Advent blessings. What are you anticipating, what are your and our Advent expectations for this year? How do we practise being awake and ready for Jesus’/God’s arriving to transform us and this world, individually and as a community, this Advent?
The Gospel reading for today raises this Advent question again this year. Jesus tells his followers, about that day and hour, no one knows, in heaven or on earth. What day is it? Jesus speaks to his followers of days of great turmoil, persecution and suffering in social, political, environmental, even cosmic upheaval and collapse that are coming, as the Son of humanity returns.
These visions are frightening and difficult to comprehend, especially as Jesus speaks of them as imminent, so near, about to take place. They are more understandable in the context of the gospel writer of Mathew’s time and community. The people who first hear these words have experienced this turmoil, in Jerusalem at the hands of Rome, and in the events of Jesus’ own arrest and persecution, in the scattering of his followers, in his crucifixion and violent death, and in the earthquakes and darkening of the skies that followed according to Mathew’s account. All is chaos and suffering and death as Jesus warned. And all holds hope of the risen Jesus’ returning to restore all things and God’s people to God.
What do these scenes and Jesus’ words mean, that no one knows the day or the hour in the heavens or on earth, so be awake and ready for Christ Jesus’/God’s arriving at any time?
The sense of present and impending turmoil is not so removed from us. Social and political upheaval, in places like Hong Kong, Iraq, even Great Brittan and the United States are evident enough. Present and impending wars and conflicts, environmental and humanitarian catastrophes and disasters in places like Albania, Zimbabwe, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Jerusalem and the Holy Land are happening. Disaster and chaos are present or feel like they are just around the corner. How do we stay awake, be ready for what we anticipate to be God’s Advent at any time?
The illustrations Jesus offers are past and parable. The story of Noah and people eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, going about their everyday lives, and the floods came and washed them all away is a little close for comfort with two family weddings next year and constant talk of climate change and rising waters. So will be the coming of the Son of humanity, Jesus says? And this image in which so much has been invested by some, of two in a field, or two women grinding grain, and one will be taken and one will be left; there is nothing here about one is good and the other not, nothing about being taken is better and left behind not or the reverse. It is all about sudden and unexpected ends, and no one knows when.
And this we know too, in the sudden death of a young son and brother and grandson, and now a daughter and sister of another family in a car accident. One and another are taken, and families and friends are left grief stricken and heart broken and us with them. How do we stay awake and ready for God’s Advent in such unexpected days and hours?
To quote the new bulletin series and images, “I wonder: how are we different when we watch, wait and stay awake together?” Does Jesus’/God’s arriving at any time invite us, inspire us to be awake and ready to participate in the hope and new life that this anticipated arrival means for us, for others, for this world?
This week, Wednesday at 6:34pm! The two men that we sponsored with their sister and aunt, are to arrive in Victoria after years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Is this an anticipated Advent of God that we are to be awake and ready for, as Jesus tells us to be. Surely it is for them!
In the midst of present and continuing conflict and turmoil in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, on Friday last week, I read in the ELCIC daily devotional book, Eternity for Today, as some of you may have as well, the devotion by author, Monika Wiesner, writing on Psalm 122 that the Choir sang this morning and the prayer for peace in Jerusalem. She wrote: This past January I was privileged to attend the “Hakimah” program at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. We learned about the reality of living in this divided city from the viewpoint of Abrahamic faith traditions. Our teachers were three women – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – who were friends as well as educators. More than anything else, they wanted peace in the land they loved so much. As we visited the holy sites of all three faiths, we witnessed how these three women hurt for each other. We listened as they expressed a longing for peace in the land each called home. A vision that will stay with me forever: We were in a church in Magdala, in the region of Galilee. We walked around exploring the many exhibits. I went into the sanctuary to take a photo, and I saw our Jewish and Muslim teachers sitting together, all alone in the empty sanctuary. As I watched from the entrance, the Jewish woman put her arm around her Muslim friend’s shoulders, and the two put their heads together and rested like that. I put my camera down and sat quietly, an unseen third presence, knowing I was on holy ground. For me this was the peace of Jerusalem. Is this an anticipated Advent of God that we are to be awake and ready for, as Jesus tells us to be. Surely it is for them!
At the funeral yesterday, the hospitality and care shown by this community was once again a gift, that helps and comforts people through the pain of death and grief. It was a very diverse group of people who gathered, family, young friends, friends of family, people of this church, neighbours and co-workers, Harley riders, people comfortable and uncomfortable being in a church, people asking for individual prayers, people embracing and laughing and crying. The sense of grief together was profound, but so also the care for one another. I said to more than one person, being together like this is the best we can do. Everyone agreed. It was the best we could do, to gather, talk, cry, laugh, and love one another, all supported by this community.
During worship, a young niece kneeled on the floor beside us in our chairs and coloured on the small table as worship went on around her. Adults spoke of her uncle through tears, with fondness and laughter too. All the while she smiled back at her family and the congregation as she coloured. And she and I exchanged glances and whispered about her picture of colourful mittens. I did not get to ask her about the significance of the mittens, but I thanked her for sitting beside us, and smiling and helping us all get through a very sad time together. I think her way of seeing what was happening, earlier colouring a picture with hearts and writing “for you Zac,” and later when most people had gone, doing cartwheels in the entranceway to my and other’s amazement. Maybe all the while giving all of us a different message, God’s message about the sting of death. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?... thanks be to God who give us the victory through Jesus Christ.” I wonder if we could live each day anticipating, awake and watching and waiting for this child’s confidence in Jesus’/God’s Advent at any time, for that lightness and joy, even in the face of death, to arrive at any moment?
The Gospel reading, and the other readings, all point to times ahead that will transform this world and all of us with it. We can see those times ahead, and we see them right here and now, for us and others and all of us together. And the gracious invitation of Jesus, in the face of what may terrify and even devastate us, is to be awake and ready for God’s arriving at any time, and to live participating in that hope and expectation of new and transforming life for ourselves and this world, for every refugee and displaced person to have a safe place to call home, for peace and harmony in Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth, beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, instruments of violence and death into tools for growing food that all would have enough, and learn war never again. And for those whose loved ones are taken, too young and too soon, tragically and accidentally, or murdered and missing women and children, that none and no one, need fear death anymore, for the one who brings life out of death, hope out of despair, is arriving at an unexpected hour, and we are awake and ready and joining that anticipated promise now.
Blessed Advent. Blessed Advent. Blessed Advent of God. Amen.