Advent III Year B December 14, 2008 Abbey Church
I Thessalonians 5:16-24
We have been hearing a lot the last few weeks about Jesus coming to us, either for the first time or as a return visit. We hear it in our scripture readings, our non-scripture readings, our sermons, and our antiphons sung before and after we recite scripture. We hear about Jesus coming for the first time many years ago in Palestine (as in our gospel story this morning about John the Baptist), about Jesus coming again an untold number of times as we and others invite him into our lives, and we hear about Jesus coming again to us finally as our world as we know it ends (as in Paul's letter that we heard this morning).
Jesus is not the only person people are expecting to return. Some people set an extra chair at their table in case Elijah shows up while they are eating. King Arthur is said to be awaiting his return at a crisis time. Tupac Shakur's return from hiding is also awaited by many people. Where I am from, some people are waiting for Pancho Villa to return and help them fight off the government on both sides of the Rio Grande. Even amongst the people who are waiting for Jesus to return, there are differences in opinion about how he will do so, and many people back up those opinions with scripture verses to prove their point, no matter how different it might be from any of the other return scenarios. Some say Jesus will return by filling our hearts with love and kindness so that we see to it that no one ever goes hungry again and no more wars are ever started. Others say that he will return standing on a big cloud - in fact, he will be so big and the cloud will be so big, every one around the world will see it at the same time. Others say he will return fours years from next Sunday in Earth orbit commanding a navy of heavily armed starships filled with combat angels to drive away the reptile people from planet Nibiru who are using humans as slave labor and a food source.
No matter what we think about the way Jesus will return, we do need to decide what we are going to do until he does return. One of the things we can do to get ready is to get used to having him here by letting him into our lives and getting to know him (and that is not just a one-shot activity as some would have us think). We need to constantly be opening up to let Jesus be the center of our thoughts, words, and deeds (we know we need to do it a lot, because we all know how often our thoughts, words, and deeds do not have Jesus as their center).
Many people speak of sacrificing our own egos in order to let Jesus reign in us. For us right here and right now, the concept of "choosing" might be more helpful than the concept of "sacrificing". The subtle difference in how we use those two words was made plain by an athlete interviewed on television during the last Olympic Games. She was asked about all the sacrifices that it took to become an expert in her field, and she replied that she did not believe in sacrifices, but rather that she believed in choices. She said if one really wants to do something, then one makes choices to enable her to do it - nothing grander than that.
We might want to take what she said to heart. Many people say that being a Christian and/or a monk takes sacrifices. Unfortunately in our time and place, sacrifice often implies drama and exhibitionism. We don't need any more of that in our world. What we do need is thoughtful choices. We need to choose to do certain things and not do certain things in order to live a life of integrity as Christians and/or as monks. Of course in other parts of the world, sacrifice is required, but here in cozy 21st century America, it is unusual to be asked to sacrifice. Every once in a while, some people are asked to do it and we should be grateful for them, and maybe if we made better choices and were consistent in putting them into practice, fewer people would need to make sacrifices. But for most of us, what we think of as sacrifice is really only the feeling of being put-upon when we are confronted with the choices involved in any vocation. Even our smallest actions have consequences, and if we really want to do certain things, then there are other things that we must either do or avoid in order to meet our commitments; in the words of the Olympic athlete: "Nothing grander than that."
Words are merely words; the important thing is that we make straight the way of the Lord for his coming into our world, to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, whether we do that by sacrificing our selves or by simply choosing certain things and not choosing other things. Jesus said he would come back. We don't know how or when. We just need to be as ready for it as we can be. He was with us once in Palestine, he is with us still in his disciples and in the food at the altar, he will be with us again. May we choose to welcome him. AMEN