Looking With Advent Eyes
"But in those days, after that suffering...." What a way to start the new year!
And yet as I look back on the calendar year almost over and the liturgical year just past, I can feel this passage in my bones and in my breath--fires raging, people fleeing, clouds of toxic smoke circling the globe; habitats destroyed, species eliminated; almost 1.5 million of the world's citizens now dead from a disease we didn't even know existed a year ago--and here, in our country, over 100 people diagnosed with Covid every minute of the day. Millions of our fellow citizens on unemployment while others watch their businesses teeter on the brink of collapse. The New York Times tells us the world economy is in the worst shape it has been since the Great depression. Though our political climate is less toxic now than it was a month ago, there are still deep divisions and seemingly unbridgeable rifts in our body politic.
We know those days; we know that suffering--in our shared life and in our own lives as well.
All the losses--many of which we must grieve and mourn alone; that sense of being trapped; the Zoomgloom that those among us who now work or learn online experience on an almost daily basis; the mind-numbing drudgery of seemingly endless weeks of Blursdays; the longings we feel--to hug our kids or our parents or our very best friend; for a pat on the arm or an arm draped around our shoulders; for laughter that doesn't sound like one hand clapping; for seeing the smiles
on people's faces.
We know those days and that suffering.
But there's more to the story than those days and that suffering. There's the fig tree. And therein lies the promise made by and lived out through Jesus's own life--the good news of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. The promise of the Son of Man gathering his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. The promise of the reign of God come close--at the very gates. Here. Now.
What does that mean? How can that be? What does that have to do with you and me? In the here and the now?
There are those who hear this passage--this apocalyptic passage--from Mark as a statement about what happens at the end of time when all history has unfolded and all nature has run its course. But is that really how God works--suffer now but at the end of time, if you are fortunate enough to be among God's elect, you'll be gathered into eternity and everything will be hunky dory. And the rest of us--cast out into utter darkness. That runs counter to all I know about the loving God who created you and me and all that is and was and that shall be. God brings folks in from the utter darkness of their days and of our world.
We know that. We know that from our very lives in this very moment: the joy of a teenager grown into and growing more comfortable with the adult she is becoming; the relief even a slight change in the political climate brings; the delight of a hot meal with family outside on a cold afternoon thus easing the disappointment of a Thanksgiving alone; the gracious moments that punctuate this crazy time. God drawing near. Here. Now.
You see, God's time is not linear. God's time breaks into linear time--somewhat like that monolith found in the Utah desert. Surprising. Unexpected. Seemingly inexplicable. Causing folks to say "Huh?" or maybe "Wow". God's time breaking into our ordinary and our darkest days. God's time prompting our "Wow" or maybe our "Thanks".
"But about that day or hour no one knows...Beware, keep alert....And what I say to you I say to all: keep awake." For most of my life, I have read and heard those words--"Beware, keep alert,....keep awake" with a sense of foreboding and gloom." But change it up just a little. The Greek word--"blepo"--we translate as "beware, keep alert" has a slightly different meaning--more like "Be watchful. Attune the eyes of your spirit. Attune the eyes of your heart." And the word we translate as "keep awake"--gregoreo--means "keep watch, be vigilant" but really more than that. Gregoreo has a "don't just stand there, do something" component to it.
It makes me wonder: Could "Be aware", "keep alert", "keep awake" be an invitation--an invitation to look with Advent eyes at one another and the world we all share? Eyes open to the deep needs and piercing wounds that mark the lives of those around us; eyes trained to see the delight and wonder that are a part of even the darkest of days; eyes alert to God's abiding grace lived out in the to and fro of life in and of God's creation.
Yet looking with Advent eyes is but a part of this invitation. There's so much more to it than simply seeing what's before our eyes, for we are asked to live Advent lives as well--in season and out--responding as Jesus does to the need and hurt that mark our most human lives--as we follow Jesus in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, turning over the tables of those who would exploit the most vulnerable among us, bringing hope to our broken world.
Take out those Advent lenses; put them on; look out at the world we all share. Then listen to the one we follow urging us, "Don't just stand there, join in the work of God."