Advent 1 B
November 27, 2011
Isaiah 64:1-9; Ps. 80
There were people who had a wonderful time this Thanksgiving weekend. People who connected with loving family and friends, people who heard wonderful stories, people who greeted long-lost friends. There were people who heard difficult news this Thanksgiving weekend, heart-breaking news, earth-shaking news, people for whom family and friends were more important than ever. There were people who were lonely, people who were over-worked, people who did not have enough to eat. There were people who started arguments at the dinner table, and people who worked their best to prevent any discord. It was a Thanksgiving weekend of extraordinary weather, and ordinary grace.
1 Cor 1:3-9; Mark 1.3:24-37
There is a disconnect, isn’t there, between all that goes on over Thanksgiving weekend, and what scripture we read, and hymns we sing, on this first Sunday of Advent. We read lessons about the end of time, of God’s anger and human failing, of a darkened heaven and falling stars, and urgent messages to keep alert.
Amid all the extraordinary moments, and ordinary grace, the family tensions and the not-quite-fulfilled expectations, we get this message that puts us a bit on edge: keep alert. You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey …
We are embarking on a year of reading how the Gospel of Mark interprets the life and ministry of Jesus. Mark is often described as a stark gospel – it is certainly the shortest one. Mark is not interested in how Jesus was born – no stories of angels or shepherds, no miraculous birth, no wise men from the east. Like today’s reading, there is a sense of urgency to all of Mark’s gospel. Mark urges all of us to take this journey, to keep awake and alert to what may be ahead.
Mark’s urgent concern for us has to do with following Jesus. We who follow Jesus are “on the way.” Today we are embarking on this journey, on the way, following Jesus, travelling through a sacred landscape where we will encounter signs and wonders, where we will run up against opposition and obstacles.
The advantage of a four-day holiday weekend is that it takes us out of our normal routine enough to have a minute, at least, to reflect. To stop and think. To give thanks for our lives when they are going well, for our blessings, for those who love us, and who let us love them. Are we “on the way,” however we have been able to understand the pull that Jesus exerts on our lives? Or are we off the path, distracted by things that are not important? Are we alert, or have we fallen asleep?
The master in today’s story, like the King in last week’s, would not be interested in the frenzy of shopping on “Black Friday,” but he would likely be interested the fear and tension that drives people to “shop ‘til they drop,” to open their stores at all hours of the day and night, to pronounce breathless reports on consumer spending like all of our lives depended on what happened this weekend at Toys’R’Us or Wal-Mart or Neiman-Marcus. The master in today’s story, like the King in last week’s, would be grateful for all the turkeys delivered to needy people this week, but wonder what we were doing with our money during those other 51 weeks, and why we put up with a society that distributes its resources in such a lop-sided fashion. Be awake, the master says. Keep alert. What is going on here? What are the signs of our times, that we can interpret as well as gardeners can interpret the coming spring from the shoots of the fig leaves? What do we see around us, that God wants us to pay attention to?
We are about to rush into the work-week, I know, as well as into the frenzy of our holiday season. But today, this afternoon, this evening, take stock, one more time. What has God called you to pay attention to during this weekend’s respite from everyday life? What moments of ordinary grace, or extraordinary clarity, lead you to know what it means to follow Jesus “on the way?” How can you keep alert to those signs, during these days ahead, to know what is distracting you, pulling you off from the path, away from the journey?
The season of Advent is the church’s ancient custom to remind us that all around us are the signs of God’s goodness, God’s reign, God’s intention for how we live our lives as individuals and as a whole society. The signs may be as small as the shoots of tiny leaves, or as large as a billboard along the highway. Those signs are in the blessings of our lives, as well as in the heartbreaks. Advent reminds us: you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you await the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You are not lacking in anything. The signs are all around us. Keep awake.