Last Sunday was the children and youth Christmas program at our church. I did not preach, but earlier in the week I lead a communion service at a local senior care facility. Here is my reflection from that service.
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”
I don’t know about you, but it sounds a lot like the morning news programs. Hurricane Sandy certainly had roaring seas and waves. Fear and foreboding – fiscal cliff, the end of the Mayan calendar. Fear leaps at us from our radios, televisions, computers, and even our phones.
So in the midst of all this chaos and confusion, what does Jesus in this part of the Gospel According to Luke have to say? “Stand up and raise up you heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
It’s Advent, and Jesus is coming.
Jesus is coming, and I don’t mean that the world as we know it is going to end. I was kidding some men at my church yesterday, saying that even though some think the world will be ending December 21 (Mayan calendar), I can’t use that as an excuse not to work on my Christmas Eve sermon. Jesus is coming in ways that Jesus has been coming since he first came – on a quiet night, in the midst of the ordinary. Jesus may also be coming at some later time on a cloud with power and glory, but if that is the only coming of Jesus we concern ourselves with, we miss the meaning, the mystery, the magic of Advent. In Advent, we would do well to pay more attention to the quiet comings of God’s love, God’s grace in Jesus.
Joan Chittister is a nun and a prolific writer. She is also among my favorite authors. Joan’s early years were spent in an industrial town in Pennsylvania, the kind of place where “coal dirt belched from the chimneys of the large corrugated shop segments day and night.” It was a place where “house paints, whatever their original colors, turned an inevitable uniform gray” (Living Well, 146)
When she was about ten years old, Joan’s family moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, and Joan was captivated by it. The place vibrated life…. Trees and thick bushes in big yards and wild grasses in open lots and live flowers everywhere (147). Reflecting on this years later, Joan draws a lesson for Advent, for the coming of Jesus. The truth is that life is not only about living. Life is also, purely and simply, about life, about the holiness of creation, about God’s love incarnate in the world around us. And, interestingly enough, I realize more and more every year, it is the spark of the divine in life that Christmas is meant to celebrate. It is fragile life, holy life, that Christmas hallows, that Christmas calls us to recognize, that Christmas reminds us to bow down before as we go. (147)
It is Advent and Jesus is coming. Stand up, raise your heads.
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also when you see these things taking place, you will know that the kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:29-31). I am told that fig trees are rather unique. When there are no leaves, their bare spiky branches give the tree and appearance of being “utterly dead.” The budding leaves allow those paying attention to watch as sap returns to the tree, and it can be observed with particular clarity. (Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 120) It is as if the tree is moving from death to life. When places vibrate life, the kingdom of God is near. Jesus is present.
Mary Oliver is a favorite poet of mine. Her poem “Sometimes” (Red Bird) is divided into short sections, each a poem in itself.
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
This is like the perfect Advent poem. It is Advent and Jesus is coming. Raise your heads. Look around. Pay attention. Be astonished.
How might Jesus be trying to be born in you and around you this Advent What beauty is there to see? What kindness is extended toward you? What kindness are you extending toward others? Where is there a smile that shares God’s grace that it will be all right? Where is the gentle holding of the hand that shares the peace of Christ?
It is Advent and Jesus is coming. Raise your heads. Look. Pay attention. Be astonished. Amen.