Is this the weirdest Advent scripture ever? In Advent we’re waiting for Jesus to come, both as a baby to Bethlehem, but also to come again, like this passage from Matthew describes. The day our Lord is coming will come like a thief – since when does God act like a thief?
‘Twas the month before Christmas and throughout our towns
We’re shopping and baking and making smiles from frowns
For politics are scary and everyone’s stressed
And holiday cheer just might fix this mess
We’ll decorate trees and maybe hang up a stocking
Wake early for doorbusters, do serious online shopping
2016 disappointed many of us, the year has been rough
Must be time for Santa Claus to bring us some stuff
Jesus is going to break into our world at an unexpected hour, says our scripture from Matthew. Jesus, like a thief in the night, is coming when we least expect it. That is a jarring metaphor. Just doesn’t seem like Jesus’ style, sneaking into our house in the middle of the night – that’s Santa Claus’ job, right?!
When Santa sneaks in he might take milk and cookies, but he leaves presents behind – what does Jesus take, and what does Jesus bring?
What would you like Jesus to take from you this Advent, so you can be ready for Christmas?
I pray that Jesus will steal my resentment – my resentment that our culture chases after celebrity and fame and outrageous wealth. My resentment that our most shallow and selfish sides get to dominate headlines, airwaves, even national politics.
I’m righteously angry that 20,000 people die of hunger every day in this world. Every day, 20,000 people.
And we’re waiting for hours in line to shop for holiday deals – is anyone waiting in line to volunteer at the soup kitchen or Alternative Christmas Gifts Bazaar?
I am righteously angry, but it doesn’t help any of us if I wallow in resentment and complain, does it? Just leaves us all feeling guilty and weary. So this Advent I pray that Jesus sneak into my heart and steal my resentment.
Because we read in Matthew that Jesus shows up unexpected, like a thief in the night. And when a scripture is that weird we can turn the page, or we can get curious. A thief catches us off guard. A thief is subtle, sneaky. So if Jesus came today he wouldn’t show up as America’s next Idol, or President? Jesus wouldn’t have popular merchandise associated with his brand?
Let me try this again:
It’s the month before Christmas and all through our land
The people are worried – we don’t understand
In our families and country, so much is the matter
We tune in to God to hear peace in this clatter
For Advent’s upon us, and what will it mean?
Time to stack presents high and get the house squeaky clean?
Juggling family schedules and everyone’s diets
And go a whole month without peace or quiet?
I don’t mean to diminish the rituals of modern Christmas – if decorating and gift wrapping and cookie-baking increase your joy and are a way for you to share love with the people around you, that’s wonderful. But for many people it just becomes chaos and stress.
I do think it’s ironic how many of us are focused on our homes being neat, our lights being perfectly spaced along the roof, our wrapping paper carefully folded and secured with no more than 3 pieces of tape per present.
Because the first Christmas, the one we read about in scripture, was anything but neat. It was full of messy people in the midst of messy geopolitics – kind of like what we’re living through today!
Take the shepherds, who proclaim Jesus’ birth. “An angel of the Lord stands before them, and the glory of the Lord shines around them.” They go to Bethlehem and meet Jesus, and then, “they make known what had been told them about this child, and all who hear it are amazed.”
Shepherds are the dregs of 1st century Palestinian society. Everyone looks down on them. Shepherds are like people you wouldn’t want to end up sitting next to on the bus, and if you do, you might hold your breath a little, assuming they smell bad. They’re definitely dirty, living in the fields with sheep, and most people look down on them as barbaric.
Shepherds are the first guests at the first Christmas party.
And of course there’s the holy family – a teenage first-time mom, traveling across the countryside with her betrothed and they can’t find any place to sleep, so they end up sleeping with animals and Jesus ends up spending his first night in a feeding trough.
Who else ends up in our nativity scene?
The magi – who we sometimes call kings, but scripture calls them magi, magicians, who follow stars and see the future. Today many Christians roll their eyes at astrologers or would call fortune-tellers heathens, but the magicians came to see Jesus and helped him survive his earliest years.
Because the king, Herod, wanted to kill him. Jesus didn’t come for our adoration and admiration. Jesus came to turn the world upside down, and it scared people even when he was a baby, and it scared people when he grew up – so much that he was killed by the powerful.
This Advent I pray that Jesus sneak into my mind and steal my assumptions about power: that kings and presidents and CEOs have the most important power.
Because we follow in the way of Jesus, who comes to earth as a homeless baby, in a messy stable, born into a precarious family situation, waiting a year or even two to settle in his hometown Nazareth, he has none of the power of kings and presidents and CEOs.
Sometimes we call Jesus king or lord, but he is a truly different kind of leader, he empowers us to get closer to God, to listen in our prayers, to follow our callings, to serve other people, to love so fully that we give everything up for one another.
This Advent may our hearts open to the king who is born homeless, who lives as a refugee, whose power is in vulnerability, in serving others, in proclaiming the good news of God’s love and vision of peace and justice.
On the first day of Advent, let us listen for God’s peace amidst the clatter and clutter of our lives, and spend one minute now in silence.