It seems to happen to me every year as summer turns to fall and winter is just around the corner. It happens in an especially busy season, of course, and it happens when the weather isn’t necessarily very nice and when darkness comes sooner rather than later. And it happens because one of my trees chooses to drop its leaves as late in November as possible, and the city quits picking up yard waste on December 1st. And so it was that it happened again this year that I looked at the calendar and I looked at my yard and I found myself raking leaves in the dark so as to not miss that deadline.
I know it is coming every year, of course I do. And every year I find myself pushing leaves to the curb at the last minute, all the while knowing the ‘final day’ is coming, but not knowing for sure when the actual ‘final day’ will be on my particular street when they will come through the last time with the big truck and the giant vacuum which sucks up the piles of leaves we have labored to leave where they can be reached. I always know it’s coming. I’m just never sure exactly when.
And isn’t this also the case for all of us as we gather around Jesus’ words for us on this first Sunday in Advent? We know it is coming, that the end or the beginning or the beginning of the end is near. At least we know it is coming at some point. We have heard over and over again how important it is to ‘keep awake’ — and yet we ‘doze’ and we ‘slumber,’ don’t we, because we are too busy, or there is just not the time today, or forces surely outside our control have us thinking we cannot do what should be done to be ready. We know what it is in our lives, and most of us have a sense of what this is in our lives of faith.
This came home to me again last week when a friend I had not laid eyes on in 25 years or more came to visit. Our paths had crossed for a couple of years a long time ago when we were in college. We had been in touch more than a year ago when I heard she was living nearby again, but I had not heard from her since. Then suddenly just over a week ago I received an e-mail saying she we going to be in the area and was planning to drop in for worship and could she take me to lunch? And so we did.
As I gazed across the table at this friend I could see that while essentially, she is the same, time had taken its toll, as it surely has with me as well. Here is where I was taken off guard though. She asked how I had been. I did not hesitate to say I have been well, but she asked again to be sure. “No, really,” I said, “I am fine.” She then went on to speak of good friends from college. She had been away a long time, you see, and had lost touch other than the annual Christmas cards. She thought it odd when a few seasons ago she received a package in the mail from them containing all the photo cards she had sent through the years, but did not think of it again until she moved back and thought about old friends she would like to connect with again, especially these in particular. Only when she made an effort to find them, she discovered that they both had recently died within a few months of one another. “It’s not only our parents’ generation anymore,” she exclaimed. “It’s ours!”
And oh, this is surely the gift of these first weeks in Advent. Yes, it is so that the words of Jesus sound dire, particularly as we find ourselves able to look around and perhaps see first hand the signs of which he speaks. Or as we are able to look into one another’s eyes and perceive the passing of time and the coming nearness of something else. Indeed, they speak a simple truth which we perhaps would rather avoid. The end will come. If not in a cosmic sense then in small eruptions everywhere all around us and within us. And yet, the gift is also ours to receive as we wonder now what we are to do with the words of Jesus now and the gift these words of warning offer. Indeed…,
- Where am I, where are you, where are we called to invest what we have been given in the time that remains here and now?
- How shall I spend the time I have remaining?
- Indeed, who is it we are called to love with the time that is left?
For knowing that it will all one day end can also set us free can’t it?
- Free to speak words of truth and hope and love.
- Free to reach out in generosity and kindness.
- Free to forgive what before seemed unforgivable.
- Free to let go of what we thought we would always need.
Oh, I do believe that what Jesus means when he says to keep awake is to keep asking questions like these. Questions which matter. And then to live into the questions with lives which matter, too.
For in the end it is not so much a ‘deadline to be met’ like with my annual last minute rush to dispose of the leaves piling up in my yard. It is, rather, a way of life to be lived, not only as we near the end, but all the way through.
- How do you hear the words of Jesus’ today? Are you able to receive these words of ‘warning’ as a gift?
- When and where have you been made aware of the limits of time?
- What does it mean to you to ‘keep awake?’
- Indeed, what are the questions which matter that you are called to ask yourself? Your community? Your congregation?