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-Be baptized with repentance-
Date: December 4, 2016 (Advent 2) 1. Texts: Isaiah 11:1-10; Ps. 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: changing the direction of daily life. 4. Aim: educate, challenge, inspire. 5. Proposition: “The Second Coming shapes our daily living as disciples of Christ.”

LIVING AS DISCIPLES—NO, REALLY

We all know by now that Advent is never about preparing for Christmas. We know that Advent, which is from the Latin word “to come”, is all about the Second Coming of the Christ. We know this. We may not like the idea. We’d rather focus on preparing for Christmas. But at least we know the truth.

Yet, as we admit to know the truth, it also occurs to me that for most of us this is all just theology, just our thoughts about God, his identity and our relationship with him. Our theology is not really informing our lives or changing our behaviours. We’re still all focussed on preparing for Christmas, even though we know that Advent is about preparing for the Second Coming. Yes, we know that Jesus is coming again someday, but we’d rather get on with living in the real world right now. Our truth about Advent remains stuck in our heads on that infamous back burner that we’ve all heard tell about.

So let’s try getting on with real life in the real world and see where that takes us. We might be surprised at the result.

In the real world, we know that we’re doing the best we can. We’re trying hard to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbours as ourselves. We’re trying to put our faith into action. So, we work at the food bank or help our elderly neighbours. We worship on Sundays and maybe pray a couple of times each week. Some of us use the “Daily Bread” devotional or some such— we’re really wanting to pay attention to God. We’re doing the best we can.

But somewhere, deep inside—hidden inside—we’re not really satisfied with it all. After all, not everything is going well—our children are unemployed or they are getting divorced. Someone we know has cancer. Our neighbours— who are just as good as we are—are about to lose their jobs or their homes or their
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-Be baptized with repentance-
crops. It really does feel as if behaving well doesn’t get you that much. Being good is not nearly good enough. At least, that’s what it feels like.

So some of us are tempted to quit trying. Others are spurred on to even more work: if only we put in a little more effort, God will change our circumstances for us. Yet, in the real world, doing our best doesn’t achieve what we think it should.

Come to think of it, doing our best has never really achieved what we think it should. Our bosses don’t seem to recognize it. The economy doesn’t seem to improve because of it. Cancer cells don’t seem to care anything about our diet and exercise. Doing one’s best didn’t seem to protect Pope John Paul II (shot May 13, 1981) or Pierre Laporte (assassinated October 17, 1970) or Martin Luther King, Jr (assassinated April 4, 1968). Doing one’s best doesn’t necessarily save one’s marriage or one’s job or even one’s life.

Just maybe doing one’s best is not meant to earn us God’s approval. Just maybe doing one’s best isn’t meant to change our circumstances. Earning something by being good is certainly the way people operate, but even that doesn’t seem to work well. And it certainly seems as if God operates differently.

In the real world bad stuff happens. It just happens. God is not controlling it. People are usually the driving factor behind it. And bad stuff just happens. Since the time of Adam and Eve this is the way the world is.

God’s primary concern is not for the bad stuff that happens to us: his concern is for what we do with the bad stuff. He’s not primarily concerned with what happens to us, but with who we are as people and as his disciples. His concern is not with what but with who. His focus is on our faith, hope and love. His attention is directed to our decisions that reflect our true identity. God wants us to prove who we are in relationship to him. That’s what matters to him.

I think that’s what should matter to us. After all, we’re disciples of Jesus and Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Somehow, we have to realign
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-Be baptized with repentance-
our daily living so that our relationship with Jesus is more accurately reflected, so that we can prove to others the value God has in our lives.

Let’s decide from now on that we will stop trying to earn God’s interference by our good behaviours. So, why be good at all?

Because that’s exactly how we prove that God is important to us. After all, as disciples of Jesus our lives reflect his reality. Our honesty, justice, righteousness and love are reflections of God. That’s what St. Paul meant when he wrote the letter to the Galatians: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”1 Those are the behaviours that prove God’s value in our lives and demonstrate the depth of our relationship with him. We maybe can’t prove God’s existence, but we can certainly prove his impact on our lives as we fashion those lives according to his life.

That testimony becomes ever stronger in the midst of difficult circumstances. We prove that our God exists for us as we live according to his life exactly when tragedy and crisis strike. It is easy to believe when circumstances are easy and we are happy. But we prove the reality of our faith when we remain faithful in the midst of disaster.

In fact, faithfulness in the midst of disaster seems to be exactly the desire of Christ. He once said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”2 Christ intends that abundance of life should be ours not through our circumstances but despite them. You only have to look at his life—which ends with his execution—to know the truth of this and how we might live this truth in our own lives. We are to live the abundant life of Christ in the midst of our circumstances and thereby declare God’s love, grace and value to us. Our lives become God’s proclamation to the world as we embody Christ’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

1 Galatians 5:22-23a. 2 John 10:10.
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-Be baptized with repentance-
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly how we prepare for the Second Coming of Christ which is the theme of Advent. It doesn’t matter if we experience the Second Coming through Christ’s return or through our own deaths, we prepare for that coming by living the life of Christ in the here and now. We get on with the life of Christ in the real world and thereby prepare for the eternal life to come. Our transformed lives will empower us to greet Christ’s return with joy and thanksgiving. We are and will be the embodiment of the Lord’s Prayer as God’s kingdom is made real in our lives as it is in heaven. Christ’s return will signal the ultimate fulfillment of God’s mission on earth, which is to reconcile all people to himself in love and to have all people accept that reconciliation for themselves. That’s Advent for you—and that is how we disciples of Jesus are to live our lives.

AMEN.