Begin With The End In Mind

Let’s start out with a game. This one is called “Party Quirks”. I have some contestants that have been preselected, and I have a host. The way this works is that one person will pretend to be hosting a party. The others will come in one at a time and exhibit some kind of “quirk”. The host has to guess the identity of the guest’s quirk.

[The guests in this game will be a person who loves Christmas, the Grinch, someone who is has the Christmas blues, a person who reminds everyone that Jesus is the reason for the season, and an end times preacher.]

Wasn’t that fun?! Now, out of all of those guests, who would you say was the most out of place? Right – the End Times Preacher! Yet that is exactly what we have in our readings today, both from Isaiah and Mark. Just when you think you’ve had enough from the Gospel of Matthew about the Kingdom of God that is both present and yet to be – on the first Sunday of Advent, the lectionary gave to me, the little apocalypse and Isaiah calling for God to come down and fix things.

While this may not set well with our holiday festivities and shopping sprees, it is exactly what we need to hear. It’s what we need to hear because it grabs us and says, “Hey! Are you awake in there? Are you paying attention to the world around you? There’s stuff going on that clearly isn’t good or right.”

The thing is, we know that to be true. We can act like we’re shocked over the rise in post-apocalyptic teen fiction or the uptick in sales of dystopian novels and media based on them. But, according to media critic, Jason Heller, “Post-apocalyptic books are thriving for a simple reason: The world feels more precariously perched on the lip of the abyss than ever, and facing those fears through fiction helps us deal with it. These stories are cathartic as well as cautionary. But they also reaffirm why we struggle to keep our world together in the first place. By imagining what it's like to lose everything, we can value what we have.”

There may be some truth to that with Jesus’ words about the end times and Isaiah’s plea for God to rip open the heavens and come down, but they also point us to something more than what we have. They point us to what we don’t have. They point us toward a reality that is not based on my comfort or yours, but instead on true union with God and one another.

And this is how we begin the season of Advent. We begin with the end in mind. By that I don’t mean the destruction of all that is. By that I mean the purpose, the telos, the reason for being. And our chief end, as the Westminster Confession tells us is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. That doesn’t start when we are dead and buried. It starts here and now.

That’s why Jesus tells us that there will be signs to tell us the time, but we will never know the time. For Advent is all about getting ready for Christ’s coming – even though we know him to be present in our hearts, in the compassion of strangers, and in the letting go of troubles that we can only solve through the hands of the creator!

Oh, what a great artist the Lord is, to be able to work with my brokenness and yours to make beautiful things when we let go and submit to God’s hands. Now, that does not mean that we aren’t involved or responsible. It means that faith can give us a vision of greater things, and the greatest thing is found through God’s love realized by someone who can look in the eyes of another and see their reflection as God’s beloved.

There’s a great story going around about this Olympic Athlete named Tatyana McFadden. She was born in Russia with a birth defect and abandoned to an orphanage. Deborah McFadden, herself a survivor of a debilitating disease, was part of a delegation from the US visiting the orphanage. She had no desire to adopt a child, but she and Tatyana saw each other as beloved and there was no other choice.

Tatyana moved to Boston and though she had no use of her legs she fell in love with sports. By age 14 she decided she wanted to be an Olympian. By age 15 she had won a Bronze and a Silver before even starting high school. Unfortunately, they would not let her compete in track events in her wheelchair. That’s when Deborah stepped in and sued the school board – not for money, only for participation.

The result caught fire and eventually became the law of the land that all schools offer equal access in sports and fitness programs. Tatyana is now a graduate student, has earned 17 Olympic Medals, and is starting an advocacy program called “Start Your Impossible.” And all because someone saw a little girl crawling around on her hands and wanted her to know that she was beloved.

The thing is, there are little apocalypses – small revelations of truth – that happen all around us, or at least could if we stay awake. There are even things happening right now that our forbearers would think of as entirely dystopian – things like racial equality, women’s rights, and the acceptance of the LGBTQ community – that are actually proving to be ways to experience God’s presence here and now.

Yes, these texts are here to confront us. They are here to ask us what kind revelation we are hoping for. And they are here to remind us that we are to expect God to show up this Christmas, even here and even now.

So, our waiting is not a passive thing. It should gather momentum and force like the kettle described by Isaiah. In our waiting we should know that the heavens were torn for God’s spirit to descend on Jesus, and so that same Spirit is loose in the world in wheel chairs and coffee shops, in kindness to strangers and forgiveness of even our own shortcomings. Yes, let’s get ready, but not just for Christmas. Let’s get ready for the end.

For if we begin with the end in mind, we can’t help but give glory to God here and now in every chance encounter and every beloved soul that reflects God’s face to us. It’s just that simple, and it’s just that hard, but to God be the glory no matter what. Amen!
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