First Sunday in Advent
Just before today’s gospel reading, Mark suggests upheaval, destruction of the Temple, of war, earthquakes, famine and family betrayal. It can seem shocking that a season perceived to be about joy and peace is connected with the end of the world. But, Jesus’ words are not so much shocking as much as familiar. Advent really expresses our faith in the possibility of a better world.
Many of us have been conditioned to hear the Gospel in threatening or punitive ways. It is as like God or Jesus is going to get you if you mess up. With that outlook, we are more likely to miss the point in this passage. This is the bad fruit of using religion and Scripture to threaten people into love, which is actually a total impossibility. Most people who start with fear stay with fear and never get to the higher motivations. Divine rage as expressed in many parts of the Bible, including Jesus cleansing of the Temple, can make us uncomfortable and fearful because it is disruptive, frightening and unpredictable. The destruction might not even be of the world but the end of the status quo that can move into new ways of thinking, perceiving, feeling, and acting. If we see people not as monsters, or strangers or enemies, it can threaten the established order. Divine rage is not about vengeance but transformation and reordering. Jesus did not wait around. Nor was he always patient. A call to patience can subvert us from being active. It can lull us into accepting an unjust status quo. Commercial, political or religious institutions thrive when we are sleepy, passive, obedient and impressionable. As people call for a new way of doing things, we see that something new is possible - a different way of being human. Ingrained habits, and mindless and oppressive ‘business as usual’ is being challenged. The 1% old world of corporate greed is challenged more and more. The new humanity that is called for is where people are prioritised over profit, property, possessions, power, and privilege: it is called for where ‘law and order’ has become the code for a legal system that targets people of colour and the poor. The new humanity is exposing an exploitative system that takes from those forced to the underside of society and benefits those for whom the rules are shaped. Jesus envisioned a system where the strong take care of the weak, not a world where the strong prey on the weak.
Covid-19 and Pope Francis have called into question the assumptions of privilege and capitalism. We prefer things to be civil which silences pain, injustice. When we feel helpless in the face of injustice, it is easy to succumb to the view that this is just the way things are because it is the way things have always been. Jesus is not referring to the second coming or about our deaths but the forever coming of Jesus, the one who is always present, who is always coming…. Now. God in Jesus is always present. It’s we who are often not present, but somewhere else. Jesus tells us to be conscious, to be awake, to be alert, to be alive. Most of us can go through the motions of our daily routines repeating what we did the previous day and get upset at any interruptions. Our God is always coming towards us, beckoning, bidding us to care about the household. The reign of God’s peace with abiding justice in the world.
Leonard Cohen has a beautiful line when he says, “There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.” It seems that the best chance of God getting at us is in the gaps, in the brokenness, the messes, the exceptions and surprises. Could not this be the meaning of being conscious, of being alert or awake? We are called to be on the lookout for the Jesus who inhabits our every loss and joy, who is present in each devastation, and gathers us up when our world has shattered, and offers healing now. And that healing is often effected by presence and solidarity.
It is necessary to both work and watch. It means to be a servant (‘each with his or her own work’) and a doorkeeper (‘on the watch’). It is to be a doorkeeper for our ‘common home’ which first requires that we listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and then respond. It means listening for the cues of injustice around us. We are being invited or lured into collaborating. Can we live engaged in God’s world and be open to the arrival of the new? We are called to be fully present to the moment, immersed in the present, and looking to the future. This waiting is not passive. It is an active waiting whilst listening, discerning and doing. Patience and waiting do not change the world. Civility and the status quo do not change the world. It is a call to engagement. Otherwise those who are poor, lonely, elderly, sick, have to wait even longer. The poor wait for an end to their suffering in a world where medicine is patented. World AIDS Day on December 1 prompts us to remember people who still struggle to obtain even generic and affordable medication for their illness. Indigenous people and gay people still wait for justice, equality and freedom. And when it is achieved, it is given grudgingly and with conditions.
Covid-19 has awakened in many a new look at their values. Climate change may not wake us up but the consequences of climate change such as bushfires, hurricanes and cyclones can wake us up to how the earth is being defaced and our failure to act harms vulnerable people. People in the Pacific still wait for us to respond to their situation of climate change; people in Syria and Afghanistan want their countries back from the foreign forces and insurgents that attack them over and over again with impunity; people on Manus Island cry out for us to listen to their pleas for security and freedom but who is listening? people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries still ask what the future holds for them when medicines are unavailable due to the ‘profit motive’; West Papua still cries out for respect, for human rights and autonomy in the face of ongoing repression and violence; Palestinians remain imprisoned on their own land. Is anyone listening or aware? All are vulnerable - and ‘vulnerability’ means ‘waiting to be wounded’ again and again. If God cares, we need to join Isaiah who demands God’s face be shown again – a face that is shown in our presence, our solidarity and our care and compassion.
In a cry from the heart, Isaiah pleaded for an end to God's silence and remoteness when the nation was in ruins and the Temple desolate. As with Isaiah, we too need God to ‘rend the heavens and come down,’ to rend, rip away the indifference and egoism that separates country from country, race from race, male from female, rich from poor, young from old, religion from religion, healthy from sick, etc. More importantly however, we need to pray that we rend our hearts and be part of the change that we want to see. God is already in the action. God has been embracing us with love all along.
As Advent begins, can we help one another to discover the difference between ‘the life we live and the life we choose’? Can we try to make of our lives a journey where every person we meet and every circumstance we find ourselves in are a revelation of God’s presence in our midst? God is both the road we travel and the destination of the pilgrimage on which we have embarked. Advent reminds us to be alert along the way and to be open to the unmistakable signs of God present in the people we meet and the events that happen to us. God’s work began in Jesus’ ministry, and it continues in our midst and with us. We are faithful disciples not when we focus on the future and obsess about the end of the world but when we commit our lives, here and now, to the great work of God, repairing this world, shaping a new creation of beauty, grace, justice, and joy, leaning into the reign of God. Let us also wake up and reconnect to the beauty of life, the mystery of love and wonder of creation. It may enable us to reconnect to the original goodness and beauty that resides in each of us. We need to be reminded and connected to each other in a deeper way. We need to awaken to hope. We need to be alert to the presence of God in unexpected places and surprising ways. We need to awaken to and be reminded that simple presence often says more than our word and does more than our actions. As we this Advent season, may have open eyes, asking the God of hope to awaken us to the comings of God into our lives and into our suffering world. The Indian poet Tagore give us a focus for our Advent prayer and reflection in his poem ‘Silent Steps’: ‘Have you not heard his silent steps? He comes, comes, ever comes. In every moment and every age, every day and every night.’
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.
Every moment and every hour,
every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes.
Many a song have I sung in many a mood of mind,
but all their notes have always proclaimed,
`He comes, comes, ever comes.'
In the fragrant days of sunny April through the forest path he comes,
comes, ever comes.
In the rainy gloom of July nights on the thundering chariot of clouds
he comes, comes, ever comes.
In sorrow after sorrow it is his steps that press upon my heart,
and it is the golden touch of his feet that makes my joy to shine.