Today is Advent Sunday beginning the count down to the coming of Christ in to the world. It is the count down to the beginning of the end to the ruthless power of violence, persecution and isolation presently deemed to be in charge of the world. The coming of Christ into the world is to usher in the reign of God and to bring about a change of orientation and the end of the ego self as the reigning image of power and entitlement.
Today is also the beginning of the year of Matthew, a writer with an end-time or apocalyptic orientation. Matthew believes history is divided into two ages — a present, evil age that God would soon replace with a new age, the reign or kingdom of God. The old age is marked by idolatry, sin, injustice, exploitation, sickness, enmity between nature and humankind, violence, and death. The new age will be characterized by the complete rule of God and by authentic worship, forgiveness, mutual support, health, blessing between nature and humankind, and eternal life.
For Matthew, God is acting through Jesus Christ to effect the change. The birth, life, and resurrection are the first phase of the transformation, with the complete manifestation arriving with the second coming. Meanwhile, Matthew’s community lives in a conflict zone between the ages. God calls the Matthean community to follow the instruction and model of the Matthean Jesus.
Some scholars affirm that many in Matthew’s congregation were losing confidence in the coming of the Realm. The apocalypse was delayed. Their witness was fading. Matthew wrote to encourage them to continue. (Ron Allen)
For a community enthused by the hope of regime change and the possibility of freedom from both the tranny of the Romans and the seeming assault on their values and beliefs, the return of Christ and his Kingdom couldn’t come to soon. It hadn’t, it didn’t or hasn’t.
Or did it?
Many cartoonists have commented on this desire to find Jesus and to find Jesus in his return to the world. It is often a comment on those who knock on our door with the desire to convert us to their vision of faith with the question, ‘Have you found Jesus?
Well, one of my favourite t-shirts is this one – “I have found Jesus-he was behind the sofa the whole time”.
I have been accused of being heretical for wearing it, but I suspect it captures something of the apocalyptic message of this passage. Be awake, Jesus is already here, have you missed him?
If we are always looking west we will never see the sun rise in the east. Until 1697 all swans were believed to be white. No one had seen a black swan until Dutch explorers led by Willem de Vlamingh became the first Europeans to see black swans, in Western Australia. It has become a way to describe events we are unable to predict because there is no precedence, experience and awareness on which to base our judgement. The election of Donald Trump could be a black swan event.
We do know the coming of Jesus was one such event and the second coming of Jesus through the coming of his spirit in the world after his resurrection is another such event. Matthew is often read to speak of that time when his kingdom will come in power and turn on its head the world in which we live, ushering respect, justice and compassion – the with-ness of relational wholeness empowered by love.
Do we still live waiting for that event, for if we do I fear we short change the gift of the spirit and the capacity we have to live in the kingdom which is to come, now.
My t-shirt is a reminder to me to:
· Be awake to the now, to the spirit of Christ at work in the ordinariness of material being. Jesus may not be physically behind the sofa but he is to be found in all those places where the structures of power and tyranny, capitalism and false democracy are challenged by those who represent equality, compassion, justice and inclusion. What is more apocalyptic than that? The Anglican churches with prayer rooms for their Muslim friends or including LGBTI within the leadership of their church or making space for those who are different and deemed less than us, and more. Those who stand against the systemic violence of war, winners and losers, banned for life and builders of walls and barriers to freedom.
· Be awake to the opportunities I never expect to have, the black swan experiences which open up possibilities for my voice to be heard, my love as a verb to be experienced or my simple presence next to someone who is being excluded, oppressed or avoided to be felt.
· Be awake to the truth that Christ has already returned through the power of his spirit and it is my responsibility to be ready to act, speak and be the prophet of the reign of Christ, now. This is not something coming from above or in the future, this is to come from within and now; from within this material existence and from within me and it is now, this very moment I am being called to love – to be the action of love in this world.
I witness this amazing second coming everyday.
· I see it here in this parish. When someone gets sick, faces the loss of someone they love or the possibility of their own death, I witness Christs spirit at work in this congregation – the kingdom of God acts. People visit, ring, prayer, cook, wash and are just present. People tell me when I ring offering assistance, ‘Not to worry Vicar, I am being well cared for by my friends here.” I have had others say how much their ‘St Oswald’s family” have done in their time of need.
This is an example of turning the power of oppression upside down and acting out the second coming of Christ in this place.
· I also see it in the efforts people make to support refugees, homeless, unemployed; to go to rallies and marches; to advocate on those who are excluded.
This is another example of turning the power of oppression upside down and acting out the second coming of Christ in this place.
· I see it in the capacity of people to continue to live as joy and hope for others when the odds are stacked against them. For example:
o ARtlifting is a US program using art to engage homeless people. It is not therapy or feel good helping. Homeless people explore their artistic talents and the folk at ArtLifting run exhibitions, art shows and auctions, selling the art and lifting people from dependency to independence.
o I see it the work of Slingshot which has launched Australia’s first ever Indigenous start-up accelerator program called Barayamal. The accelerator aims to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs build successful business ideas into worldclass products.
o I see it in a record for the University of Western Australia where six Aboriginal medical students will graduate this weekend, including Vinka Barunga who wishes to become Derby’s first indigenous doctor.
o I see it in the many ways, places and people who are embodying the spirit of Christ and revolutionising the world, we just have to be awake.
Matthew does have a focus on the second coming, we do live in the in-between times, not as a place of being in limbo, but as a place where the second coming is ours to institute. Be ready, be awake, and act as if Jesus has already come. Amen