Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
I’ve been thinking about last week’s sermon all week. You might remember that Pr. Jan Nesse invited us to think of Jesus as an icon.
Anyone who has a computer knows what an icon is. You see an example of an icon on the back of today’s bulletin: the Internet Explorer icon. An icon is a symbol, but it’s more than just a symbol. If I use my computer mouse to click on that symbol, it opens up a whole other world that I couldn’t see without the icon.
Icons didn’t start with computers. They began almost 2000 years ago in the earliest days of the church. Those original icons were painted images of Jesus, Biblical characters & the saints of the church. The picture on the cover of this morning’s bulletin is an example of such an icon.
These church icons serve the same purpose as computer icons. They are symbols that serve as a gateway to a whole other world. Throughout the ages Christians have used icons as a focus for prayer & meditation, as a way of experiencing more deeply the presence & power of God.
As I’ve been thinking about both computer icons & religious icons, I’ve been wondering what else our personal computers (or Macs!) can teach us about our spiritual journey.
In the world of computers, it’s easy to become out of date in a hurry. Like most people, I have my computer set so that the software is automatically updated. Not everyone has a computer but even if you don’t almost everyone gets updates in the form of a newspaper or TV news. On a computer, updates make sure the computer has what it needs to do its very best.
So it is in the life of faith. When we open up the Bible we read stories from thousands of years ago, about people & places far away. We have a choice: either they’re just stories about people long ago & far away; or, we find ways to understand how God can speak through those stories directly to us. When we “update” the stories to our own time, we discover that the people in those stories are not so strange, after all. The purpose of sermons & Bible study is just that—to help us hear God speaking to us through those stories.
Updates are important for computer users. They’re important for people on a spiritual journey, too. But our understanding of God’s Word needs more than updates; it needs upgrades.
How many computer users among us this morning are using the Windows 95 operating system? No, & probably not Windows 98, Windows 2000, or Windows ME, either. I’m still using the Windows XP operating system on my laptop, which is not as new as Vista or the very latest, Windows 7. I’m often one of the last to upgrade!
Can you imagine using Windows 95 today? It was a big deal when it came out 15 years ago. Not anymore!—it probably wouldn’t even work on today’s computers! But the operating systems aren’t the only difference; think of the speed. Most computer users today have high-speed Internet access; remember dial-up? And think of the difference in computer memory & storage between now & ten years ago.
As we upgrade our computers we have greater access to the tools & information of the World Wide Web. So think of God as the World Wide Web–it’s a stretch but bear with me here! As we “upgrade” our understanding of God’s Word we have greater knowledge, but also greater awareness of God’s presence in our lives.
What might it mean to “upgrade” our faith? Well, the word itself holds a clue. If I upgrade, I move up a grade—as in, I move up a grade, from Kindergarten to first grade to second grade, etc. None of us would choose to stay in Kindergarten. Likewise, in our spiritual life, we don’t stay in “Kindergarten” year after year—I hope! We want to move “up a grade.”
This morning, our reading from Matthew offers us an opportunity to do just that. This is a reading we hear year after year on the First Sunday in Advent. Many of us have learned to believe that in these words Jesus speaks of the end of the world
But is that really what it’s about? Or, is there some way we might “upgrade” our understanding of this reading?
In this passage, Jesus doesn’t say anything about the end of the world. He says only that we need to be ready when the “Son of Man” shows up:
For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
In other words, people in ancient times just lived normal, ordinary lives—like we do. But when God showed up among them few were ready & not many saw it. Jesus was speaking of his own time, as well: People were just going about their lives; God was right there among them in the person of Jesus himself– but people weren’t ready to see it.
What do you think? Could the same be true today? God shows up in the normal circumstances of our lives—every day. But we’re often too busy or distracted to see, especially if God shows up in ways we don’t expect, or in ways that we don’t want to see.
So—is today’s reading from Matthew really about the end times? Or, is it about the present time?
The thing about upgrades is that they always cost something. If I upgrade my computer hardware or software it will cost me something in terms of dollars & cents.
Likewise, upgrades to our spiritual understanding will cost us something. Spiritual upgrades require us to leave behind beliefs about God & God’s Word that seemed to work at one time but which now actually limit our relationship with God.
More than that, upgrades to our beliefs might require something of us. If I pay for a computer upgrade I do so, knowing the benefits I’ll receive. But it’s often much harder to upgrade our spiritual life because although we can see the cost, we can’t always see the benefit. Sometimes the price seems too high to pay. We acknowledge through the symbol of our faith—the cross—that yes, spiritual upgrades can cost a lot.
Advent is a season that calls our attention to God’s presence among human beings. Not just in the past. Not just in the future. Because God is where God has always been: Here. Now. Right under our noses.
In every season of our lives, God has a spiritual upgrade for us, waiting to be installed. It’s costly; it will mean either moving out of the past & into the present. Or, it will mean letting go of the future & being grounded in the present. Because this is the season of Advent, when we fix our attention on Emmanuel: “God With Us”…today!
Let us pray…