Genesis 28:1–5,10–22; Matthew 24:29–35
What is the first thing you think of when you see a gate or a door?
What kinds of gates or doors do you think of?
We might think of a mysterious locked door to an attic or basement or a secret room. Who knows what or who is behind that door?
We might imagine interstellar doors like the wormholes in Star Trek. They are intriguing and dangerous because you never know where you’re going to come out.
What if the door seems to be just a storage closet – like the wardrobe in the C.S. Lewis stories. It’s just a place to hang coats, but going through the wardrobe takes the children to the land of Narnia.
If you’ve read the book by ND Wilson, maybe you think of the doors to the 100 cupboards. There’s a wall of cupboards in the attic bedroom of the house in Henry, Kansas where a boy named Henry has come to stay with his aunt and uncle after his parents are abducted. He discovers that the doors are not just decorative, nor are they storage. They are gateways to new places and adventures, some beautiful and some scary.
Do we think of gates and doors as barriers or as opportunities?
Or maybe a bit of both?
What if going through is the end of one thing but the beginning of another? Doors and gates can be symbols of hope.
We’re talking about doors and gates today because both of our scriptures describe these thresholds, and because today is the first Sunday of Advent. The word “advent” means coming. Advent is a liminal season. Liminal means transitional, a threshold, a doorway. It’s a season of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, and a time to renew our expectation for Jesus’ second coming. It’s a time for both nostalgia and hope, and for remembering that our hope is not in things or places or events, but in God’s goodness and love, and in our savior, God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
In our reading from Genesis, we find Jacob,  one of the most important ancestors of the nation of Israel, sleeping in the wilderness because he’s running away from his mom Rebekah, and dad Isaac, and brother Esau after deceiving them and stealing his brother’s blessing. But also Jacob’s parents have sent him away because they are trying to preserve the family line, and so they’ve sent him to his uncle to find a wife. On this journey, Jacob is alone in the wilderness, and he has a dream, a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder to heaven, and God makes him a promise.
God says, 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”
His vision shows him that he is not alone after all. God is with him. This is the same promise God made to Abraham, who was Jacob’s grandfather. It’s a promise to bless ALL the families of the earth through Jacob and his descendants. Jacob’s vision foreshadows Jesus who is the ladder, the gateway, the door to that blessing, a permanent and eternal connection with God. Centuries later, Jesus says in John 10:9, “I am the door.”
Jacob’s dream causes him to declare that the place where he has slept – on the ground in the wilderness with a stone for a pillow – is the very gateway to heaven. So he calls the place “Bethel.” In Hebrew, Beth means house. El means God. He names the place “House of God” because this is the place where God has been revealed to him.
God is revealed or unveiled, and Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” (Gen. 28:16) God was already watching over Jacob, but he didn’t realize it. This awareness is the beginning of a transformation in Jacob.
Do you know where Jacob is when he has this vision and sets up his rock pillow as a marker to commemorate finding God in this place? He’s on Mount Moriah, the very place where centuries later Solomon would build the temple, the place we now call the temple mount.
In our other reading for today from Matthew 24, the temple mount is where Jesus and the disciples have just been when Jesus tells them about another revealing – the apocalypse, the end of time when Jesus will come again. The disciples were admiring the temple and Jesus tells them that it will not last forever. In the year 70 it was destroyed, but what remains in that place today is still one of the most holy sites in the world.
There’s lots of speculation about what all these signs mean that Jesus describes in our reading. Many people have spent lifetimes trying to figure them out and predict when the world will end. So far, nobody’s gotten it right. There are two really important takeaways here.
- Jesus says that only God knows when this will happen. Not even the angels in heaven or the Son know.
- When it happens, Jesus will be revealed to the whole earth. Jesus says all the people of the earth will be able to see it for themselves, so If you hear about it from someone else instead of seeing it for yourself, then it’s not the real second coming.
We can be scared about this being an ending, but it’s also the fantastic beginning of a new age. Both Isaiah and Revelation describe a future with a new heaven and a new earth, something not unlike the Garden of Eden with the tree of life at the center.
John’s vision in Revelation 21 says:
1Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” a for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ b or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
What if that’s not just a far-off future, but is happening now as God is revealing himself to us in all sorts of ways? God calls us to go across thresholds and through gates and doors into new beginnings. Every transition or threshold is a new opportunity to trust God to be with us and guide us and bless us. These gates and doors are opportunities to be a blessing to the people around us, to be a part of God’s blessing that is for all people.
Years ago when we still lived in California, my husband Rob and I went to a conference where one of the speakers described transitional times as being in a hallway full of doors. I really liked that analogy because I felt like it described the place I was in at the time, trying to hear from God about my life direction, my career direction. As I pondered this, I had a vision that I opened a door in this hallway and saw on the other side a mountain that I would have to climb . . . so I closed the door, not knowing what the mountain represented, just that it would be hard to climb and I wasn’t up for the challenge.
Now, looking back, I think that mountain was the process of becoming a pastor, and so you already know that I did go back and open that door, and found a new adventure. Some of the way was easier than I expected, and some of it was harder. And there have been hills and valleys, happy times and sad times, and there will continue to be, but God has not left me to deal with any of it alone.
Doors and gates and thresholds are such ordinary, everyday things. We go through them all the time, mostly without thinking anything about them. We often miss seeing what God is up to because the advent of change is revealed in ordinary ways. In our scripture, Jesus describes what happens to a fig tree when the seasons change, much like what’s been happening to our trees here lately – the leaves on the trees change color and then drop off. It happens every year.
Jesus talks about the sun and moon going dark and the stars falling from the sky. It sounds fantastic, but, if you think about it, the sun goes dark each night and the moon goes dark each morning. And stars fall from the sky all the time. There are 30 meteor showers every year, and some of those have been happening around the same time every year for hundreds of years.
So what does all this mean? That we don’t need to be in special places or special times to find God. Jesus came to make God accessible to all people in all times and all places. Jesus is the door, and he came so we could know that God is near and accessible to us always.
God is always up to something. Living in that hope means we keep our eyes open to watch:
“. . . as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit.” — 1 Corinthians 2:9-10a
Let’s consider how we are living out the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
- Are we seeing thresholds as opportunities or obstacles?
- Are we inviting people in with us or shutting them out?
- Are we putting our hope in things and places and times or in the love of Christ which lives in us and goes with us through the power of the Holy Spirit?
As we walk through this advent season, let’s keep our eyes open for all that God is doing, and keep on praising God.
 Image is “Jacob’s Dream,” an oil painting by Jose de Ribera, 1639 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jos%C3%A9_de_Ribera_048.jpg