Isaiah 2: 1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13: 11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Today’s readings have a timely thread, and each has a different and distinct orientation. Isaiah speaks of “In days to come” and so, a future orientation. Paul in Romans says “it is now the moment”, a present orientation. And in Matthew’s gospel we are told of “that day and hour no one knows”, the orientation is open and not bounded by time. And these different orientations can help (or hinder) us in our understanding of ‘The Word’ that is revealed in the readings.

Isaiah is popularly understood as prophetic voice pointing to, or in a worse case scenario, predicting, the future. And so the book of Isaiah is often read as a text pointing toward ‘what God will do’; for example in v4, “He shall judge between the nations”, is read as if it were a future action of God. Such a reading has been further manipulated by theologians to show or to prove, that Christ’s timely appearance on earth was foretold on the Old Testament as part of some Divine plan that will and has unfolded in history.

If, however, the text is understood as unbounded by time (in the context of “that day and hour no one knows”) then we can open up a fuller understanding. A future orientation is as much about movement, change, growth and unfolding as it is about time. So, when we read in v2 that “In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established...”, rather than focus on “In days to come”, we might focus on the “shall be established” and ask of ourselves, is this the process that I am currently participating in? Am I currently participating in the establishment of the mountain of the Lord’s house? Rather than being a spectator, awaiting a future action of God, we are invited to reflect on the ‘life process’ that we are engaged in creating. And, in such a space of reflection we can know that there is not going to come a day when, ‘4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, for, “that day and hour no one knows”, But we do know the life orientation, the movement that takes us, and all, toward that day or away from its realisation. We know whether we are participating in the establishment of the mountain of the Lord, in the establishment of a world where they will beat their swords into ploughshares, in the creation of culture and a life in which nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Is my being, my creating, my life, my participation, moving toward that or away from it?

Paul in Romans seeks to underline such an appreciation of the process and participation. The Holy Scriptures speak of process and participation; they’re not a story that we sit down and look at, they are our story. Paul says in v11, ‘you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep’. Popular contemporary writers such as Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now capitalise on Paul’s enlightenment; what Paul saw in his heart contemporary writers are also seeing and writing best sellers about the same life process. ‘Now” is the moment of eternity; ‘now’ is the place where eternal life is evidenced; ‘now’ is where past and future are made real, because they are made present. To “wake from sleep” asks only for us to be attentive and aware in the now, for this is the first step in the beginning of our participation.

And in our awakening - it’s a great metaphor - we rise from our slumber, we actually get out of bed, and we get dressed: as Paul says put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t wait, watch and worship, rather ‘put on’, become Christ and show yourselves to the world as Christ.

Our understanding of the Gospel reading is also ‘introduced’ in the reading from Romans; v11 ‘salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers’. What is easily, and often, misunderstood is the idea that accompanies the process and purpose of salvation, an idea reflected in the Gospel text of v37: ‘For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man,’ and that is made even more clear in v40: ‘Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.’ In other words, and as taught by countless fools in the Church, if we are not saved, we will be left behind. At ‘the coming of the Son of Man’ some will be saved and others, like in the flood narrative, will be swept away.

The misunderstanding of texts such as these has led to a theology of self-righteousness, a theology that pervades the church and pervades all religions. It’s also led to the creation of systematic division in our culture, religion and in our own sense of self. Israel and Palestine, Christian and Muslim, Australian and refugee, Prison and rehabilitation, Gay and Straight: all such divisions are birthed from the salvation theology of self-righteousness, and in turn, such a theology is grounded in an orientation of fear rather than love. When you hear that gospel reading fear clicks in: ‘I hope I’m not one that’s left behind,’, ‘I hope I’m the one that’s taken,’ and ‘She can get left behind.’

Go back to the reflection raised by Isaiah, and ask, is such a theology of salvation creative of a time and place where nation shall not lift up sword against nation? Saved is itself a contradiction, for in the context of salvation it eternally has a future orientation, it is a creative activity and as such has no past tense. There is no ‘saved’, for the process of salvation is the process and activity of creation. We either participate in salvation and its becoming, or we don’t. The coming of the Son of Man as Paul understood, is you and me rising, awakening and put[ting] on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Put[ting] on the Lord Jesus Christ is the activity of creation, itself, the unfolding of salvation. It is as if within us there are two centres of gravity, subject to the forces that are seen and to the forces that are unseen. Two in the field of our being, two in the grinding of our daily bread: as we embark on Advent we might contemplate which two, which of these two, we awaken. Which one will rise within us and put on the Lord Jesus Christ? What will we need to leave behind in order to participate fully in the Divine unfolding that is the orientation of life lived in its fullness and lived in all its fullness?

May we be awaken in process and the participation of this Advent, and so also awaken ourselves so that we may become the coming of Light/ Life this Christmas.

Peter Humphris<