Saturday, December 08, 2007

Advent, Week 1: Saturday

Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV):

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

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. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

This is one of the passages of Scripture that has given rise to some pretty awful concepts, such as cars suddenly having their drivers be "raptured." I find it amusing that so many Christians expend so much effort on "decoding" the apocalyptic portions of the Bible (especially the Revelation) and claiming to know for certain that we are in the "last days," while here Jesus makes it crystal clear that we do not know the hour or the day when Jesus will return.

My pastor occasionally makes reference to a bumper sticker she saw some years back: "Jesus is coming: Look busy!". It makes me laugh, but there's an ugly truth about it concerning how the church behaves. We are far more willing to engage in "busy work" than to be consistently, faithfully busy doing the actual work the Lord has given us. Some of us are extremely proud to picket abortion clinics, for example; why, Jesus would be so proud of our opposition to abortion! But just what are we doing besides a cheap protest that mainly just irritates people? Not much, at least not much that matters in the lives of women who seek abortions. We refuse to even consider educating our children and youth about human sexuality; we condemn and shun young women who become pregnant outside marriage; we piously condemn the government for doing for single mothers what the church refuses to do: provide them with some financial and housing assistance so that they and their children don't end up homeless and starving to death. Even more telling is our self-insulation from "that kind" of person: someone who's never known a stable family, perhaps infected with a sexually-transmitted disease, who has no stable job and who is now bewildered when faced with the consequences of settling for a sexual relationship while actually seeking love. Have we given her, or her partner, any love as the church? Sadly, no. We make fun of how they dress (droopy pants or pants that don't quite cover midriff and upper hips), we express our distaste for their music, we despise everything they stand for and make no secret of the fact. But hey . . . we get in their faces when out of desperation the pregnant women seek an abortion. (Actually, we get in the faces of any women who go to the clinics, because we don't know if they're there for abortions or for something else, such as contraception, HIV testing, or low-cost Pap tests. We just assume the worst and who cares if we're wrong?)

And that's just one example of how we're doing busywork instead of Kingdom work. Busywork means we never get our hands dirty. Busywork keeps us smug and self-righteous. Busywork is safe.

Kingdom work, however, involves risk. We actually have to get involved in people's lives and meet them where they are. It's messy, it's inconvenient, it's heart-breaking. But it's also the most glorious self-expenditure there is. Really, nothing else has any eternal value.

God makes it clear that our outward piety means nothing if we do not humble ourselves and walk in our Savior's footsteps. Christ loved us so much that he emptied himself, took on human flesh, was born into poverty, all so that he could become sin for our sakes on the cross. He was absolutely, vitally involved in our lives. How dare we settle for outward, meaningless forms of self-congratulatory piety when we're called to be the body of Christ, alive in the world, touching and healing and loving and teaching those Christ died to save?

That is what it means, in my opinion, to be ready for Christ. And isn't it interesting that when we do these things, we see the face of the Savior in those we serve?

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