40“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left…41Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
It’s the first week of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year. It’s the season of longing, expectation and preparation for the coming of Jesus. Given the challenging times in which we live, perhaps repentance is also in order.
Over the next four weeks the Gospel lectionary texts explore what we are calling The Waiting Rooms of Christmas: Apocalypse, Wilderness, Prison and Public Disgrace-not exactly Hallmark rooms of pleasantry and warmth. These strange and frightening waiting rooms mirror the all too familiar experience of vulnerable urban communities throughout our network, and are timely reminders of the challenges facing contemporary society. Each waiting room yields its own gift. Apocalypse unveils the gift of peace. Wilderness yields the garden of grace. Prison unleashes the gifts of faith and freedom. Public Disgrace calls forth the most precious gift of all-Emmanuel, “God is with us.” Yes, God is with us in all the waiting rooms of life, transforming the waiting room, the waiter, and even the waiting itself by God’s very presence.
This week we sit in the first waiting room of Christmas-the Apocalypse.
If we use Tim LaHaye’s method of interpretation popularized by the Left Behind series (more than 63 million sold), then in this week’s passage Jesus is saying that when he returns to judge the world, the good guys will be “taken” away to be with God (i.e. raptured), and the bad guys will be “left behind” to suffer untold torments. Therefore, WATCH OUT! In other words, Jesus is coming back and boy is he mad!
There is another way to read this text.
Apocalypse means “unveiling.” It’s about seeing things as they really are. That’s what apocalyptic literature is trying to do-name the stuff that we want to deny! When we see this passage through the eyes of Jesus, perhaps being left behind is not such a bad thing. Here’s what I mean.
Jesus begins the passage by recalling the stormy days of Noah when “the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). It seems clear to me that the flood that Jesus is referring to is more than a flood of water. It’s the flood of violence that “swept away” the people. Noah and his family were not taken by the massive outbreak of violence. They did not drown in the ever-descending spiral of retribution and vengeance. Instead, they were left behind in the ark of peace.
In Christ, we too are left behind. We are called out of the violence that so easily sweeps us away. The phrase “left behind” can also be translated as “forgiven.” This is the key to the text. It is through forgiveness and the gift of mercy made real in Jesus that we escape the growing contagion of violence that is flooding the world, and our hearts, at the price of our own humanity. It is only as we come to discover ourselves as forgiven that we are set free to seek peace and reclaim the humanity we have forsaken.
Jesus then shifts the image of the flood to the image of a thief who comes in the middle of the night. This is an equally terrifying image unless, perhaps, we are talking about a good thief. Unlike Satan, who is the thief who comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10), Jesus is the good thief who comes to take away only one thing-the sins of the world. He breaks into our waiting rooms of doom with the gift of grace. The good thief comes quietly, humbly and without fanfare, as a child, or perhaps like a Hobbit, while we are asleep to what’s really going on. He is the good thief who smuggles mercy into the apocalyptic prisons of our own making, that we might wake up and discover ourselves left behind (forgiven) and set free.
Can we see? The apocalypse is not God’s wrath poured on us. It’s our wrath poured out on each other and projected onto God. It’s Jesus who unveils this craziness and gives us the gift of peace. This is the promise of the Incarnation and the gift being given in the first waiting room of Christmas.
Wait and see.
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