Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent 1A, 2013: Advent "nesting"

Lectionary: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Happy New Year! Happy new liturgical year! Advent 1 marks the beginning of our liturgical year and we begin it by lighting the candle of hope. As we move into a new year, we are called to prepare ourselves for the new thing about to happen in us individually, in our community, and through us in the world.

The Scripture for today speaks about hope and renewal of life, not the end of life as many would have us think. When Jesus used apocalyptic language, as he does in today’s gospel teaching, he’s talks about a new beginning, one he himself is inaugurating.

The topic of “the rapture” has come up in conversations I’ve been having on several occasions lately, so I thought it might be time again to share again a teaching I did a few years ago on this. How many of you have heard of “the rapture”? How many of you have read the “Left Behind” book series?

Let me be clear: the rapture is a modern doctrine that is NOT supported by the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. “The rapture” was a teaching developed by John Nelson Darby, a 19th century Irish lawyer who became an Anglican preacher, then later left the Anglican Church and started the Plymouth Brethren. Darby is considered the founder of dispensationalism, a theological approach described as “an oddity of Church history.”

This approach breaks Scripture down into compartments or "dispensations” which mark the end of the world. The dispensations begin, according to Darby, with the rapture, the moment when all faithful believers are taken up to heaven all at once. This will happen so suddenly, they say, that in a flash, all that will be left of those ‘raptured up into heaven’ will be a pile of their empty clothes and the shocked looks on the faces of those who watched it happen.

The unfaithful and believers who lived in sin will be left behind to suffer unspeakable horrors during the next dispensation called the Great Tribulation, a period of seven years of chaos and persecution. Next will be the dispensation called the battle of Armageddon. After that will be a thousand years (a millennium) of justice and righteousness on the earth.

Following that will be the final dispensation: the Last Judgment, when Christ will send anyone who has ever lived either to eternal bliss or eternal damnation. This, they believe, will bring to a close the story of human history begun in the Garden of Eden.

Another famous dispensationalist was Cyrus I. Scofied, who authored the Scofied Bible, often called the handbook of fundamentalism. Published in 1909, Scofield’s Bible is still much used in the church today. It was published just before the start of WWI, and became popular as people tried to cope with what looked to them like the end of the world happening all around them.

Although dispsensational millenialists tend to focus primarily on the Book of Revelation, today’s Gospel from Matthew is a favorite because they believe that in it Jesus prophesies the rapture.

So let’s look at our Gospel reading and see. It begins with a statement by Jesus that no one, not even Jesus himself, knows when the Day of the Lord will be. So the Scofield Bible and all of those supermarket tabloids that predict a date for the end of the world, find no support in Scripture.

Next Jesus references the story of Noah found in the book of Genesis saying, “For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. People were doing what they usually did, eating, drinking, and marrying, until the day Noah entered the ark, …they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too [Jesus said]will be the coming of the Son of Man.” According to Jesus, those left behind after the flood were Noah and his family who were chosen by God to stay on the earth in order to restore it.

So Scripture shows us that the doctrine of the rapture has it backwards. Those left behind in the story of Noah, did not suffer tribulation. They lived in a covenanted relationship with God – a covenant promising mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.

Let’s continue…

Jesus continues, “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Please note that the word ‘behind’ in is not in the Scriptural text – not in the Greek and not in the English.

The text also does not indicate which one might be a bad outcome and which one might be the good. But Jesus does by connecting his teaching to the story of Noah. Remember that in that story, the ones taken off the face of the earth were not the faithful ones. The faithful ones were “left behind” (as it were).

The understanding that is faithful to our Scripture, then, is that being left on the earth is not a punishment, but a call from God to be partners in the work of the reconciliation and the restoration of the world.

Let’s continue… Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” It isn’t clear whether Jesus is referring to our personal end (our death) or our collective end (the end of the world as we know it).

And that’s the point - it doesn’t matter. Our focus as Christians isn’t on the end of the world but on its renewal. Like the family of Noah, we have been chosen BY God to be partners WITH God in the reconciliation of the world TO God.

There are people suffering right in front of us, here in Shelby, and around the world. People who are hungry for food, for friendship, and for hope. During his earthly ministry, Jesus healed the sick, connected with the excluded, and loved even those who executed him. In our ministries, we are to do likewise, and this is something which takes preparation – intentional, prayerful, continuing preparation – which is what we are called to do during the season of Advent.

All around us the cultural Christmas is already in high gear. Holiday decorations are up, Christmas carols are playing everywhere we turn, and the much-needed shot in our economic arm is being carefully measured by those people who measure those things.

For Christians, however, it isn’t Christmas. It’s Advent.

In the same way that we can’t skip the third trimester of a pregnancy and jump straight to the baby, we can’t skip over Advent and run right to Christmas. But why would we? What fun is that?

During the last trimester of a pregnancy, the mother begins to “nest,” that is, to make ready the home that will welcome the new life within her. The parents decorate the nursery and gather up all the necessary accoutrements: the layette, diapers, car seats, strollers, itty bitty socks.

Then… they wait. And anyone who has waited for a baby that came past its due date, knows how very hard it is to wait, especially for the mother.

During Advent, we are all pregnant with new life. So we wait. And we nest, preparing ourselves for the new life we know is growing within us, the new life that is coming. The new life who is, for us, the light of the world because we have been chosen BY God to be partners WITH God in the reconciliation of the world TO God.


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