Oasis Worship – 12/3

“Be Here Now”
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Luke 21: 25 -36

There’s a phrase seminary students learn in public worship courses. It is: “Every Sunday is a little Easter.” If you’ve been hanging out with seminarians or reading theological and liturgical books, or if you’ve ever helped plan worship at the Wesley Foundation, you might know this one, too. It means that no matter what the season of the Christian year, Sunday commemorates and celebrates the Sunday – Easter – that makes sense of the whole rest of the year. At the liturgical level, it means that even in a penitential season like Advent or Lent, Sunday is a day for celebration and for savoring a taste of that feast for which we long.

It’s a good reminder for us of that “already-not yet” orientation Christians live by. Christ has come, inaugurating the Reign of God. And yet we are still waiting to witness that Reign come in its fullness. The days are surely coming (Jeremiah 33:14)…Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. To give you another theological term, it is what we call an eschatological expectation. Eschatology is the study of “last things.” It’s “the expectation and the assurance that in the end God and God’s love will prevail.” Easter is the defining event that makes this clear to us. Where, O Death, is now thy sting? It’s safe to count on this, to live by this.

Bill Mallard, a retired clergy person from our conference and one of my seminary professors at Candler, is quite the wacky theologian and professor. In addition to teaching us about church history, he felt that part of his role was to arm us with impressive phrases to pull out at parties. “Eschatological expectation” was one of those and he would stop in the middle of a lecture, wave everyone to their feet, and have us rehearse the phrase with gusto. Even today, it’s hard for me to say the words without the gusto.

Maybe that is as it should be. This basic Christian orientation of ours packs some gusto. Eschatological expectation!

I recently heard Will Ferrell being interviewed on Fresh Air and the host played a snippet from one of his movies I haven’t seen. I think it’s the one about race car driving. His character prays before each meal and he always prays to “Baby Jesus.” All the time, every mention, all through the prayer. Apparently his wife finds this a little strange or annoying because in this particular scene she mentions to him that, well, Jesus did actually grow up and that he doesn’t have to pray only to the manger. Ferrell’s character immediately responds that she can pray to whatever age Jesus she wants to, but he prefers the Baby Jesus.

It was a hilarious scene but it also got me to thinking. Does it matter? Is this focus on Jesus as infant necessarily a bad thing, theologically?

It seems like a timely question. I had a 45-minute conversation with several other pastors this week about the struggle to keep Advent and Christmas as distinct seasons. Sometimes it seems it is a struggle to keep Advent at all. I think I saw some nativity scenes last weekend – a few days after Thanksgiving and an entire week before Advent begins!

The thing about Christmas is that we need preparation to get there. We forget that sometimes. Sure, the Baby Jesus is sweet and the crèche scenes are nostalgic and warm. Sure, it is pleasant to have a few days vacation and to give and receive gifts. But are we really ready to give birth to Christ, here in the midst of these lives? If I’m just remembering a sweet baby from a while ago, fine. But what if God is asking to be borne through me into every corner of my life and the life of this world? What if that is the coming we are preparing for? Doesn’t Advent seem a bit more necessary in that case?

When we do step back a few inches from Christmas to make room for a time of Advent, most often we are still using that preparatory time to get ready for Christmas in all the same ways. Presents, travel, time off, Christmas cantatas. Most often we make room for ritual and tradition. What would it be like if we made room for more?

Advent means “coming” and we usually focus on that arrival at Christmas. But Advent is also a season when we look forward to Christ coming again, to the Reign of God in its fullness. Advent is a time for exploring our eschatological expectation.

There is a fancier word for that “already-not yet” stance I spoke of earlier. It is called “prolepsis, which means acting as if what you expect to happen has already happened.” I can not think of a better definition of what it means to live in this already-not yet time, to live with an eschatological expectation. Acting as if what you expect to happen has already happened.

If, when we are praying Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven – we are praying that with our whole lives, what difference would it make? What if, when we are praying that prayer, we are not so much asking God to fix up this world so it looks like the kingdom? What if, instead, we are asking God to fix us up to be better kingdom builders?

What if this Advent we each expected God to come into ever corner of our lives? What if, before we are even sure we understand the prayer, we start living it anyway?

I was in ALC Copies a few weeks ago. Do you know the place? It’s the bright yellow building on the corner across from Barracks Road shopping center and it is run by two of the families in this church. I love place. They are known to barter for services and it is so very un-Kinko’s-like. I was in several weeks ago and Shane insisted on showing me a funky new video game about the second coming of Christ. While I was there, an older man came in, one Shane and John greeted by name. After he placed his order and left, Shane told me that the man had been in World War II and organizes reunions of fellow soldiers. When’s the last time you were in Kinko’s and they even asked your name?

I’m telling you all this because we can start where we are. John used to work at a Kinko’s and then struck out on his own to open ALC with the family. He used what he knew, his talents and experience, and created a different sort of place. What if we did that?

What if Mallory decides to read that Jeffrey Sachs book on ending world poverty and chooses to use her economy major to envision a new world? What if Geoff learns all he can in the Commerce school and then does business with a new bottom line? What if Leigha runs for office and chooses to do politics in such a way that people stop thinking of it as a dirty word? What if we build relationships, structure careers and lives, spend time, spend money, and live like what we firmly expect to happen has already happened? No excuses or “reality checks” – but living fully out of the reality.

What if what we envision – what God envisions for us – starts to happen because of how we live? What if right here and now, this Advent, we begin living like all of God’s deepest longings for our lives and this world have already come true?

Blessed be the already-not yet of this season full of tension and hope! And God bless us as we struggle to be here now, fully in this place and fully hopeful .

Thanks be to God!
(c) 2006 Deborah Lewis