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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Date: 11/28/2004
Feast: 1st s of advent, year A
James McTyre
Church: Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Bible text: Matt. 24:36-44 (see also Mark 13:24-37, Year B)
Theme: Hope

How do you know what's coming? It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (everywhere you go). We're lighting candles and singing the GOOD hymns. Not that all the others aren't good, but there's just something about those Christmas carols. In the church we try to remind you that it's not really Christmas season yet. We try. We say, "Wait! Hold on! Thanksgiving was only last Thursday. There are 26 more shopping days left to go. 26 more days of Advent. Some preachers won't even let their congregations sing Christmas carols until after Christmas Day. They make people sing Advent carols. Mean preachers. Bad, bad. Destined for short tenures. You know how many good Advent carols there are? Two. We’re singing both of them today. Two millennia of Christendom and two singable Advent carols are all we have. That ought to tell us something. We know what's coming. And we're ready for it to be here.

How do you know what's coming? Today’s scripture is either really good news or really bad news in that department. Jesus says not even HE knows about the day and the hour of “that day.” Well, which day? The end of the world day? Some people are sure this is what he’s talking about. The day of the rapture day? Some are sure this is what he’s talking about. Churches have divided into 31 flavors based on scripture like this. There are Premillennialists, Postmillennialists, Premillennialist-pretribulationalists, -midtribulationists, -postribulationists, and optimistic Amillennialists. (And we think Presbyterian is hard to spell. Try fitting one of those on a sign.) And then there are the rest of us who not only don’t know when Christ is returning, we can’t even remember which day to set out the garbage cans. Racing to the end of the driveway when we hear the BFI truck – there’s a lovely metaphor for so many of our lives.

We know what's coming this Christmas season because the same things happen every Christmas season. All this stuff about two in the field, two women grinding meal, and one left behind. It's the stuff of Kirk Cameron movies. It's the topic for other preachers in other denominations. Good Presbyterians that we are, we know what's coming because we plan what's coming. Scott & Cheryl & Carla & I – we’ve got it all on charts. We’ve made our lists, checked the twice, and posted them on the church web site.

We know what’s coming at Christmas. We save. We buy. We call the bank to up our credit limit. We make lists for Santa and go to the mall so our kids can hand him the printouts. Christmas is a time of no surprises, or few surprises. We tell the jolly old elf what we want and then sit back and let him do his thing. We know it's Christmas because there aren't surprises unless we say there are going to be surprises, and if there are surprises, we darn well better know what they're going to be.

We know it's Christmas because the same things happen every year. We're comfortable with them. We're OK with tradition. Yes, the Christ baby surprised everyone that first Christmas day, but one surprise in 2000 years is enough. Christmas is our great festival of predictability. We like it that way.

So what do we do with scripture that tells us that Christ's advent is utterly unpredictable – even to him? What do we do with scripture that tells us while Christ's coming is good, it's not exactly pleasant by our standards? What happens when the Word of God goes against everything we expect -- in the busiest holiday season of the year? Christ and Christmas are on a collision course. Someday all that we can prepare for will run headlong into all that we can't. And scripture tells us what we can't prepare for will win. How do we know what's going to happen? Not because we've put it on layaway. Not because we've done it that way for 1000 years. We know what's going to happen because God says it's going to happen. Maybe that's the biggest surprise of all. What God says is going to happen will happen. And God's happening will wipe out everything we think we're prepared for.

Praying, and watching for God's kingdom to come is not the prayer of the man (or woman) who has everything. Praying and watching for God's kingdom is not the prayer of the child who carefully peels back just enough tape on the corner of a present. Praying and watching for God's kingdom is the prayer of someone whose life is predictable only in its chaos. When we reach the point of knowing in our hearts that things aren't how they're supposed to be... When we reach the point of hoping for hope itself... God's promises of universal surprise begin to pull us through. God's promises of a new heaven and a new earth pull us into hope that we can't buy, make, bake, or charge. God's promise of change gives us life when our plans fall dead. When we honestly don't know what's going to happen... When we truly can't plan our way around the block, the Holy Spirit whispers the advent carol to us: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Knoxville-ille. That mourns in lonely exile here. Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice. Rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Louisville." It isn't a carol of birth; it's a carol of rebirth. And no wonder there aren't many good ones. They're almost too honest to sing. Advent strips us down beneath the jolly stuff we want to wear. Advent sings straight at the heart. Like an arrow to the soul, Advent sings songs only God knows how to write. They’re a little out of our range. They’re a little out of our key. We don't know exactly how they're going to go. But we know they will. Not because we can sing, or live, or plan our days so carefully. Advent will come in God's way, in God's time, because God says it will.

How do we know what's going to happen this Christmas? We all have our ideas about that. But how do we know what's going to happen in Advent? How do we know what's going to happen when Christ returns – to earth, to our homes... to you, and to your yearning heart? Miracle of miracles we don't know. We can't know. Not even Jesus knows. But God knows. And God says, "Just you wait. Just you watch. You'll see."