Beginning at the End

Closed CurtainAdvent 1A: Matthew 24: 36-44

36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Oh, this can’t be right.  Our Gospel passage for the first reading in Advent is starting toward the end of the Gospel According to Matthew.  What happened to Mary?  Where are those angels announcing the coming birth?  After all, we need something joyful to think about it as we drag the boxes of Christmas decorations out of storage and begin to prepare for the season that most retailers have already proclaimed on the heels of the Jack-o-Lanterns!  I mean, really, first they tell us that we have to wait to sing Christmas carols and then they give us this perceived warning of a thief coming in the middle of the night.  Why in the world are we beginning at what feels like the end of the story?

There are those in our modern world who will pounce on this Scripture as a warning of what might happen if we do not act right or think right or live right.  There are those who will abuse it by holding over the heads of persons to scare them into religion.  I don’t think that’s what it’s about.  Faith is not about doing the right thing or living the right way or being scared into a place that does not feel welcoming and grace-filled.  Faith is about relationship.  And, as the Scripture says, it is about waking up so that God can gather us in.  God doesn’t want a bunch of zombies that have to be pulled kicking and screaming into faith.  God desires a relationship with those who desire a relationship with God.  And God has faith that in the deepest part of ourselves, there is faith enough for all.

Jesus is not standing at the edge of some far off place waiting for us to step over the line.  Jesus is here, ahead of time itself, calling and gathering and sanctifying each of us as we awake to the morning.  Remember last week’s Scripture that we read for Christ the King? We were again given the image of Jesus hanging on the Cross, minutes away from death.  It was the end.  And there, there beside him was the thief.  “But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” The thief was not left behind but instead was gathered into the Reign of God.  Advent is not waiting to see whether or not you make the cut but rather waking up to the glorious Gathering that is happening all around us.

The curtain on the Advent season is about to rise.  Jesus is not waiting in the wings somewhere until the play is done; rather, Jesus is standing on the stage itself, inviting us in.  “Come, wait with me.  You do know when the Glory will come but this waiting is a holy place.  Come, all, wait with me.  Stay awake so that you won’t miss the inbreaking of Glory itself, the dawn of the fullness of the Kingdom of God.”  The reason that we begin at the end is because it is the same as the beginning.  God is the Alpha and the Omega.  Birth and death are all wrapped up together, needing each other to give life.  Awaken now that you do not miss one thing.  Open your eyes.  There is a baby coming!  The extraordinary miracle of what is about to happen is matched only by the moment before it does–this moment, this time.  The world awaits!  Awaken that you do not miss the story!

Awake! awake! and sing the blessed story; Awake! awake! and let your song of praise arise;                                                                       Awake! awake! the earth is full of glory, And light is beaming from the radiant skies;                                                                                  The rocks and rills, the vales and hills resound with gladness, All nature joins to sing the triumph song.

(Refrain)  The Lord Jehovah reigns and sin is backward hurled! Rejoice! rejoice! lift heart and voice, Jehovah reigns! Proclaim His sov’reign pow’r to all the world, And let His glorious banner be unfurled! Jehovah reigns! Rejoice! rejoice! rejoice! Jehovah reigns!

Ring out! ring out! O bells of joy and gladness; Repeat, repeat anew the story o’er again,                                                                             Till all the earth shall lose its weight of sadness, And shout anew the glorious refrain;                                                                                   Ye angels in the heights, sing of the great Redeemer, Who saves us from the pow’r of sin and death.


“Awakening Chorus”, Charles H. Gabriel, 1905

Reflection:  Advent is our awakening season.  What do you need to do to no longer hit the “snooze button” of your faith?

Grace and Peace,


Turning the Page

Cross and LightLECTIONARY GOSPEL PASSAGE: Luke 23: 33-43 (Click to read)

All of the Scriptures for this week lead us to this Sunday, known as “Christ the King” Sunday.  It is the final Sunday of our Lectionary year, the end of the season of Pentecost, when as the community of faith, we move through the season of building the church and its journey toward sanctification in the fullness of God’s Kingdom.  The Sunday after next begins the season of Advent, when we will begin the whole cycle again.

But if you think that this is merely an annual repeating motion of the same thing over and over, think again.  Our liturgical calendar invites us into an ongoing cycle of preparing, birthing, seeing, emptying, rebirth, and becoming, as we journey toward the fullness of the Kingdom of God, lived, as Rainer Maria Rilke said, in “ever widening circles”, reaching farther and farther beyond ourselves, encompassing all of Creation. Over the past few months, we have recounted the rich stories of the Old Testament through the eyes of many  of the Prophets as they sought to illuminate what it was those early people of God were meant to become.  And we once again read many of Jesus’ parables, this time from the Gospel According to Luke, those incredible stories of wisdom found in everyday life.  The reason that we read these stories over and over again from Creation through the cycle of life is because, as we’ve said before, they are our story, they are the recounting of our own becoming who we are, they are our journey toward being the people of God.  Perhaps it gives us more and more of a sense that we are not, as we might think, the center of the universe; rather, we are part of the story.  Henry Van Dyke said that “if the meaning could be put into a sentence, there would be no need of telling the story,” so each liturgical cycle we tell our story. 

This week is not the end.  It is the beginning, a new beginning.  The Gospel passage that the Lectionary assigns us this week probably feels a little odd.  I mean, really, look around.  The Christmas season is bombarding us from all sides (even though my Thanksgiving turkey has yet to be purchased!…yeah, I know…get on that, Shelli!) and we are reading a Good Friday passage.  This is just messed up. But we read of a thief or a criminal (depending on your translation) hanging there with Jesus that asked for mercy from this one who in this moment he truly knew was the Christ.  Jesus’ response did not include asking him what he had done with his life.  He did not demand either a confession or a profession.  There was no “if” attached to his answer—no condition of “if you clean up your life” or “if you promise to stop doing what you do or being who you are” or “if you become someone different so that you will fit in with what we think we are all supposed to look like”.  None of that mattered.  Because in this moment, the man that history has never named anything but “Thief” entered the story that we call the Gospel and was promised eternal life.  THIS was Jesus’ crowning glory.  THIS was the true coronation of Christ as King!

You see, it’s not about what we do or who we are.  It’s about becoming the story, becoming the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.  It’s not about placing a crown on the head of our King but about becoming part of the Coronation, part of that image of Christ the King.  It’s not about proclaiming Christ as King but about being the presence of Christ in this world.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, God with Us.  And now we know that’s exactly where God is.  It’s about entering the story.

Mortals, join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began;

Love divine is reigning o’er us, binding all within its span.

Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife;

Joyful music leads us sunward, in the triumph song of life.

(Henry Van Dyke, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”, alt. st. 4, 1989)

Look, the light is just over the horizon.  The world is with child.  For this we were created.  All we have to do is turn the page and follow the story.

What does it mean to you to proclaim Christ the King?

What does it mean to you to become part of the story?

Grace and Peace,


And now for some program notes…yes, I know it’s been too long since I’ve posted on “Dancing to God”, but I’ve promised that I would come back for Advent (and it’s been publicized in the church paper, so I have to stick with it!), so here’s a way for us to “turn the page” (aaarrrggghh….aaarrrggghhh…aaarrrggghhh).  I’ll post some entries next week that will cover the Lectionary passages for the first Sunday in Advent and then beginning December 1, the first Sunday of Advent, we’ll do something every day.  Thanks for joining me!  Also, if you’re interested, my weekly Lectionary notes are posted on another blog that can be found at  I usually post those on Sunday evening or Monday morning for the following week.  There is some overlap with this blog because I only have one brain, but I’d love for you to follow that one too!  Shelli