“Look busy, Jesus is coming!” is a popular slogan, often found on mugs or similar gifts, designed to make us laugh. After all, sitting at ease sipping a coffee is not exactly “busyness” – or at least according to business productivity stats.
In contrast, I’m reminded of the story about the two woodcutters – one kept slogging away, hour after after, chopping wood. The other would take a ten minute break each hour. At the end of the day, the second had cut far more wood than the one who had worked continuously. “Why?” the first man asked. “How could this happen!” The second replied, “Each time I took a break, I sharpened my saw.”
This Sunday is Advent Sunday, and the injunction is to “Keep Alert!” for we do not know when Christ will come. For many, this has been taken as a warning of a literal Second Coming, when the stories of Revelation will literally occur. Others have taken a more metaphorical view. And it is a singularly unhelpful controversy to get mired in. What will be will be. What is Now is where our focus should surely be.
And in the Now, Christ may come into our hearts, may come and visit us, in so many ways, most of which we cannot predict and would never expect.
And when that happens, what will He find? What will be the state of our hearts in that moment? I’m not saying we have to wear the metaphorical equivalent of our Sunday best all the time, or to have our “inner house” all spick and span and perfect! God knows I’d fail utterly at that – and it’s not all my toddler’s fault, though her toybox does regularly explode into unexpected corners of the house!
As Christians we look forward to a time when God will bring justice and mercy and peace throughout the world. We look forward to the renewal, restoration and reconciliation of all things, as He has promised us. But we’ve got some work to do ourselves – on the inside – to help that to come about, one person at a time.
It’s not even about becoming a Christian! It is about learning to love and value one another and ourselves as God does. This is the key and core of the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God, which first and foremost is found within the human heart.
Perhaps it’s helpful to start by seeing the Reign of God is an alternative to domination systems and all “isms.” Jesus teaches that right relationship (i.e., love) is the ultimate and daily criterion. If a social order allows and encourages strong connectedness between people and creation, people and each other, people and God, then you have a truly sacred culture: the Reign of God. It is not a world without pain or mystery, but simply a world where we are connected and in communion with all things.
The Kingdom is about union and communion, which means that it is also about mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, letting go, solidarity, service, and lives of love, patience, and simplicity. Who can doubt that this is the sum and substance of Jesus’ teaching? In the Reign of God, the very motive for rivalry, greed, and violence has been destroyed. We know we are all part of God’s Beloved Community.
One thing is clear, that Jesus did not come to impose Christendom like an imperial system. Every description he offers of God’s Reign—of love, relationship, non-judgment, and forgiveness, where the last shall be first and the first shall be last—shows that imposition is an impossibility! Wherever we have tried to force Christianity on people, the long-term results have been disastrous. The Gospel flourishes in the realm of true freedom.
But it is a freedom we must choose for ourselves. It is almost impossible to turn away from what seems like the only game in town (political, economic, or religious), unless we have glimpsed a more attractive alternative. It is hard to imagine it, much less imitate it, unless we see someone else do it first. Jesus is that icon of the more attractive alternative, a living parable.
And Jesus was often found relaxing, eating, drinking, resting. And praying. And for him, prayer was a quiet and intimate conversation with his Father God, as one might have with a best friend or truly loving and compassionate parent. A person who listens, and who cares, and who gives you space and support to work it all out yourself.
So perhaps the mug slogan has it right after all. Look busy! Jesus is coming. But maybe look busy in the Jesus way, and start by taking a rest over a cup of coffee with a friend. Even if it does have to be via a video call for now!