such a strong belief, that she could say it out loud.
So, I’m wondering, what if Jesus comes back Black? Would this woman recognize him? We don’t know when Jesus will return, we just know it will be a surprise. And, every day, it is still a surprise. Does Jesus show up today wearing a hoodie and dreadlocks? Is Jesus walking towards the Mexican border holding a baby, and the hand of a little girl? Is Jesus the little girl?
What if Jesus comes again as an Inuit in Alaska, or a Pacific Islander whose island is threatened by rising sea levels?
I’ve seen pictures of Jesus returning as a white man on horseback leading an army in the clouds. But that’s not how he came the first time; why would he come that way again? The first time, Jesus came as a minority child born into poverty. What if he comes again as a minority child born into poverty? Would we recognize him? Or her?
“Look at the trees,’ Jesus said. ‘When you see them budding you know God is near. You know God is part of it. You know God is here.’ You see natural occurrences of God breaking into the lives of creation. God’s behind every corner, in every encounter, and bursting out of every tree. Jesus is coming at Christmas. Jesus is coming again. And Jesus is coming again, and again, and again. Amen.