These five innocent words are probably dreaded by many introverts who want nothing more than to curl up next to a fire with a good book on a cold winter’s night rather than another somewhat meaningless party. Even more dreaded is during the Christmas season which seems to be geared for extroverts – more parties, endless cheer, and “happiness.” Worse, you might feel guilty that you’re not enjoying this as much as you “ought to be”.
I get that. That’s me for the last two years. I posted last year that I have lost the wonder in Christmas. But that’s more an indictment of me than the commercialized Christmas you see on TV and the Hallmark Channel.
However, as the church calendar for the last 1800 years reminds me, today is the beginning of the Advent season. Advent is the four Sundays before Christmas Day. Each Sunday is marked by a different theme. The first Sunday calls us to remind us of Hope and Light.
Hope and Light are almost synonymous. If I am in the dark and hope to see anything, I turn the light on. Thomas Edison (or Tesla, depending on who you ask) made that possible with the light bulb. Lighthouses are always built on rocky points to tell mariners this is where the danger is. It also points the way and gives hope to the sailors.
What about spiritual or emotional darkness? Where are our spiritual lights? Where are the beacons leading the way?
The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.C.S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters
Two thousand plus years ago in the land of Judea in the Roman Empire, the Israelites were also wondering that question. Where is God? The last time God sent a prophet, it was 400 years ago. By contrast, The United States from the first permanent settlement Jamestown in 1607 AD to today is 412 years. The King James Bible would not be printed for another four years; not until in 1611. Imagine someone visiting Virginia in 1607 and then coming again only in 2007.
I’m going to ask the same question in a different context: Are you coming or not? That is what the Jews in 1st century Judea and all around were asking God. Worse, many of them had gotten tired of the silence from heaven. They were now spiritually asleep and emotionally numb.
Enter John the Baptist. Imagine a man who could match Bear Grylls on surviving in the desert mixed with Phil Robertson’s (Duck Dynasty) beard and spiritual values. That’s how I would imagine him: a big hairy man with a strong personality and whose beard was matched by his passionate love of God. John the Baptist came to wake up the people of his time; he said someone greater than him was coming. John might baptize the people with water, but the Messiah was coming to baptize them with something more powerful.
People were starting to feel hopeful again.
And then Jesus came the first time. We’re not sure what He looks like. There was never a physical description of him the way John the Baptist or King David were described. We know He was a joyful person and had a sense of humor; we know children loved hanging with him. We know everyone wanted to talk to Him – from the outsiders and the insiders. Even Gentiles wanted to talk to Him.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This is one of my favorite Bible passages. Jesus had answered the question that all Jews and Gentiles had been asking for ages: “Are you coming or not?” Yes, I am here, Jesus said. Then he turns the question on its head. “Are you coming to me or not?”
Last year, during a lectio divina exercise, I had the image of Jesus preparing a large picnic in the park with grilled chicken drumsticks and several ice buckets full of Dr. Pepper. I am not sure exactly why this was the image but I gave me a strong sense of peace. And I hear what could be Jesus saying: come and eat with me. Everything is ready. Just come.
This is something I probably will never forget.
As 2019 draws to a close, many Christians celebrating Advent are asking the question again: “God, are you coming back or not?”
- There is so much evil and the church is weak.
- I have no hope left. I can’t hold on any longer.
Sometimes, if you want to have hope, you might have to cheat a little and read the end of the book. This is what Jesus says:
Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.Revelations 22:12-13
As it pertains to the second coming: Jesus, are you coming or not?