Griffin and I were alone in the sanctuary last Sunday. It was after worship, and the creche was
‘open’ – with kids and the young at heart outside chasing farm animals trying to pet and picture with them.
But Griffin had asked me to come to the Sanctuary for a minute. He wanted to show me how the new, portable sound system works. Keith is going to set it up for the 5 p.m. Outdoor Service on Christmas Eve. But Griffin and Elizabeth will be long gone, already with family in Michigan. And as he explained, “with new equipment, with any kind of equipment, it’s always good to have at least two people who sort of know how to work it.”
So it’s just Griffin and I — and two speakers on stands, some random cables and a microphone — in the Sanctuary when all of a sudden we begin to hear this rising noise. It’s music. And it’s getting loud fast.
But it is unclear where it’s coming from. And getting way louder than makes sense. So we stop talking because, though we are only a few feet apart, we can not hear each other over the din. And it keeps getting louder. It’s omnipresent, as if the source is somewhere in the Sanctuary with us, and the volume is still increasing…
This has happened three times in as many days. The last time during the Elders meeting on Monday night. But this was the first instance. Each time, I wonder if the animals outside are upset and running around frantically. But when I’ve heard the incredibly loud music, I’ve never been in sight of the animals. I also haven’t seen the source of the deafening racket either.
I suppose it’s some driver who’s taken to a route that goes right by Old First, but with some sort of hyped up speakers that are actually outside the car. One could not stand that much volume, the bass actually physically pounding on one’s body, inside the confines of an automobile.
But that first time, as the noise just kept growing to unfathomable decibels, all around Griffin and me (and as if from nowhere), I turn to him, who can’t possibly hear me, but reads my lips, “Jesus is finally coming back; only you and I are in the right place; everyone else, I guess, is just out of luck.” He laughs. Maybe Jesus laughs too.
I’ve known Jehovah’s Witnesses who won’t enter other people’s churches. They fear, “if Jesus comes while I’m in the wrong church, he won’t recognize and tap me… and take me to heaven.”
The lessons of Advent include the standard teachings of our faith — that time will end, and Jesus will return, and God’s plan will be consummated with evil being final vanquished, the church victorious, and God’s chosen receiving their reward, for example Matthew 24:30-31.
At the founding of the church, Christians believed that Jesus’ imminent return would happen before the first generation passed away. That belief is memorialized in Paul’s advice not to marry, which would have been a distraction, while one should have been concentrating on spiritual things because the end is near (see 1 Cor. 7: 29-31).
But the end did not come. And Jesus did not return. And the church had to begin a to-this-day endless reinterpretation of its timing, understanding and beliefs. Does it really surprise us anymore that our human attempts to discern how God is at work are, well, let’s just say a bit off target?
Our tradition still posits a point at which God will finally bring all things together. But most of progressive Christians aren’t so concerned about getting everything done and their lives straightened out before Jesus returns. “Ok, in one of those ‘holy mysteries sorts of ways’ that might happen someday, but I don’t expect it in my life time.”
Sometimes I think we might be helped if we felt a bit more urgency!
But I too take the whole end of things as in Revelation scenario like the van I passed while taking my kids to grade school. Parked on the corner of 110th Street and 5th Avenue, it was painted loudly and ominously on its side, “October 28, 1992, 10 a.m. E.S.T. The end is coming.” (It’s an easy to date for me to remember: my younger son Simon’s 8th birthday.) Day after day, the van was parked there, threatening. Until Oct. 29, when it mysteriously disappeared.
My family wondered, “perhaps whomever got it almost right, but only the van was spirited up to heaven?!” I don’t know how Rev. Lee Jang Rim, a Korean Christian pastor, handled the failure of his prophecy and calculation when the Rapture would occur. But I took it as another sign that God was giving us more time to get things right.
I’m not going to make a prediction! Even as I suggest a renewed sense of urgency.
In the way that religious tradition can play with time itself– mixing and melding what has always been and what is not yet and what is currently coming to be — we say at Christmas Jesus is coming to us. I believe there is a lot of meaning in that statement. And recommend it to you.
You have a week. God did a lot in creation’s first week. How much could you get done in the next seven days? What if you were to get your life in better order before you have to kneel at the manger? Perhaps there are more important matters to attend to than just buying one more gift…
If the arbitrariness of Dec. 25 (which after all wasn’t really the date of Jesus’ birth, so much as a pagan celebration of the winter solstice) isn’t compelling, you might take the longer view (which we often duck as well!). Beloved, we all only have so much time.
As we grow older, and watch others’ lives end, I think that our limitedness also becomes more real. And so there are some fairly simple, though ominous questions we might ask ourselves:
~ what do you wish to do with the time left you are given?
~ do you mean to make something valuable of your life, which at the end you can be proud of?
~ do you ever fear that too late, you might find that you have wasted much of what you had been offered?
Ok, perhaps that’s Michael sounding uncharacteristically like a threatening, but poorly painted Rapture van parked at the corner of 110th and 5th. But is it untrue?
See you in church,