It is that time of the year again! This is the first week of Advent, which means there are just four weeks until Christmas. The word Advent means the coming or arrival of someone or something important. We will spend these next four weeks preparing for the coming of Jesus. But wait a minute didn't Jesus already come? Or are we preparing for the second coming of Jesus? Or does Jesus come to us in many ways all the time?
Time is a mysterious thing. Isn't it funny how time seems to go by very fast when we need it to go slow and then time seems to stop or stand still when we are waiting and want it to go fast.
When I was a little girl I remember thinking one hour was an eternity but the older I got it seemed an hour became much shorter. So what does this say about time? An hour is sixty minutes and it always takes sixty minutes no matter how we experience it. The way we experience time is similar to what Jesus is teaching when he says “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Just as an hour is always sixty minutes no matter how fast or slow it seems to us,the word of God does not go away no matter what evil force tries to destroy it.
When we read today’s gospel we bring with us an understanding of time that is linear. We view time on a line and we say there is a past, present and future. Theologian, Sarah Butler Bass suggests that a different understanding of time can help us come to a deeper level of understanding todays Gospel reading. She writes:
"Rather, time is held in the being of God. Indeed, time is timeless. Think about it for just a moment: What do the divisions past, present, and future really mean? When does the present slip to the past? When does the future arrive? When is the now of the present? Isn't time much more of a wonder, a spiritual or philosophical question, than a line?
If we enter the Advent journey with a different perspective on time, the apocalyptic texts speaks afresh...Jesus has come; Jesus comes; Jesus will come. This is the dance of time, grace-filled steps that enact God's vision that the end-times are all times; that all times are the end-times.”
If you think about it what is the only time that we really have? We can not change the past and we do not know what will happen in the future. The time we have that we can bring ourselves to, is the present. We only have now. The Gospel message is teaching us to hold on to the solid word of God, the God of now and the God who does not pass away. Embrace the now. Live fully now. Do not allow fear of evil and destruction, the worries of this life, or anything to weigh us down and trap us in a place of the past or future. Live safe and secure in the now because God is with us now.
We are being challenged in today’s Gospel and in the reading from the prophet Jeremiah to live as one who knows God. The last sentence in the reading from Jeremiah says, “and this is the name by which it will be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” This word righteousness needs some unpacking. Scripture scholar, Deborah Block says,“Righteousness is not an attitude or an absolute standard. It refers to conduct in accord with God’s purposes. It is doing the good thing and the God thing: right doing as opposed to wrong doing, and doing as opposed to being. Self-righteousness is the inflated ego of self-approval; righteousness is the humble ethic of living toward others in just and loving relationships.”
The Jeremiah reading shows God saying, “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up…” If we stay alert and allow God’s purpose to be our purpose we will be free to live fully and well as we were created to live. We will live toward others in just and loving relationships. This is the righteous Branch that wants to spring up within each of us and this is God with us yesterday, today and tomorrow. We must choose to, as Luke 21:36 says, “Be alert at all times, praying that [we] may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Jesus has come; Jesus comes; Jesus will come. We just have to grasp the timelessness of God with us, Emmanuel. God is as close to us as our own breath and will not abandon us. We cannot change the past and do not know what will happen tomorrow but what remains is how we approach the now. The good news is we are not alone if we stay alert to the word made flesh, the One who renders time timeless. Jesus who has come in the past, Jesus who comes to our now, Jesus who will come in the future empowers us to live as one who knows this and is ready to embrace the now with great love and awareness of the timeless word of God.
As we prepare once again to celebrate the birth of Jesus during these four weeks of Advent may we live fully and well in the now so that God’s purpose will be our purpose. We cannot always choose our circumstances. But what we can choose is our response. We can respond in fear, we can respond as if we know God is with us or as if we do not. The Gospel reading encourages us to stand firm with God who is with us now, who was with us in the past and who will be with us in the future. What do you choose?