11 As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. 12 The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light. 13 Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. 14 Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires. (Romans 13:11-14 Common English Bible)
In the bathroom of a popular restaurant resides a sign that reads, “Don’t worry about the future. God is already there.”
That, to me, is what lies at the heart of eschatology, the study of end times.
Books and movies and presentations about end times abound. In my lifetime I’ve witnessed groups and cults who have predicted the exact date when Christ will return. Scripture has been used and stretched and cut and pasted to fit someone’s image of what is to come.
We all have our image of what the world will look like when Christ returns. Most of us cling to a hope of the end of time. Hope. That’s what our faith provides us. We can live today because we have hope and trust in the future that God has mapped out for us.
So, what do we do in the meantime? Look busy? As if we’re fooling God into thinking that we’re doing something important in the kingdom? I’ve often said, “Let’s get back to work.” What does that look like? Will any work do? Or is there more to it?
To answer that question we turn to Paul and his letter to some early Christians in the capital of the Roman Empire.
Paul says to wake up from sleep. He believed that Christ’s coming was imminent. Meanwhile, the Christians were allowing themselves a form of hypnotism that would make them feel good in the moment. They attended festivals to celebrate the grape harvest that often turned into riotous drunkenness. They were sexually promiscuous. Their behavior was outrageous, acting without any restraint, quarreling and fighting and obsessing. Some burned with jealousy and rage.
Paul called on them to return to an ethical way of life. Wake up! Unclutter your life with this nonsense that draws you further and further away from the God you worship. Get your priorities in line. Return to ethical living. Face reality.
My dear readers, I trust that you’re not running out to worship the god of the harvest; that you’re not attending orgies of any kind. Those of you I know are ethical, loving Christians. So, what does this have to do with you?
When I was working in the business world, I received a promotion that entailed my working closely with our customers. My job was to visit with them monthly either by telephone or in person. I would travel to their office and we always extended an invitation to visit our offices to see how we handled their products.
It was an exciting prospect, filled with challenges and opportunities. Until the fun went out of it. I was caught up in a hamster wheel, barring creativity and enjoyment. One day I studied my calendar and realized that each day was filled with appointments and travel plans. If a day on the calendar was blank, I would find a way to fill it up or else I wasn’t successful.
I trust I’m not the only one who has filled up life with “stuff” in order to hypnotize ourselves to get through life. As long as we’re busy, we’re doing something and that’s all that matters.
Cluttered calendars and cupboards. Confused priorities. Disorganized minds and hearts. These are what “protect” us from facing our reality: the reality that Christ is really coming. It could be in ten minutes, ten years, ten millenniums. We don’t know. And that leaves us feeling uncertain. So, quick! Look busy!
Uncertainty. We like to know what’s going to happen and when. Hence our crowded calendars. We need to be in control. Sometimes out of control people get caught up in drug or alcohol abuse, over- or under-eating, workaholism, or any number of methods to regain control.
Scriptural uncertainty is different because it’s at the heart of our faith. Christ doesn’t expect us to know everything. Our journey into discipleship is to search out and understand the ambiguities in the Bible and how they play out in our lives.
So, how do we move into this First Week of Advent? What might our journey to the manger look like this year?
First, acknowledge that Christ will return. Some day. Whether you’re a disciple of the “Left Behind” series or “The Late Great Planet Earth,” or simply uninformed about end times at all. Simply acknowledge. He’s coming.
Second, look at your life and see what deadens you. What keeps you from responding to God’s salvation? Where in your life are you living less ethically than you want to? Where have you lost joy?
What clutters your life? Anger, malice, judgementalism. Maybe what clutters your life is the place you need to work. For example, perhaps your passion is working for justice, fairness, equality and peace.
Now, move toward the light. Recognize your deep desires and step into them. That’s where you begin to find joy and hope. Even in difficult times, joy is waiting to be found. Live in the light by performing acts that are worthy of it. Live today in anticipation of God’s new reality.
When we live in the light, we perform acts that are worthy of Christ. We can live in anticipation of God’s new reality without fear. We quit deadening our response to it. It might feel uncomfortable. Step into it, anyway. The journey can clarify your thoughts and actions. The journey can help you clean out the debris and find your passion. Allow yourself to find joy and hope whenever you struggle.
Dag Hammarskjold, former General Secretary of the United Nations, wrote in his journal, “For all that has been — Thanks! To all that will be — Yes.”
God is always at work, offering us something better. Not necessarily easier. A transformed life takes work and time and intentionality. God is always at work to transform us, to make us new, to lead us to new places of joy and hope.
In this season of Advent, my prayer for all of us is to sort out the clutter, whatever or wherever it may be; to remind ourselves that our ethical lifestyle really does make a difference; and to arrive at the manger this year with a deeper understanding: this vulnerable child is more powerful than any pharaoh or king or leader.
Christ is coming!
What will he see when he returns?
All glory and honor be to God.