I’m not used to preaching at 2:30 in the morning but today is one of those days. Minjing and I returned from China yesterday afternoon so on the one hand our bodies and minds are here. On the other hand, China is sixteen hours ahead of us so our bodies and minds are sound asleep on the far side of the world.
The truth is that this is really common for all of us. I don’t mean that we all experience jetlag. But I do mean that while on the one hand our bodies and minds are in the present, on the other hand a lot of the time our hearts and minds are in a different place or a different time. When it comes down to it, we don’t spend a lot of time in the present.
Pay attention to your thoughts this week and see if that’s true. We spend tons of energy on the past, or, on the future. It can be longing or regret or fear. But whether our hearts and minds are in the past or in the future it’s a sign that we don’t think the present, the here and now, is good enough. If only we could return to the past, if only we could fast forward into the future, then we would be happy. Then we would be content.
It’s the first Sunday in Advent and today’s readings could give us the idea that Christmas is the big deal, that the future is what it’s all about. Some of us here might agree with that. Some love Christmas! A whole lot of others, for many reasons, don’t. If you’re one of those this morning who is not looking forward to Christmas there is good news for you: the season of Advent is for you.
The dictionary definition of Advent is “arrival.” During this season and we will hear the word “Emmanuel,” which means, “God With Us.” Not, God will be with us in some better future time. Not, God will be with us in the afterlife. God. With us. Now.
Some folks live their lives like this: either, “we’ve got our salvation sewn up so we can do whatever we want now”, or, “life is so miserable now that my only hope is in the future, or in the afterlife.” We could get the idea that Christian faith is mostly about the future. In today’s reading from Luke Jesus speaks of distress among nations and powerful signs in nature. Many Christians read this as a prophecy for the end of the world. But I ask you, folks, when have these things ever not been true? When has there ever not been distress among nations? When have there ever not been floods and earthquakes, and eclipses and comets, and hurricanes and tornadoes, and the aurora borealis, and all manner of awesome and sometimes terrifying displays of nature’s power?
Jesus says when you see these things know that the kingdom of God is near. And then this most important verse: This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. In other words, this stuff is going on all the time! It was happening with his audience; it’s happening today. It’s true: war, natural disasters, and tragedy are all around us. But just as true and more important is this: God is present. God is powerful. God is at work. Now! Or, as Jesus teaches in Luke 17:21, the kingdom of God is within you.
Yesterday at SeaTac International Airport Minjing and I got off the plane, went through customs and picked up our bags at baggage claim. It took a while for our bags to arrive and we were getting a bit antsy. When you’ve just completed a 10-hour flight across the Pacific it’s hard to live in the present. You just want to get home! But I’ve been reading a lot lately about the power of living in the present so I decided that as we waited for our bags rather than being impatient I would just live in the moment.
Funny what can happen when we make that choice: When I stopped wishing our bags would hurry up I noticed something I would have missed otherwise: There was a big sign in the middle of the baggage carousel. It was an ad, of course, and it read: What are you waiting for? Well, the ad is for a government program that expedites international passengers who can receive clearance to go through customs faster. It was that, but it was also, for me, the voice of God, speaking to me. And maybe, speaking to you. What are you waiting for? Is this present moment not good enough? Maybe it’s a little thing: maybe you’re bored, looking at your watch, can’t wait for coffee hour. Or, maybe it’s something bigger: Are you waiting for people in your life to change? Are you waiting for your bank account to improve?
Are you waiting for death? Is there some area of your life where the present moment isn’t good enough, and your hope for peace or happiness is in the future?
Probably all of us are tempted in that direction. And when we give in to the temptation to believe that the past or the future is better than the present than we join countless generations of souls who have made the same mistake before us. That includes those who saw the miracles of Jesus, who heard the teachings of Jesus, but were so committed to their past or their belief in a future Messiah that they couldn’t see the power of God, the presence of God, the love of God right under their noses. Right in the present!
If you need an example of what living in the present looks like read today’s second lesson from 1 Thessalonians. This short reading is pure gratitude and praise. Wherever we find gratitude, praise and joy we can be sure that someone is not looking for God to appear in the future. Someone is seeing and experiencing the Living God in the here and now!
So where is your heart this morning? What are you waiting for? Are you looking ahead to Christmas? Fine. But maybe for you Christmas is exhausting, too much pressure, too many expectations; it may be downright depressing. And for you especially, the season of Advent may be a gift to replenish your soul in the present, remembering that God has already arrived. In so many ways, if we have spiritual eyes to see, God is with us! AMEN