Lectionary Readings for the First Advent, Dec. 1. Isaiah 2:1-5, Ps 122, Rom. 13:11-14, Matt. 24:36-44
"Then two will be left in the field; one will be taken and one will be left...." For so many of us these words bring up memories of bad movies, sensationalist books, and cold-stomach fear. (Okay, I admit I am quite biased! I really can't stand stuff that plays on emotion and uses it to scare people into belief.) Often this passage tends to hijack the rest of the message with the panic and the worry that ensues.
People don't like the idea of not knowing, of being unsure of what is in store for them. In the Believers Church Bible Commentary, Richard Gardner says that people have tended toward 3 responses to apocalyptic literature like this. One is to attempt to "assemble all the jigsaw pieces", to document and explain and predict. A second is to disregard the corporate nature of the message and turn it into a reason for an individualistic "get right with God" thing-getting scared into heaven. A third is to completely spiritualize the message by saying the judgement and resurrection is all part of the here and now, but isn't a physical time or place or event.
Gardner says all three tendencies are largely unhelpful. The message here is that God is determined to redeem us, and we are invited to get involved. Absolutely central to the message is the assertion that Jesus IS coming again, so why keep waiting to get ourselves aligned with God's work?
I still have trouble with the "rapture" verses. I guess I want explanations too, but if "even the son" doesn't know what is coming, why should I be any different? It's best instead, to listen to what Jesus says in verse 36, that no one can know the day or hour when things end and begin. We have to trust God, not our crazy explanations and mental gymnastics.
The scriptures for First Advent always include some apocalyptic, some acknowledgement that humans are messed up and that without God's intervention, we are lost. The Romans passage is rather interesting in what it suggests might be happening among the faithful. It emphasizes the need to wake up to what is happening and there is a call to join God's side. Paul urges his readers to put aside works of darkness, to live honorably and not be caught up in drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, and jealousy. Wow. Makes me wonder what was all happening in that community. The early church certainly had its share of dysfunction and compliance with the bad parts of current culture! They needed God so desperately that they were seeing the "end". Our world is different in the technological sense, but at it's core, we have the same desperate need for God that means that the apocalyptic scriptures still resonate for us. God will help us, we are called to wake up and join in, and we have to wait and trust.
On first Advent, we cry out for God to intervene, to show us again, where Jesus is being born into lives and offering redemption. We cry out to see the hope that we crave.