Jesus, and the people with whom he lived and ministered, were very much men and women who had been formed by their faith traditions and practices. Each and every Jew, including Jesus, would begin each day of their lives recalling the presence of God in their midst with a heartfelt prayer of supplication and petition: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is God alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” In addition to recalling their special relationship with God in this manner they were also very much formed and rooted in the stories of their faith journey and could easily reference them.
The story of Noah, remembered by Jesus in our gospel this morning, was one familiar story of faith. It illustrated, in a very dramatic manner, that God had once powerfully intervened in the world because people had strayed away from his love. This was not only the story of Noah but it was also the story repeated often by the prophets who preached to the people of Israel that their faithfulness was required. Secondarily, as a result of their faithful living and practice, they could wait in eager anticipation for the intervention of God into their world, powerfully speaking and acting on their behalf. Just us powerful was their belief that God could inflict upon them wrath and destruction if they persisted in their disobedience. As a direct result of this faith tradition the people in the time of Jesus believed and anticipated the sudden, dramatic, and powerful intervention of God into their lives, a powerful intervention not unlike the intervention during the time of Noah. Because they understood themselves as faithful and obedient this intervention would free them from the oppression that they experienced under the Romans and also by their own people, the isolated rich and powerful. When God intervened justice would be served and all things would be made right once again.
A sudden and dramatic intervention that changed the course and direction of life was not just a theological idea. In this gospel story this morning Jesus also references a not infrequent occurrence in the life of the oppressed poor with whom he lived. Because of crushing debt, brought on by taxes and the other obligations that were imposed upon them, many people were unable to pay their debt and as a result were forcefully taken, violently and physically removed from their place of work or their home, and sold into slavery in partial payment. It was not at all unfamiliar to them to experience the reality of “one will be taken and one will be left.” Frankly, the only difference between the person who has been snatched away and the person who has been left was simply a matter of degree, and not a matter of intent or purpose. They might not be suddenly and dramatically snatched away on this day but it was always a distinct possibility for the next day.
Under such circumstances in everyday living is there any way to reasonably prepare for the sudden and dramatic moment that might arrive at any minute? Certainly, as Jesus references in the story, if the householder knew when the thief was coming he could prepare, but how do you prepare for the thief that might come not just one night but many nights, many unending nights as the nightmare of oppressed living continues?
In such a scenario and with this kind of lived experience is it any wonder that people could find some comfort in knowing that one day, in some unknown future, those who oppressed and denied the people of their rightful relationship with family, community, and land would be punished by an avenging God? In the meantime the horror was just played out again and again, day after day. But was that all that could be done, was that the perception that was required for life, the abundant life of the Kingdom of God. Just live with a sense of awareness and hope for the best?
No, obviously. That kind of perception of life leads nowhere fast. It is not life-giving, but is rather a description of helplessness and discouragement.
What Jesus tried to do when he offered the vision of the Kingdom of God was to invite the people, his people, not only to wait with an eager hope for the fullness of salvation that would most certainly come when God would once again intervene for his people but to make that hope a reality for the present moment. Jesus invited his people to resist the easy temptation of believing that all of their problems were the result of other people, the hated Romans and those who cooperated with the Romans, but also to acknowledge that it was the reality of their own lives, judgments and actions that also came into play.
Yes, they were oppressed but were they not also at times the oppressor that they so despised when the cast out the leper from their midst and made them live in a cave, away from family and friends? Was the adulterous woman just a sinner or was she not also someone’s mother, someone’s sister, someone’s wife? It would be so easy to believe that everything that needed to be fixed or set right was “all of them” the people whom we do not like, rather than to also see that it is “each of us” the people that had gathered to hear the Word of God as it was proclaimed by Jesus. The message of the Kingdom of God is not to seek out the scapegoat or the person who might be blamed for what we might endure but also to authentically claim our own responsibility. The Kingdom of God does not provide us with an excuse for the oppression that we may very well endure but rather shines and focuses a revealing light on the real sources of that oppression. The truth may well be uncomfortable but it is the truth.
When the reality hits home that it is not just something outside of ourselves but it is also something within ourselves that needs to be healed and mended, when that reality hits home we have an Advent moment of awareness and awakening. When we understand and accept that we too are in need of the healing power of God at work in our lives, our choices, our perceptions, and our judgments, that is the moment when we have the courage to pray with all of our hearts, “come Lord Jesus!”
As believing Christians do we believe in the sudden, imminent coming and manifestation of the power of God in our world when all things will once again be set right? Yes, we proclaim it in our creed. But we also believe, not in some moment far, far, away but perhaps even more, in a moment that is very much at work in our world today. We believe in this moment, the everyday and lived experience of the Kingdom of God. It is only when we live this reality and demonstrate this reality in witness of our faith that we are truly Advent people and both Christian in name and in fact.