I did a little watching, warning and chasing yesterday with a few friends and that got me a thinkin' about this the last Sunday in Advent. Of course it helped that we had just had another storm that we had been watching for, that those weather forecasters were warning us about and then I got to chase about in it. Here's what I am thinking.
Reading the signs — those written on the skies, walls and windows, and those written upon the winds of a changing world is a hard-earned skill to some and a gift to others. One of the 12 tribes of Israel, the Tribe of Issachar, was known as the tribe that “knows the signs and knows what to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Jesus also instructed his disciples to learn how to “read the signs.” Or in his words, “You know how to read the signs of the sky. I want you to learn how to read the signs of the times” (Luke 12:56).
But whether we know it, or not, all of us are sign-readers. Every time our peeps watch a stock report they are “reading the signs.” I read the signs when the sun goes down and I watch out Bert's window for my MOM to come to pick me up. My MOM knows how to read the signs of when I want to go outside, it's the look in my eye and the way I make the door handle jingle when I tap it with my nose.
If you have ever lived in the mid-west, or visited the plains during “tornado season,” you know that one of the most important “signs” you can keep your eyes peeled for is that little funnel cloud that appears in the corner of the TV screen. If the funnel cloud is yellow it means there is in effect a tornado “watch.” A yellow funnel cloud “watch” means it is time to go on “high alert,” to be prepared, to keep vigilant, because the chance of a big, scary storm heading your way is high.
If the funnel cloud indicator on the screen turns red, it is time to “duck and cover.” That color change is an indication that your area is no longer under just a “storm watch.” You are now officially receiving a “storm warning.” Only after someone has put actual eyes on the actual storm, is a “warning” posted. When the forces of change are documented, shared, and on the move — that is when a “warning” is issued to the world. That is when a “watch” becomes a “warning.”
Today we celebrate the final Sunday of Advent. We are in the final moments of a “storm watch.” In three days, a “storm warning” will be declared. The Advent Watch turns into Christmas warning. I know you are saying "Goose brother don't you mean 'Christmas morning'.” Nope my friends I mean “Christmas warning.”
The angelic message of the coming of the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, the one who brings “glad tidings of great joy to all,” is also a warning message: a message warning us that everything is now about to change. Life can no longer be the same again. Jesus changes everything. With Jesus, the story of God went from being carved in stone to being carved in the heart. And that my friends changes everything.
There is a new way of living and being in the world. The winds of change are going to blow. A truth tornado has touched down. Kingdom come is a tornado touchdown of beauty, truth and goodness.
Jesus is proclaimed the “Prince of Peace” at his birth. But this “Prince of Peace,” as Jesus himself warned, came “bringing a sword.” This is a Prince of Peace who will be cutting through the protective layers of politics and power and polemics that we shroud ourselves in and use to proclaim our own righteousness. Jesus warned he was bringing “My peace . . . but not as the world gives to you."
The miracle in Bethlehem was not meant to make way for the “miracles” of Wall Street wizardry or the “miracle” of Best Buy gadgetry or even the Macy’s miracle on 34th street. The miracle of Christmas made way for the miracle of life and the miracle of love.
Urban monk and founder of Philadelphia’s community “The Simple Way”, Shane Claiborne, says in one of his books that he once had a conversation with a friend who asserted “Jesus never talked to a prostitute.” When Shane protested that Jesus spent a lot of time talking to prostitutes and other undesirables, his friend came back and said, “Listen, Shane, Jesus never talked to a prostitute because he didn’t see a prostitute when he talked to a prostitute. He just saw a child of God with whom he was madly in love.”
That’s why Jesus left behind him, not peace and quiet, but peace and disquiet, peace and upset, peace and conflict. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection changed the world. And change is never easy. If you have ever gone through a “renovation phase” at your home, you know that change brings about upheaval and a large amount of messiness.
A few decades ago a new team of scientists were born. They were meta-meteorologists — aka “storm-chasers.” Storm chasers literally put caution to the winds and “chased” around after storm cells that looked like they might generate a tornado. Tornados are notoriously dangerous because they are so unpredictable. Because of the (often fatal) work of these storm chasers, much more has been learned about violent storms, their appearances, their trajectories. Storm chasers have saved lives in dozens of communities.
Jesus was the original storm warning – a “good news” message from God that the world is being invited to participate in a new reality called the kingdom of God, a divinely altered reality because of a new redeeming presence of God in this world.
One of the best signs of Christ’s kingdom is that the “stormy” presence of God always disturbs the status quo. Wherever the “life as usual,” “let’s just keep this up,” “we-never-did-it-that-way-before” mentality is in power, that is when the disruptive, disturbing, “unpeaceful” sword of the Spirit will be unsheathed and break forth. False peace is the bulls-eye target of the Prince of Peace.
We can be there, we can be a part of the storm chase team. We can “share” the good news “Christ is born.” We can be a voice against the storm of sin and evil, for as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it in a verse buried in the bowels of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” – “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said: ‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men’.”
We can be, all at the same time, in a state of kingdom watch, kingdom warning, and kingdom chase, and offer our voices to join the chorus on the side of “peace on earth, good will to all.” On this last Sunday of Advent, I implore you to...
Keep Watching, Keep Warning, Keep Chasing.