Sunday, November 28, 2010

No appointment necessary

If we didn't have our calendars, we'd be in big trouble. Especially this time of year. Look at all we have to fit in. As we prepare for the Christmas, we have to schedule family visits, get-togethers, office and school parties. We have to make sure the lights go up and schedule when we are going to buy the tree. We even have to schedule when we do good: soon people will start ringing the phone off the hook for a chance to help out in the Soup Kitchen or Jacob’s Christmas--some at the last minute! No doubt about it, there is a lot to do, and if we don't have our calendars, blackberries, smartphones and planners ready, then we just aren't going to be ready.

But here is the pinch. We know when Christmas Day is coming, but the Gospel reminds us that we don’t know when God is coming. Jesus says that whenever it is when God will wrap everything up will be a surprise even the angels and to Jesus himself. We can schedule all our Christmas gatherings, we can coordinate with relatives, we can even plan our outreach and our gift-giving, but God does not make an appointment. God just shows up.

In the Gospel today, we hear Jesus tell the story of Noah. Generally, we assume that God sent the flood because people were being very bad, evil even. It turns out that they weren’t paying attention. They were so wrapped up in the everyday that they forgot about God. They forgot why they were doing all the things they were wrapped up in doing. And while they were busy, God showed up without an appointment.

So if Christ returned right now, unexpectedly, what would you tell him? "Go away, I'm busy getting this meal ready. We've got guests coming tonight." "Don't bother me now, it's my wedding day. I've got a million details to take care of." The question Jesus poses in today's Gospel is this: what or who is most important to you now?

There is another way that God will not be shoe-horned into our appointment books. Did you hear Jesus talk about how some people are taken and some are not? I don’t know about you, but when I hear this passage, I want to start trying to either decipher how and when this is going to take place, or I want to spend all time trying to get myself to front of the cosmic line. But this is just another way to make God fit our timetable. God doesn't make appointments. God shows up. So be watchful and be ready.

If you don't know how to be ready, don't worry. Jesus says something in Matthew that gives us a clue about how to be ready: You don't know when a thief might break into your house, so you prepare for him at all times. We can all relate to this, right? You lock your doors and windows. You leave a light on when you're gone. You insure your possessions. You do these things now because a thief could come at some unknown time. He won't make an appointment. And neither does God.

How do you prepare for the unexpected coming of the Son of Man? Well, let's build on that thief-in-the-night image a bit. Who is it that you would readily let into your house without an appointment? I don't think you would open your doors wide to an unexpected stranger. But you would welcome in a friend. Who is it that you'll let interrupt your busy work schedule? It's not some pushy salesman who shows up unannounced. A trusted co-worker, a boss, or a friend maybe. And if a friend calls long distance, even during an important meal, you'll talk to them. If it's a stranger or a rob0-call, you hang up. We prepare for the God who doesn't make appointments by living in relationship with Christ.

Some people think Advent is a time of quiet waiting. If we limit our thinking about waiting to something passive...we sit, God acts...we may miss something wonderful. Advent is also a time of active searching! Of looking for something great. We should be searching for the face of Jesus in the faces of the people God sends us and looking for hope when people say there isn’t any. When we start living what we are looking for, living for what we await, then we will begin to see that God is already unfolding it all around us.

While we often wonder how we can keep Christmas centered on Christ amid all the commercialization, we perhaps need to stress even more the need to keep one's daily life centered on Christ amid all the other demands placed on us by work, family, and self. The way we get ready for Christmas, the way let Christ be at the center of Christmas, is not to toss out the trees, the gifts, and music. And we certainly won’t keep Christ in Christmas by yelling at the poor store clerk who says “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The way to have Christ be at the center of Christmas is to let Christ be at the center of our living every day. The more familiar we are with him, the deeper our relationship with God, the more attentive to the face of Christ in the people God sends us, then the more ready we will be for him when he arrives.

There is a wonderful video that I saw on YouTube not long ago. It is to me a perfect picture of how it is that God comes to us without an appointment.

About a month ago, something wonderful happened at Macy's in Center City Philadelphia. Have you ever been to Macy’s in Center City? It is the old Wanamaker’s Department Store, and th main selling space is huge three or four floor open hall surrounded by balconies. Always playing in the background is music from the Wanamaker Organ - the world's largest pipe organ. At noon, the giant organ stopped. And then began the familiar introduction to the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" at 12 noon, to the delight of surprised shoppers. Salted throughout the store were members of the Opera Company of Philadelphia and member of 28 participating organizations. 650 choristers performed a "Random Act of Culture.”

I love this because it is a great illustration of what happens when God comes among us. It isn’t so much something happening which takes us away from the cares and concerns of this world, as it is God joining us where we live, work and play. When we become aware of God’s power and presence in our lives, then everything changes. When the 650 choristers starting singing the Hallelujah chorus, they did not stop being shoppers, or neighbors, or co-workers or friends, but they did change. They became messengers, signs of God at work among us. And you know what, just as these singers were there all along, God was there all along. The God we were waiting for, the purpose, the joy, the wonder we were waiting for, was there all along. We discover, as we go about the daily work of living a faithful life, that God is not up there, out there, far away, but it close by, right here, near to our hearts, our lives, our struggles and our triumphs. When we see that God is among us, everything changes.

God does not make an appointment. God appears. Advent is a season of waiting, yes, of anticipation and hope. More than that, Advent is a season for searching. Look high and low, search your hearts and the faces of the people around us, in beautiful places of worship, in everyday places of living, and most especially in the low, mean places of poverty and hardship to find the face and presence of God. We cultivate what we wait for every day as we deepen our life in Christ. When we bring hope to places where there was no hope, when we live what we wait for, then we discover that God’s love and power was there all along. God's doesn't make appointments. God doesn't need an appointment. God's hope and power and glory unfolds right before our very eyes, often when we least expect it.

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