The other day I went to the coffee shop I so often frequent, and outside their store they had a sandwich board featuring the specialty drink for the week. It was called the “In between the seasons latte.” That peaked my interest.
The sandwich board even had artwork on it to describe the in between of this in between the seasons drink. Pictures of pumpkins and pilgrims hats on the left side and snowmen and Santa hats on the right.
What kind of drink in between the seasons would this be, I wondered?
So can you guess what an “in between the seasons” drink is?
Apparently, it’s a pumpkin spice gingerbread latte.
A little of the Fall and a little of the winter, a little of the past and a little of the future all swirled together in a tasty drink.
The in between cup…I think that is a drink most of us are familiar with. No…I’m not talking about a pumpkin spice gingerbread latte, but rather the “in between” that we live every single day.
You have the more obvious “in between the seasons’ things. The fall leaves are being raked up or blowing away, making space for the cold winds of winter. Pumpkin decorations once adorned the front yard have either rotted or been gobbled up by a hungry squirrel, making room for the light-up reindeer in the front yard….or a six foot blow up Snowman.
But then there’s the larger, in between reality that we’re in. Karl Barth, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, called this the “now but not yet” time. He noted that we Christians are a people of the promise. We are a people who are reconciled, but not yet fully redeemed and who live in the in-between times, the time of promise, as we await God’s fulfillment.
It’s like when I was 8 years old and my parents at Christmas time promised that come the summer we would go to a heavenly place, filled with light, and joy, and fantasy…we would go to Disney World. Let’s face it–that’s heaven for a kid. And I lived into that Christmas promise of seeing Mickey, and riding the Magic Mountain, and having all my kid dreams and fantasies come true. But six months for an 8 year old is like FOREVER…so much in between to experience till that glorious promised day arrived.
That’s what our big in between is like. It’s what we as human beings and followers of Christ know. We know waiting. And in the midst of our waiting, we begin the church year with the season of Advent. Advent is all about waiting.
We are waiting and counting down the days to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. We are also waiting for the unknown time when Christ returns.
Now, speaking personally…when it comes to Advent and the two kinds of waiting…I’M REALLY GOOD at the first kind. I’m awesome at waiting and counting down the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. As a family, we’ve got our rituals of taking out the nativity sets. Yes plural…sets. We’ve got our Advent calendar, too.
And then there’s the more secular counting down to Christmas. That began the day of Thanksgiving with the ritual opening of the EggNog. There’s a commandment in the Teichmann household. ‘Thou shalt not drink eggnog before the day of giving Thanks. Thou shalt drinketh thy eggnog from Thanksgiving to the day of the New Year.’
Yeah…I’m really good at the first kind of waiting in Advent. And my guess is that many of you are too. It’s the second kind of waiting… waiting for Christ to come again, waiting for what we often call the eschaton…or final Revelation…or the end times…we’re not so good at this second kind of waiting.
A part of my face twitches every time we come to the first week of Advent and we read something of this second kind of waiting. In the new year of the church we begin with Advent and we begin a new book from the Gospels. Last year it was Mark, this year it is Luke. And how do we begin Luke?
Is it with Mary waiting for the Christ child to be born? Nope.
Is it stories of the shepherds waiting with their flocks by night? Uh uh.
No, we begin our Advent season with Luke 21, with what theologians call Luke’s “Little apocalypse.”
We hear Jesus say,
“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
For someone who’s pretty bad at waiting for the ‘not yet,’ I can understand why I struggle with this kind of waiting. It’s waiting with what seems to be the entire cosmos in distress. Yikes. I don’t think they make Advent calendars for the Apocalypse.
And yes, there are days where I feel firmly planted in the apocalyptic season. Whether that distress comes from news of global changes, political unrest, or our increased loved affair with violence.
Perhaps I don’t like this time of year because I feel like one foot is too much in the not yet…the end times. And I just want to simply have both feet in the joyful anticipation and celebration of the birth of the Christ child.
And secondly, this waiting almost feels like fantasy. Not the fantasy of Disney World, but something that I just can’t comprehend. I can get waiting and celebrating the birth of newborn babies. I know the joy of that. I’ve lived it. I haven’t lived the joy of Christ coming again. And in this little apocalypse all I see is fear. Fear and distress. So my first reaction is to avoid this fear and distress and just lift another cup of the old eggnog and not engage in Advent waiting.
But…but… I think we do ourselves a disservice when we only have the first kind of Advent waiting–the celebrating the birthday waiting. It’s an important piece for sure, but it only focuses on the past. The part we know. I believe that God gives us the Apocalypse waiting so that we have our eyes pointed to what is to come.
Not to focus on the distress, but to focus on the promise.
Friends…we’ve always had distress. From the moment that humanity fell…from the moment that sin entered the picture…we’ve been distressed, distraught, and dis-eased. It’s not something that God imparts…it’s something that our own brokenness brings. It’s why we needed that baby Jesus to be born in the first place. To take upon the distress, the distraught, and the dis-eased and bring about an end to it. An end that we will one day be able to realize and live into. The ‘not yet’ part.
The promise that seems so fantastic…the Son of Man coming through the clouds part…the part that’s hard for us to imagine and put words to…that we can only speak in metaphor and poetry. The part that is the promise is not the distress or the calamity…we know that part…the part that is the promise is that the Son of Man–the Son of God–Christ Jesus is coming. And he invites us to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
What Jesus is saying, is have courage–for God’s promises hold true through the distress, through the distraught, and through the dis-ease.
What we know around us is temporary and fleeting. We know that–last week’s turkey is long gone and the eggnog in my fridge is about to spoil, but God’s promise and presence will never fade away or go bad.
And be ready and alert.
For it is in this between time that our God’s presence breaks through the clouds with power and glory. Not only for the Advent of our Lord, but for when the kingdom of God breaks into the midst of our in between.
I was reminded of that recently when I saw amazing footage of a rescue that happened a few weeks ago. News came to the Los Angeles Fire Department that several people were trapped by wildfire on top of a mountain peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. The smoke could be seen from miles around and the flames were just below the peak. A group of people were stranded. They were in great danger and distress. And then, like the mighty wings of angels, came a helicopter from the city of angels, from above coming in the cloud with the power of their rescuer. And from below the people in peril were seen to stand up and raise their heads for their redemption was drawing near. Whisked from peril they were brought to safety.
I can tell you that this rescue was part of God’s work and the hands of a few very capable helicopter pilots. But isn’t that how the Lord so often comes to us in this time that we know as the in between? On the wings of angels and helicopters, in the hands of the savior and life-saving medical practices, through the compassion of our Lord and compassionate giving hearts.
And so it is in this between time that Jesus calls us to be ready and alert. To be prayerful and have courage in the midst of distress, distraught, and dis-eased times. For it is in this in between time, this very temporal time that we may see signs of the eternal one.
Watch for these signs my friends. Have courage…have hope in the Lord who is the steadfast in our in between as we fervently pray, Come quickly Lord Jesus, come.