|photo by code poet / flickr|
It took we Baptists quite awhile before we discovered Advent. Maybe we’re just slow. There were first glimmers of Advent in Antioch in the middle of the second century. But Constantine in the Fourth Century legalized the term and crammed it down everybody’s throats. But it was at the Council of Tours in 567 that this season began to come into its own. At first the focus was on the birth of Jesus but it really was a winter Lent. They encouraged fasting before Christmas. And in fasting they hoped to better understand this mystery of mysteries.
But maybe the South revolted once again—with our love of food—how in the world could we fast at Christmas? We love our Coconut and our Lane cakes and those fruitcakes laced with bourbon—even the tee-totalers. I want even get into the meat selections.
When this holy season became full blown—we discovered some of what those early believers had in mind. For the word Advent comes from the Latin, adventus when means Parousia. Which translated can mean arrival or coming.
So we began to read that dark text in Matthew 25 about the moon turning to blood and all sorts of scary things happening when Jesus comes back. We read again that parable of the wise and foolish virgins. And even though Jesus said nobody knows the day nor the hour we pigeon-holed his words there (and other places) and concentrated on those virgins that had little oil were locked outside the gates to weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Before we Baptists started trying to adopt some kind of Advent liturgy we knew about Matthew 25. We knew about wise and foolish virgins. We also knew about the Second Coming. And so sermons everywhere scared the daylights out of children and adults. Jesus was coming soon. And we were told when Eisenhower was President—Jesus was about to come back. There were Communists running all over the country—Jesus was about to come back. There were wars and rumors of wars—The Second World War, Korea, Viet Nam and now the longest war in our history: Afghanistan, Iraq and all that terrible unrest. Jesus was about to come back. Remember when we turned over the calendar to another millennium—from 1900 something to 2000 something everybody thought surely this would be end. Surely this time Jesus would come back.
Some days when I see the boys and girls coming home from the war crippled and wounded—I wish Jesus would come back and wrap up this whole crazy thing. When I see us still fighting the race battle and a zillion other issues that I thought were finished I sometimes whisper: Come Lord Jesus. And when I keep standing by some grave site and say goodbye to somebody I love I find myself turning to the Psalm: “How long, O Lord.”
When Jesus does come back I don’t think it will be Ta-Dah time. People left behind and all the borned-again pious believers snatched up in the air. I think our Lord will probably come like it did that cold Bethlehem night when only a handful knew what was happening. And this is why I think we keep bumping into the word: Watch. Be prepared.
Until the big day—I think it means that every day we have a chance to see the Lord and some of his handiwork. Jesus told his disciples in his last appearance: Quit looking up into the heavens...look around you. And his words still ring true.
With cards and presents and trying to make sure some Christmas tree does not lean--not to speak of the heartbreaking headlines—it will be so easy for us to miss Christ and the gifts God has for us this season.
And so we have another Advent—even we Baptists. It means to open our eyes and watch and wait. Every day of our lives this quiet man from Nazareth walks down all our streets and stops at every door. Don’t be scared of the moon turning to blood and not having exactly the right amount of oil in your lamp—chances are when that does happen he will catch most of us doing a whole lot of things that we are ashamed of. Never mind. Jesus knows us through and through and loves us anyway. I don’t think any of his children will be left behind—leave that to Hollywood and the fundamentalists.
But Jesus is coming—we still see it on road signs and huge rocks. I still tremble a bit when I see those words. And yet—really after all these years—and discovering something of the real live Advent—I know this coming today, tomorrow or a thousand years brings great joy to me and to the whole wide world.
So let’s light our candles. Sing the Carols. Turn to Luke and Matthew and even old Isaiah’s “Comfort ye...comfort ye.” Listen to the majesty of The Messiah. And open up not only our eyes but also our hearts because Jesus is coming soon. Sooner than we realized. And none of us need be left behind this year.