Psalm 25.4-5, 8-9, 10+14 Resp. 1b
1 Thessalonians 3.12-4.2
Luke 21.25-28, 34-36
Advent is a time for time-travel, and our time machine is this church and the readings we will have this season. We have prophecies like our reading from Jeremiah that take us back to that time before Christ came. We stand with the Jewish people, in a country conquered by Rome, waiting for a savior. We wait with the shepherds on the hill. We chat with them about the price of wool these days and sit down to a dinner of shepherd’s pie, yet always with an eye toward the sky waiting for some angels to appear, singing Gloria in excelsis Deo.
We stop by a stable with a pregnant Mary and a watchful Joseph. We know what is going to happen, yet we go back in time with them and wait. We listen to a homily in the synagogue about how the Messiah is going to come and how he will be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, how he will be born of a virgin. We sort of nod our head and smile. We fly across the desert and see some wise men pointing at the sky. One of them is saying to another, “There’s something going on up there in the western sky.”
And while we are going back in time we can go further back and see Isaiah and Malachi prophesying the coming of the Lord. We can stop by and see God’s promises to King David that a son of his would reign forever. We can go back to Adam and Eve in the garden and God’s promise to the serpent that:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
We also go into the future. The world is ending; stars are falling from the sky. Jesus is coming again in all his power, like lightning that flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other.
Advent is a time for time-travel, and as we do all this time-traveling we begin to see all of history as one grand story. One great play with God as the author and director. For Advent, the idea of the world as a stage and all of history a play in 10,000 acts can be a stunning image. The events of history are not just a random series of unconnected events. All has been foreseen and planned by God before time began; even our sins were taken into account.
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
I hear that and I think “merely players”? Merely? I am just happy I got the part. What a glorious thing it is to be an actor on this stage in this history, to be allowed to co-write my small portion of this play with God. And I can choose. My character could be very boring or very interesting.
We actors stand on this stage. Right here. Right now. We do not know what the next scene will be, but we have a script of what our own lines ought to be. It is a rather loose script, just basic instructions for some things to do and some things not to do. Still, the director knows that we will not even follow this easy script and his plan is ready for that. And someday the stage directions will say: “enter stage right, Jesus Christ” and he will make his entrance, and what an entrance it will be! The great curtain that is the sky will be raised and we will finally see the audience. Do not get stage fright just now, but all the angels in heaven and all the demons of hell are watching. And then the world will end. And the new heavens and the new earth will replace the current ones. Are you excited for the end of the world? There are some who are afraid of the end of the world.
The end of the world, for us, ought to be like the end of the school year is for children, like the end of a long hospital stay, like the end of a four hour meeting on a Friday night. I do not deny the importance of what is ending, but I affirm the splendor of what is to come. It is not for the hatred of school that a child celebrates the last day, but for the anticipation of the summer vacation.
When the world ends, all will rise again, to the resurrection of the blessed or of the damned. The blessed will receive back their bodies, glorified bodies, capable of the impossible. The joy of being with God will be the answer to every desire that burns now within us. We will be fulfilled and happy in a way that, on this earth, is only possible in fairy tales. We will live happily ever after.
The whole story of the history of the world is a fascinating story, all the more fascinating because we are in it. And when the world ends, I like to think that we will all sit down to watch the encore performance, (remember we will have forever, what would a few billion years be?). We will have our favorite actors, people who today we call the saints. They will be the movie stars. People like John the Baptist in his camel hair clothes will the leather belt. Eating locusts and honey. People will always be quoting his catchphrase to him when they see him in the street: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” If there are autographs in the new earth, everyone is going want to have his.
And what will we think when we see ourselves on stage? How will all our actions look in the light of that new day? I am not saying that there will not be a thousand excuses for why we did what we did, I am just saying that not every performance will be award winning.
But do you know what kind of story everyone always loves? A Cinderella story. Rags to riches. A lost sheep that gets found and carried back to the fold. The story of a person who lived a normal, regular, mediocre life until one day in December they decided to be a saint. It was not easy. They could not do it without the grace of God. They had to keep making the commitment over and over and over again until it stuck, but they finally let God put them on his shoulders and carry them back to the fold. The house goes wild. Standing ovation.
Best of all, there is God saying “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”