I remember it like it was yesterday, that summer’s day more than fifty years ago.
They were rare and precious days, time spent with favorite cousins who lived at a distance. Only now it is not that which stays with me, but a sense of foreboding terror building in my 7 year old heart.
For we sat together on my bedroom floor, my cousin who was four years older and I. And she told me then the story that is before us now in Mark’s Gospel. Only? Hers was more colorful and yes quite a bit more frightening than what Mark offers today. (I should offer that she is a pastor now, and the gentlest of persons and preachers.)
And no, I do not recall her enjoying the telling. I only remember the urgency with which she spoke of these immanent end times. I cannot imagine that she was much better equipped than I was to sort out the meaning of all of this, for she was only eleven. I only know how it sat with me then, that image of an angry God which was so entirely detached from anything I had ever heard in Sunday School!
That long held sense of unease comes back to me every year as we approach these first Sundays in Advent each year with their seemingly dire warnings and urgings to be ready, to ‘keep awake.’
And yet, the older I get, the more open graves I stand beside, the more prayers I pray in hospital emergency rooms, the more phone calls I receive from yet another one of God’s beloved who cannot pay the electric bill, the more I bear witness to the brokenness of this world, especially this year?
The less terrifying it seems.
And yes, I know that there are those who live alongside us who have heard these words as one of hope their whole lives long. Ones for whom promises whose keeping I have long taken for granted have come nowhere near being kept in this life now. Ones who would rejoice to see the universe come unhinged for as it is and has been in their lived experience does not begin to reflect what a loving God could possibly intend. I have been so very privileged so as not to find myself among them. I still am. And so I think of those today:
- Who have spent hours this week sitting in a line of cars waiting to pick up a Thanksgiving meal they could not otherwise afford…
- Who felt they had little choice to go to work this week, in spite of the onset of symptoms which could only mean one thing…
- Whose loved one lies in a temporary morgue because the local funeral homes can’t keep up…
- Who have been separated from their parents at the border, not knowing if they will ever lay eyes on them again, much less feel their embrace…
- Who have lived their lives gripped by poverty or abuse…
- Who are afraid to send their children out into the world because the darkness of their skin could well mean their premature death…
- The list surely goes on, doesn’t it…
Indeed, this year? My taste of all of it, however relatively small, has me hearing that when what was light becomes darkness, when the stars start to fall from the heavens, and when the powers in the very heavens themselves are shaken? Well, part of me feels a measure of hope instead of terror now.
- For only then, only in the wake of all of that, will ‘the Son of Man come in clouds with great power and glory.’
- Only then will Jesus finally, fully gather in those who have long been scattered.
- Only then will we know a coming together across time and space.
And yes, I expect there will be judgment in the midst of this. Judgment, surely, for all that is pointed to above.
But that is not mentioned here.
We only hear today that the world will be turned upside down and Jesus will be in the midst of it bringing together that which has been too long separated.
- And I wonder now if in the midst of these different than they have ever been before Advent waiting and watching days.
- I wonder now if I am able to ponder all of this in a way I never have before.
- I wonder if that has been one gift of this particular long season which follows decades of very often walking alongside the hurting and the despairing.
- I wonder if finally this time has opened me up to the gift of this in a way a 7 year old heart who had known no struggle could possibly comprehend.
Maybe I would still have gotten there if not for this recent time.
Maybe it would just have taken more time, more gravesides, more prayers with the suffering, more listening to the crying laments of neighbors, more standing alongside the hurting, more losses of my own, more…
And maybe God is using this time as a gift to open my heart and perhaps yours as well to welcome a world far different than the one we have grown far too accustomed to.
And maybe? Maybe in the call to ‘keep awake’ the point is that you and I are to be among those shaping that world God intends and promises to bring even now.
In the meantime, I am surely in a different place this Advent than ever before.
And as hard as it has been to get here? I find myself grateful, even so. For God seems in this somehow, doing something new. The promised return of Jesus no longer holds the dread it did as though much would be lost. Rather, it seems to be more gift today than ever before.
- How do you hear the words of Jesus now? Are they warning? Promise? Both?
- What has brought you to this point in your hearing and understanding?
- Has this particular recent season changed your experience of this in some way? If so, how has this been made known to you?