Feasting on the Future

John Wilkinson Third Presbyterian Church
December 2, 2012 Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36


Karl Barth was perhaps the most prominent theologian of the twentieth century. Barth was Swiss, and spent most of his teaching career in Switzerland and Germany, though he visited the U.S. many times. Famously, during a U.S. visit, a reporter asked him to summarize his theology. I am not sure what the reporter was expecting from the great and deep thinker, but what he got was this: “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” I always thought that was pretty good.

Barth was a theologian of a movement called either “crisis” theology or “neo-orthodoxy,” which is worth exploring another time, but not too much this morning. Suffice it to say, though, that Barth and others were seeking to reclaim some older theological understandings – that’s the “orthodoxy” part, while thinking about them in new and creative ways – that’s the “neo” part.” For several generations, ministers were trained in seminaries that embraced neo-orthodoxy, including seminaries that hatched the ministers of this congregation, so many of you were steeped in that vision whether you knew it or not!

I’ve valued neo-orthodoxy because it seeks to take things seriously – like Jesus, like the Bible – but is open to new understandings of our historic faith.

But enough on that. It is Advent. The Latin root of “Advent” has something to do with “coming.” Jesus is coming. O come, o come, Emmanuel. Even though he has already come, once, into our world, we prepare for two things. We prepare as if he is coming for the first time. And we prepare as if he is coming again. Because both are true.

The four weeks of Advent set the stage for what is to come. In early Advent, we actually start with the end of the story, not Christmas so much, but later, as the story develops and unfold. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is talking about the end of times. It is scary and violent and fearful. These images often appear on late night and early morning TV evangelist programs. We should take these things seriously, I presume, because Jesus took them seriously. But in focusing on that, we might lose the deeper point.

“Be on guard,” he tells his followers. “Be alert.” Watch.

I mentioned Karl Barth because Barth offered a very helpful way of thinking about all of this. You’ve had your daily Latin – “Advent.” Now it’s time for a little Greek – “chronos” and “kairos.”"Chronos" we get – chronology and the like, the keeping and marking of time, minute by minute, day by day. “Kairos,” Barth would teach us, is another kind of time altogether. God’s time, that unfolds unexpectedly. It breaks into human time to make a difference in the human story. And it breaks in most dramatically, and most significantly, in the life and person of Jesus himself.

Past and present and future still matter. God is still involved in human history, in human life. But the way God is involved changes immediately and eternally because the life of Jesus has broken into the world, as the moment and event that transforms every other moment and event.

In Jesus our time and God’s time converge.

We live our lives. Work. Learn. Love. Suffer. Celebrate. Succeed. Fail. And God intervenes in Jesus to redeem all time, every moment, and to make all things new.

We understand that, I think, in this Advent season. The Christ child was born all those years ago. One human life. It can seem so distant and far off. And yet each year we crank it all up again, not because it’s a chore, but because we need it.

The already-here and the yet-to-come, the not-quite-yet. Jesus has come, but he tells us that he will come again.

That is heartening, but it can also be confusing, and frustrating. If Jesus came to bring justice and love, then why do we not experience justice and love?

We catch glimpses here and there. We participate in them. It is already here. But not yet, and not fully.

Advent asks us to look at time differently. It asks us to do what Jesus asks us to do. These words we don’t like so much. Prepare. Anticipate. Expect. Be watchful, he says. Be alert. It’s not a passive waiting. It’s an active waiting, an active preparation.

But Advent also reminds us that we aren’t in charge – that time, this time we are given to live our lives and the time God takes to break into history and our lives, is just that – a gift, a gift from God.

What we do with our time matters. How we prepare matters. How we live our lives matters. We might not remember “chronos” and “kairos,” nor Karl Barth. But we can remember that in Jesus God breaks into time, history, human life, to redeem time and transform it. And that Advent is a particular time when we think about time, when we prepare and seek to be ready for God’s in-breaking in this most unexpected way, this vulnerable baby.

We are in a “Year of Feasting.” Feasting will take on many facets. One facet is a deeper exploration of communion, the Lord’s Supper, which we celebrate this first Sunday of Advent. I am sure you remember – and marked on your calendars – the Sundays in this program year when we will consider communion more deeply. In October, we reminded ourselves of a simple affirmation, that despite all of the theological baggage and church conflict we have heaped on this simple meal, it remains just that – a meal.

We will talk in these future communion Sundays about what we believe – about what we believe happens, about how we “do” communion,” about who participates, about what it means.

One of the central fights in Christian history, in fact, has been just this, and it connects Jesus and Advent and time and past and present and future. When he gathers his friends in that upper room, he says the words that have become so familiar to us. “Take and eat. This is my body. Take and drink. This is my blood.” Some traditions have taken those words literally, that the actual bread and wine then, and the actual bread and wine now, become his actual physical body and blood – “real presence,” it is called. Some traditions have understood that quite differently, that as important as communion is, as spiritually significant, it is a memorial, a remembrance. “Do this in remembrance of me.” The bread and cup – wine or juice depending on the church, maintain their status as bread and cup.

We Reformed and Presbyterian followers – like so many things – have adopted a third way of thinking. We have not affirmed that the nature of the elements – that’s what we call the bread and cup, “elements” – changes. But we have affirmed that this event becomes more than a remembrance, more than a rehearsal of what happened 2000 years ago. That Christ is present in the breaking of bread and the pouring out of the cup, present in a real, spiritual and mystical way, as we gather, as we remember, as we eat this bread and share this cup.

Christ is present, and to us, it is more powerful and compelling that he is present in that way than what happens to the elements themselves.

And we think about time as well. If he is present with us as we gather, then he continues to break into human history, into our lives. Not just once. But time and time again, to redeem and transform. In fact, our communion liturgy often includes language to that effect. We speak of this meal as an anticipation of the heavenly meal we will share with Jesus. We speak of this meal as a foretaste of that kingdom banquet at which all will be invited and welcomed. We affirm from time to time that ancient affirmation – “Christ has died. Chris has risen. Christ will come again.”

As the elements come to us this morning, perhaps we think about this meal in new and deeper ways. And perhaps we think about time in new and deeper ways, the time we have been given and how we celebrate it and are stewards of it, and the ways that God’s time breaks into our time to redeem and transform time – yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Living where we do, we hear from time to time about religious groups who predict the end of time. Based on complicated biblical calculations, they predict events to occur that will resemble what we hear in this morning’s gospel. Do you remember Y2K? Not only were some predicting a global technology nightmare, but some were predicting the end of the world. Some still are. It may happen. Today. Tomorrow. Whenever. There is biblical language that invites people to consider that.

But there is more central biblical language, and the testimony of the living of our days, that reminds us that whatever happens, and whenever it happens, we should not be anxious or worried. That God’s got this. That God’s time trumps everything else. That God intervenes in our time to transform time and redeem it, and our task, our simple, profound, joyful task, is to receive each moment, each season, each lifetime, as a gift, and to live into it fully. We are not to be afraid. We are not to be anxious. But we are to be watchful, and prepared, and ready, as if we are anticipating and expecting something extraordinary. Because we are.

In the meantime, we receive nourishment from a little sip of juice and a morsel of bread, that mean so much more that that – a foretaste of what God will do, a sign of what God is doing already. Happy Advent. Get ready. Jesus is coming. Amen.

 

 

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