Advent 1, Year B - Sunday, November 27, 2011
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
On this first Sunday of Advent, as the Church begins its telling of the Christian story once again, our Gospel reading tells us to “keep awake”. Honestly, this command to keep awake I find to be a bit annoying. Most of us do not need to be told to keep awake during Advent. We are already operating in a state of sleep deprivation. Instead of being accused of being asleep we are more likely to be accused scurrying through the rush of holiday shopping, parties, and to-do list, being highly over-scheduled, and burning our Advent Candle at both ends. There’s endless shopping, gifts to prepare, parties to plan, travel arrangements to make, lots of extra cooking and baking. Squeezed in to our already busy lives will be Christmas pageants, Cantata’s and Lessons and Carols. The joy of being with family and friends is a gift but it is also a stress. Visiting relatives and in-laws mean extra work and somehow it all has to get done. The pressures of the holiday season will be over-shadowed by a constant reminder of how many shopping days left until Christmas morning. In case you’re wondering you have 27 days and about 15.5 hours. So it occurs to me that the real pastoral action needed for most of us is not to be told to keep awake, but to pass out sleeping pills with chamomile tea to minister to our over-caffeinated, stressed out selves.
The fact that we are exhausted and stretched to our physical limits is not just a reality of Advent and Christmas -- it’s a reality of our lives all year long. Sleep, or the need to get more of it, has actually made it onto the list of spiritual disciplines. This is simply recognizing that it is hard to progress spiritually when we’re exhausted. James Bryan Smith in his book “The Good and Beautiful God” says that the number one enemy of spiritual formation today is exhaustion. Many retailers opened their stores this past Friday (Black Friday) at midnight Thursday. Some even pushed their opening hours earlier and opened on Thanksgiving Day. We’re loosing the sanctity of setting aside a holiday as a time of resting from our busy lives.
Our culture is caught up in a mad rush of busy-ness that is pointed toward Christmas morning, but it is not pointed toward the coming of the Christ child. We may not be physically asleep; quite the opposite actually. But in our wakefulness to the realities of the holiday rush we can fall asleep to the spiritual season of the coming Christ. So on this first Sunday of Advent Mark’s gospel gives us a wake-up call by telling us that the coming of Christ is both near and at hand. But which coming of Christ does Mark’s gospel point us to? Advent is a special season indeed linking the historical coming of the promised Messiah with the coming of Christ into our own hearts and the coming of Christ again at the end of time.
Our lection this morning is known as the little apocalypse and is filled with references to the end of all time. Not unlike many today the Disciples wanted Jesus to give them a date. They were ready to mark their calendars. So Jesus gave them a metaphor -- the Fig Tree. A fig tree would be a well known reference point for someone living in a Mediterranean world in the first century. When we encounter figs today they tend to be mashed inside a moist little biscuit. But for us, is the sign to the end of the age really to be found in a comfort food cookie? I think not.
For us this is a metaphor pointing to a paradox. The wake up call in Mark’s gospel is calling you and me to awaken to paradox. In fact, it is one of the most important paradoxes found in the Gospel. It is the paradox of already but not yet.
- It is the already but not yet drama of how we live our life with God.
- Christ has already been born but not yet has the world come into His light and love.
- Already Jesus has established the means for our relationship with God, but not yet do we live in complete union with God.
- Already the Prince of Peace has come but not yet have we learned to end our wars.
- Already Christ has taken our wounds but not yet have we been able to let them go.
- Already the realm of God is evident all around us, but not yet is God’s realm fully established in this world or even in our hearts.
- Already God’s economy is at work, but not yet have we moved our hope from Wall St.
- Already God has filled the earth with plenty but not yet have we learned to share it with all.
Jesus was telling His disciples, and through this gospel text He is telling us, we are the one’s living “in-between” His first coming and His second coming. This already but not yet paradox is how Mark’s gospel breaks right into our lives today speaking to us who live in-between. Mark’s gospel is not an apocalyptic message for those left behind, it is an apocalyptic message for those left between. For those living in this challenging meantime between the already and the not yet.
Just like the fig tree that knows how to respond to the seasons of the year Advent calls us to a season to go within. All of nature moves deep inside and all living things have dug their roots deep into the earth for sustenance and protection. We too are invited to turn inward during this blessed time of preparation for the Lord’s coming. This is the season to let Christ be born anew in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls. This is the season to live fully into the reality that although Christ was born in human weakness, He manifested His divinity to the world. This is the season to open our hearts to His spiritual coming in our inmost being where Christ is born anew and to let His light shine within us. This is the season to wait and watch for His final coming at the end of time where He will manifest His glorified being through all creation.
As I was preparing my own heart for the Advent season I was going through my journal and came upon an entry I had written years ago. The entry has the simple title of “Three Questions”. I’m not for sure what impressed me to write it down at the time. But today I would tell you that the Holy Spirit knew I would need it at this point in my life. I have taken these 3 questions and placed them on the inner tabernacle of my heart. It is as if they sit in the cradle of my being, the Holy Spirit working them through me as He knows best. I don’t even try to provide an answer to these 3 questions. I am simply letting them be within me, allowing my heavenly friend to engraft them into my life. I will journey with them these next 4 weeks of Advent. They will be my guiding star leading me to the cradle of my Lord. I share them with you in invitation for you to journey with them during this season of Advent.
- What needs to be forgiven?
- What needs to be healed?
- What needs to be celebrated?
Three questions that hold and carry us through the paradox of already but not yet of our lives with God. Three questions that stand with us in solidarity (quite literally) in this in-between place of our Christian journey. Three questions that we can welcome keeping awake with through this holy season of Advent.
Have a Blessed Advent! Amen!