Sunday, November 30, 2008

A New Reality

Eschatology; aka, “doomsday prophecy”, or “last things”, “last days”, return of Christ, end of the world. Call it what you will, but one day time and life as we currently know it will come to an end. It sounds ominous, but the truth is this is probably the very best news throughout the entire Bible. No one knows exactly what these times or days will look like, and it is actually probably for the best. Mark offers a visual of Christ descending from heaven “in clouds”, but there is not much else besides this.

The several images from The Revelation are not much help as it pertains to what we are looking for or even should be looking for since much of what John offers in The Revelation is heavily dependent on symbols and incomprehensible images. Clearly there is a message in all this imagery, but I sometimes wonder how important that particular message must be if it is so written in such a “code” that most of us cannot figure out.

It may also seem strange that the lectionary will offer such “end times” readings on the first Sunday of Advent as what is offered in Mark, but the reality is we have already experienced the birth of Christ. It is fitting and right that we should remember and celebrate that moment in time when perhaps the earth stood still and silent if but for a brief moment to welcome the Prince of Peace, but it is also appropriate for Christians to look forward with eager anticipation when the reality we have come to know as “normal” will be suddenly and completely changed … forever. This is a GOOD THING!

Thinking about the season we are about to enter into and what it must mean to all of humanity, Moses and the Exodus came to mind. Something incredible is about to take place, but not even Moses knows exactly what it will look like. The Lord clearly has something in mind, but it is not for man to know or even try to overthink such a divine mission. It should be enough for the faithful that it is in the Lord’s hands; sadly, however, this is not always true for us.

What is most astounding about the Exodus is its very essence. It would have been easy enough to make dramatic changes in Egypt itself, but the framework would still have been confined, if not downright restricted, within the borders of what must surely have been an unclean land. Rather than push for social and religious change within an existing society, it was to be that an entire New Reality would be created. So by the mighty hand of the Lord and with the mass of an entire people, Israel was freed from its 400-year bondage. There still lay ahead a 40-year journey before arrival at the destination, but the journey is part of the story – THEN and NOW.

There is a journey ahead for the faithful, and it is not conducive to the journey that we look behind us. We can and should be mindful of the mighty acts of the Lord on this incredible journey of faith, but we must never look back. And if we do not learn to look beyond the end of our noses, Christmas will always be anti-climactic.

Advent is a time of preparation, and we certainly cannot prepare ourselves for something that has already taken place. We must look forward and be prepared to forge ahead toward what will certainly become for the Lord’s faithful a New Reality, a reality in which shoppers will not storm the doors of a store and trample people to death as happened this past week in Long Island NY. A lady will not be punched in the mouth by another over the last Cabbage Patch doll, and no one will ever have to worry again about whether there is enough money to give the kids all the “stuff” their little, innocent hearts would desire to be under the tree.

Who would want to remember all that or prepare and hope for more of the same? These things are certainly in the past, but they are also our currently reality; it is where we are. Yet most of us have fond memories of Christmases past and many of us look forward to our family gatherings and celebrations, but think about how much time and energy is put into preparing for a 21st century Christmas – and how uppity we get when folks try to remove Christ from Christmas – and then give the Lord so little of ourselves. If we were to actually log each moment of each day during the time of Advents past and perhaps even now and then read it on Christmas Eve, I think we would be shocked at how little time was actually devoted to the Lord – especially in light of what we claim to believe about the birth of the Christ.

I think perhaps the birth of Messiah was the beginning of a New Reality but rather than accept it for what it was meant to be for us and for His Glory, we turned it into something else and we sufficiently “secularized” it as something much more pleasing to ourselves and our loved ones. Our “celebration”, as it is, is like what my family experienced over Thanksgiving. My wife spent HOURS preparing the menu and cooking the food. Once we finally got settled at the table, it took all of TEN MINUTES for everyone to say, “I’m full”. Then it was over. Except, of course, for the mess.

If Advent is used by the Church as nothing more than a prepatory time of remembrance, then it will be over almost before it has truly begun. Once the presents and packages have been opened, it’s over. The spirit of Christmas is no more, and we will actually BE GLAD that another busy, sometimes overwhelming Christmas, is past. Poof. Just like that. It will be as if merely getting through it with our sanity intact is destination enough for us.

All of this is solid evidence that we are in desperate NEED for a New Reality; our souls are virtually crying out for this madness to end, but we continue AND DEFEND our secular practices as if our very lives are dependent upon them. And we will call the preacher a kill-joy … my own family does … but deep down inside the very depths of the soul, you know I am speaking nothing but truth. You may not like it … my own family doesn’t … but you cannot deny it.

If there is some such thing as a “Christmas Wish”, mine would be that we would finally and completely have the courage to stand firm in our faith and say, “ENOUGH”. I get it now; I finally get it. CHRISTmas really is about the Christ, not Sears or Wal Mart or Bloomingdale’s. My Dear God in Heaven, it’s not even about my family or friends. It is solely and completely about my Lord; nothing more, nothing less. My wish, you see, is that I will truly and finally come to understand this. My prayer is that you will, too.

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