One of my favorite movies of my youth is Back to the Future. Everyone knows the plot: “a teenager is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown, and must make sure his high-school-age parents unite in order to save his own existence.” Michael J. Fox played that teenager when he was 24 years old, and he still looks, from certain angles, about 24 years old. I was 11 when Back to the Future came out, and I and didn’t care much for the plot, I just wanted to be like the hero Marty McFly, and even more, to have Marty McFly’s skateboard. My parents were cool enough to get it for me, the Valterra with the purple splatter pattern and yellow wheels. I don’t have that board anymore, but I do have several skateboards, none of which I ride very often. And as my wife reminds me, to not end up in the hospital after every ride, I would have to, like Marty McFly, go back in time.
It’s the first Sunday in Advent and so we are on the verge of some lectionary time travel for the next 4 weeks. From last week, Christ the King, to the fourth Sunday in Advent, we will trace the life of Jesus in reverse (for the most part), until He is born once again in our hearts on Christmas.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus harkened all the way back to the time of Noah. Noah is one of my favorite Biblical characters; he was so complicated and unusual, and would have been so even if he hadn’t had to endure, as we say, a Biblical-scale flood. Every major culture has a flood narrative, by the way, and I had to learn about way too many of them in seminary. Even Transylvanian gypsies have their own version of the great flood, but sadly it has no mention of vampires. The story of Noah and the Flood is another one of those stories that we probably shouldn’t so lightly tell to children, considering how scary it is, but Jesus didn’t center in today on the destructive aspects of the Flood, but rather on life right before the Flood, on their lack of expectation.
So what does it look like to expect something? What do you do when you expect something? Do you prepare for whatever it is that you’re expecting? Well, of course you do. Just think of all the things you prepare for on an everyday basis. If you’re going to be eating any time soon, at some point you have to prepare the food, right? And to prepare food you have to prepare to buy said food by preparing your shopping list which you derived from preparing meals in the past. If you’re an athlete, you prepare for game day. Schools prepare us for life in general; churches should do the same, as well as for life eternal.
Advent, as we find it, is a season of expectant preparation. Advent is a really neat anglicized word for arriving, and in case we all missed it, the One who does the arriving is Jesus Himself. Like our Collect for the day said, Advent is the time that we ground ourselves in time, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; why? So that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.
And so how do we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s first Advent and prepare for His second Advent, His second arriving? First, we go back in time, at least liturgically. We trace the history of salvation in the readings at the Mass; we will do the same while singing about it at Advent Lessons and Carols next Sunday night. We will take time to remember, to light the candles on an evergreen wreath, to be thankful. And we will, at least we should, take time to be just a little more mindful of our everyday preparations, our everyday lives. “Can it be possible that being faithful to our Lord in our everyday routines demonstrates holy watchfulness for his return? Is being an honest office manager, a careful school bus driver, an ethical attorney, a thoughtful housewife or househusband really a sign that we are aware that Jesus is coming back? Yes, it is. And if you doubt that, look at the lives of those who do not share an awareness that there is a cosmic Lord named Jesus.”1
Usually my Advent hero is John the Baptist, and we will hear plenty from him and about him this Advent, as we always do. But this year I’m going in for a different hero – no, not Marty McFly and his awesome skateboard – my Advent hero this year is going to be Noah, who for all of his complications and all his glaring faults, trusted the Lord enough to be expectant, to order his life around the Lord’s arrival, and everyday and in every way prepare to meet Him. Who will be your Advent hero?
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.