Today is the second Sunday of Advent: that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey season when we… prepare.
Advent is the season when we prepare in holy anticipation—right now in the present—for an event that happened so long ago that it’s easy to imagine that it never happened at all: for Christ to lay aside glory and come into the world as one of us, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land, to parents who couldn’t find a decent place to stay for the night.
And… Advent is the season when we prepare in holy anticipation—right now in the present—for an event that has taken so long to happen that it’s easy to imagine that it will never happen at all: for Christ to return to the world in glory, and usher in God’s reign of love, and destroy the powers of the death forever.
And… Advent is the whole long right-now-in-the-present between those two events, when we ponder how we are supposed to live here and now, in the in-between.
And today is the second Sunday of Advent: that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey season when we… prepare.
A couple of weeks ago, we watched as the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and turned its sights toward the southern kingdom of Judah. And we watched as Judah survived, a little kingdom surrounded by the biggest and most powerful empire… ever.
Last week, we watched as Chaldea—Babylon—rose up, and devoured Assyria, and marched inexorably toward Jerusalem. And I told you that the Babylonian Empire would conquer Judah, and tear down the temple, and take its people into exile. And they did.
(And I told you that the people would learn how to be faithful to God in new ways. I told you that they would continue observing the statutes and celebrating the festivals. And they did. Even in exile.)
And then the Persians rose up, and conquered the Babylonian Empire, and let the Jewish people go home, and rebuild the temple, and start a new life. And they did, as a little province of the new biggest and most powerful empire… ever.
And today we meet Esther, who is Jewish, and who lives in Persia, and who is a queen in Persia. But—and this is important; the whole story hinges on this—her husband, Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, does not know that she is Jewish.
And—and this is important; the whole story hinges on this—her people are in trouble.
A while ago, Ahasuerus, Esther’s husband, the king of Persia, appointed Haman to be his viceroy, his second-in-command, the-guy-who-is-the-king-when-the-king-isn’t-around.
And Haman went out to the palace gate and watched everyone bow down to him. And he liked it. And then he saw one man—a man named Mordecai—who did not bow down. And Haman learned that Mordecai did not bow down because Mordecai was Jewish.
So Haman decided to destroy, to annihilate, the blot out, the Jewish people. All of them. Every last one.
He went to Ahasuerus, Esther’s husband, the king of Persia, and said,
There is a certain people scattered and separated among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws. So you, O king, should not tolerate them. In fact, if you issue a decree calling for the destruction of this people, I will give you a ludicrous amount of money. I will give you a fortune.
So Ahasuerus, Esther’s husband, the king of Persia, issues the decree. On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the Persians will kill every Jew in the Empire.
I need to take some creative liberty here. Esther and Mordecai are not standing face-to-face. They are passing messages back and forth via amessenger—Esther in her chambers and Mordecai at the palace gates—because that is the only way that a queen and a commoner could speak.
But it’s better if you imagine that Esther and Mordecai are standing face-to-face, looking at each other through the palace gate, each hearing the worry and fear on the voice of the other.
Mordecai tells Esther,
Ahasuerus, your husband, the king of Persia, has ordered the destruction of your people. Haman paid him to order the destruction of your people. And we’re all going to die.
And Esther tells Mordecai,
No one can talk to the king without his express invitation. Anyone who tries is put to death and their only hope is that the king will reach out with his golden scepter and accept them. And I have not been invited to speak with the king. And if I try, I might die.
And Mordecai tells Esther,
Do you think you’re going to get out of it? Do you think the palace gate will protect you? Do you think the crown will protect you? Do you think your husband will protect you? He gave the order! He issued the decree! And if you do nothing—now—you will die!
Maybe the reason that you are standing there, in the palace, with Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, for a husband, is for this moment, right now, when everything is on the line.
Later this year—in late March, in fact—we will have two Sundays with two parables from the Gospel According to Matthew. And I don’t want to spoil it for you, but…
One of those will be the parable of the ten bridesmaids, about how Christ might return at any moment—no one knows the day or the hour—and welcome those who are ready into the kingdom. So be prepared. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.
And the other of those will be the parable of the sheep and the goats, about how Christ will return in glory, and judge the nations, and welcome the people who fed the hungry, and gave drink to the thirsty, and welcomed the stranger, and clothed the naked, and cared for the sick, and visited the imprisoned, into the kingdom, because as they did for the least, they did for him. So be prepared. Serve Christ wherever you meet him.
And that makes me wonder…
On the one hand, we are not queens.
But we are people who enjoy some privilege, and some power, and some prestige. We don’t all enjoy those things in the same amounts. We don’t all enjoy those things in the same ways. And we all have those pockets of life where we do not enjoy those things at all. But… overall…
We are mostly respectable. Mostly well-heeled. Mostly comfortably middle-class. Mostly descended from pilgrims and patriots. Mostly… mostly… not totally but mostly… doing just fine—and maybe even a little better than fine—thank you very much.
And on the other hand, we are not facing an existential threat.
But we have friends and neighbors who are. There are kids at school… there are adults at work… there are people who we run into at the grocery or the post office… who are wondering how they’re going to make it to the end of the day… who are wondering if they’re going to make it to the end of the day.
Wondering if there will be enough to eat. Wondering if there will be a safe place to sleep. Wondering if there will be enough medicine. Wondering if that bully will finally make good on their threats. Wondering if a stranger will walk into their sanctuary and break it. Wondering if it is even worth making it to the end of the day.
Friends and neighbors. Strangers and enemies. And—and this is important; the whole story hinges on this—every one of them is Christ.
Every. Single. One of them. Is Christ.
So maybe keeping our lamps trimmed and burning is the same thing as always being ready to serve Christ wherever we meet him. Maybe keeping our lamps trimmed and burning means being ready to say, “Maybe I am here for this moment, right now, when everything is on the line!”
Today is the second Sunday of Advent: that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey season when we prepare. Today is the first Sunday of that season when we ponder how we are supposed to live here and now, in the in-between.
And part of the answer to that question is that we wait.
And part of the answer to that question is that we prepare, not for the Christ who we will meet someday, by and by, when he returns in glory… but for the Christ who we meet every day, in the here and now, in every pleading face and outstretched hand.
Because it is precisely by preparing for the Christ who we meet in those pleading faces and outstretched hand that we prepare for the Christ who we will meet in glory.