Advent 1

by admin on December 5, 2011

Reflections for 27 November 2011
Mark 13:24-37

Looking for an “Outta this world” Christmas

I’ve got high hopes and outta this world expectations for Christmas. I’ll be publishing my annual list this week so it will go out in the mail soon. You’ll all be receiving one.

And I’m going to do some great shopping myself. Got some out -of- this- world gifts planned.

I was all settled with this picture; ready to go with this plan; I had everything all figured out and fully orchestrated. My plan was to shop at Big Lots, then put the gifts in boxes from Von Maur in AA, Macy’s, and Jensen Jewelers.

Hey, nobody would know. And then I got the marketing message that I’d be giving a big disappointment this Christmas if I don’t choose gifts from Neiman Marcus or Apple iPad, or my local Mercedes dealer.

We’ve entered the annual sales rush on great expectations and high hopes.

These two ideas, just bonded together, hope/expectation form so much of our outlook on life.
We have expectations for an event; a relationship; a lifetime.

—I sure hope we win.
—I expect this marriage to last.
—I hope my life turns out successful.

We’ve entered the Christmas season full tilt with Black Friday setting a new bar to crawl under. Hurling ourselves towards Bethlehem, armed with shopping bags filled with hopes and dreams. (W.B. Yeats slouching towards Bethlehem) It’s a time of expectancy, we say. And yet it comes every 25th of December with clockwork regularity that it gets to be hard to expect anything different at all.

What’s different this year? Nobody here is the same as last year. We have encountered death, tragedy, divorce, astonishing truth about ourselves, a flawed and fractured existence.

My life sure hasn’t turned out as I had hoped—by now I expected to be famous—instead I guess I’ll have to settle for being infamous.

I grew up hearing a prevailing philosophy: “don’t get your hopes up, you’ll only be disappointed.”

Perhaps as we stand on the edge here of the Christmas season, we ought to consider our hopes, our expectations, and our disappointments.

We use these words—hope/expectations so interchangeably we’ve forgotten a deep distinction. We’ve made them to mean “optimism”—bright outlook. A subtle notion that if we hang a little tougher, tweak the wrinkles of life a little more, roll over the whole mess with the force of a stream roller—then hope will prevail.

Hope, of course, is understood by me as getting my own way with things. After all, who better to craft my future than me…it’s my picture of the future that I prefer. After all…If I don’t run the show, who will?

Now, having said all that, let’s look at that Bible reading from Mark 13. What a passage loaded with images so out of this world, I wonder about the connection.

I want to consider the Bible because in the 35+ years of working with its contents, it is still the book, the record, the living voice of the only viable alternative to the way I want to understand life.

Mark 13—Jesus is coming. (Texas: are you prepared…will you meet him….look busy…don’t make eye contact)

Mark 13 talks about hope and expectation and presents a different equation to these realities that shape our lives so subtly.

I’d like to talk for an hour, but know I only have minutes. This is called apocalyptic—hidden; a code language speaking of an out of the world reality. Jesus will come again in glory.

Immediately following this reading is Palm Sunday and what is called the Passion story. Carefully tied together is the glory of the Son of Man and the suffering and death of Jesus.

We hear about the total demolition of the cosmos, the pangs of birthing another world and the suffering of this existence.

So what’s all that about? Sounds like Left Behind. I think this surrealistic painting so foreign to our sophisticated ears and eyes is about the leveling of all my ideas of just how life should be:

—Cozy, affluent, one gas-efficient car, the other a gas guzzling SUV, enjoy my work, enjoying being the oldest student in school…… What’s your idea?

The Gospel—good news—also speaks of 2 stories about the signs of the Son of Man’s arrival and a warning to watch for it.

What are the signs of God’s arrival? We want the spectacular and because we don’t often see something that can beat a Superbowl half-time show or the Macy’s parade we write it off as ancient myth.

The signs of God’s arrival are the same signs of his presence:

• Compassion
• Forgiveness
• Generospty
• Hope
• Humility

The Church isn’t ready to do Christmas yet…this isn’t the Christmas season. We call this time “advent.” During the next couple of weeks we’re invited to consider that optimism is a human desire and work. It allows us to tinker and tweak and try to get things in perfect condition.

But Hope—hope begins where optimism wears off. Hope happens when our well-crafted plans collapse. Hope springs anew when we accept the biggest paradox of life—surrender is the key to life’s secret.

Advent is about Hope…and Hope is God’s doing. We could talk for a weekend about the end of the world, or produce movies about pilot less planes; or confidently announce: Jesus is returning on January 1. But the bottom line in all that talk is how we live today.

The truth of our religious conviction lies in what kind of living you and I do everyday.

Tomorrow morning when you pull into the company lot; or stand behind a counter at the mall; or answer the telephone and speak with a client…will you be waiting for God, as well?

There is hope for life. And it’s far beyond the hopes and dreams and expectations we jumble all together and call it Christmas.
Christmas is about Hope incarnate—made real flesh and blood in this guy Jesus. He is God’s Son. The first followers of Jesus believed that—which is why Christianity was so appealing.

That same Hope is flesh and blood now— made real in us, too, when we surrender our lives to Him.

We are just shy a month before Christmas. Try this out until then. For the next 28 days pray this: “Lord Jesus, fill me with your love and peace.” And then seek to do that work which pleases the Father: Compassion, Forgiveness, Generosity, Hope, Humility.

It will be the leveling of every jagged place in your heart; but it will also be the overflowing in your life of a love that will never diminish.

Yes, I’ve got high hopes and great expectations for an outta this world Christmas. Because the best gift I could ever get—and ever give—is a new heart molded by the love of God in Jesus Christ.

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