Matthew 24:36-44 (MSG)
“But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows. The arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.
“The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind.
So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.”
It never fails. We have just finished an amazing week at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp. I’ve loaded up the vehicles with lots of exhausted, euphoric kids to make the long trip back to western Washington. We don’t even get all the way down the camp road before the chorus begins… “Traci, how many days until we come back to camp?” “What offsite trip will we take next summer?” “How old do you have to be to be a counselor?” “How am I going to wait for a whole year to come back?” “Traci, I can’t wait…!”
Waiting is hard.
Christmas is all around us. Already. The Christmas Tree farm down the street from our house has been hopping all weekend. Colored lights are beginning to appear on houses. Santa Claus is hanging out at the mall. If you turn on the radio, you can find Christmas music on most of the stations. There are Christmas movies and specials all over the TV, not to mention the numerous Christmas commercials.
As the world around us is telling us to start celebrating Christmas right here and right now, we, instead are entering a period of waiting, of watching, and of expectancy.
This Sunday marks the first Sunday in Advent and it is also the first Sunday of the church year. We begin our brand-new church year in the Gospel of Matthew. But the lectionary does a curious thing. It starts at the beginning by starting at the end. We begin our church year, and our season of Advent, by focusing on end times.
“Stay awake, alert,” Jesus tells us. When Jesus says this, he is not calling us to anxious concern about the end-time, but to vigilant faith in this present moment. When he tells us to keep watch, he is calling us to pay attention to the nearness of God’s kingdom in the circumstances of our lives today and to see the places where God is already at work; to catch glimpses in the most unexpected places of God, here and now, in our midst.
We carry Jesus’ name. This means we also carry the responsibility of being his kingdom people set in the midst of the world. In Christ, we have seen glimpses of God’s kingdom, and so this is what we work toward here and now. In this space between the Advent of Jesus’ birth and the Advent of Jesus’ return, we serve, we work, we pray, we hope, we shine, we welcome, we advocate, and we love. In other words, we become the hands, feet and heart of Jesus in our world.
When you walk out your doors today, you will enter a Christmas world; a world of bright reds and greens, of joyous carols and festive decorations, a world excited with the anticipation of gifts given and received, a world of Silver Bells and Jingle Bells, a world of hustle and bustle.
May we, as God’s Advent people, not make a mad dash to the manger. Instead, may we watch and wait in joyful expectation and hope and may we live our faith boldly and vigilantly in this space between.
Traci Vatne is the Director of Faith Formation at Messiah Lutheran Church in Auburn, WA. She grew up as a camper at FLBC, served as a counselor for four summers as a young adult, and now continues to make the long trek to camp each summer with the youth from her congregation.