There is a wisdom in learning how to meditate which teaches that when you notice your mind has wandered to your grocery list or what you might have said to your teenage son when he came in late last night, when you notice that your mind is no longer focused on your breath or the word you had chosen to repeat, then you are simply to “begin again”…to come back to your breath or your word without judgment; no need to beat yourself up, the mind is just doing what the mind does, just begin again.
Advent is the time for us to begin again; but the Scripture lessons for this first Sunday in Advent, let us know that this is not just a baby shower. This is not your typical New Year’s Day party. There is a decided “wake up and smell the coffee” tone about Advent. “Now is the moment to wake up,” Paul says, “the night is far gone, the day is near.” “Therefore you also must be ready,” Jesus says, “for the Son of Humanity is coming at an unexpected hour.” It’s a promise, but also a warning.
Surely there is no more challenging time for us than December to “begin again” on any sort of intention to get our act together, to pay attention to our lives, to be more mindful of the people and moments of our lives, to get our priorities right. This is the time, at least in the West, for the full press offense of the Powers That Be to convince us that the most important thing in our lives is Consuming. In fact, it’s our patriotic duty to support the economy, to provide jobs, to measure our worth by how much stuff is under our tree.
Maybe Paul’s advice to “put on the armor of light” isn’t such a bad idea. We can use all the help we can get.
When my husband Bruce was working in Syracuse with clients who were HIV-positive or had AIDS, he heard from many of them that knowing that your days are numbered has a way of clarifying things, a way of changing the way you live your life. That’s what Jesus and Paul were talking about. That’s the wisdom of these Advent texts. “The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us live honorably, then, as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ….”
How would you live if you knew your days were numbered, that the time left for you to live was short? How would you look at your loved one’s face? How would you regard the sunlight coming through your kitchen window?
One of the rare moments of grace during the Civil War came during the surrender negotiations at Appomatox. General Grant told General Lee to be sure that all the horses be sent home with his men because they would need them for plowing the fields, for it was April, and the time for planting crops was growing short. And each man was to be allowed one rifle to take home, for hunting, for feeding his family. “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,” Isaiah saw.
On the plaza in front of Marsh Chapel at Boston University is a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who got his doctorate at Boston University School of Theology. It’s a sculpture of 50 abstract doves, one for each state, whose wings are decidedly swordlike, taking flight. It’s entitled, “Free at last,” giving shape to Dr.King’s vision of freedom, based in Isaiah’s vision of swords being turned into ploughshares, symbols of peace, where each one would live in freedom and dignity. Walter Brueggemann compares Isaiah’s vision where nation shall not rise up against nation and beating their swords into ploughshares to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s important to enter into Advent, to begin again, with these visions in our heads, rather than merely visions of sugarplums.
“The night is far gone, the day is near…. Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.” In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis urged his priests to preach the Gospel of joy–don’t be sourpusses, he said. He also proclaimed the necessity for embracing change and letting go of “we’ve always done it this way.” And finally, Pope Francis urged the church to take seriously the poor and to get at the structures which keep people in poverty.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, I find myself listening to Francis as a spokesperson for the Church which has even the remotest claim to being the Body of Christ. “The night is far gone, the day is near…Now is the moment to wake up from sleep.” Joy. Change. Poverty. Now there are priorities worth setting. Wake up. Keep alert.
We may hear these scriptures as dire warnings and miss the promise they contain. “Therefore you also must be ready [Jesus said], for the Son of Humanity is coming at an unexpected hour.” Though there are plenty of texts that see the Son of Man or the Son of Humanity as ushering in violent end times, that see him as what is called “an apocalyptic figure,” we might also see the Son of Humanity or the Fully Human One as a different kind of “end” or purpose–as the intention and fulfilment of our creation. “Eschatology” talks about the end times less as a battle or explosion and more as the goal or fulfillment. “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Humanity is coming at an unexpected hour.” At any moment, an opportunity to act like fully realized human beings might arise. At any moment, a decision might be made to do the right thing, to live out of our best selves, rather than our worst. At any moment, a flash mob could form that would bring beauty and music and meaning to an otherwise ordinary moment.
Would you be ready? Would you notice? Right now, how close are you to being the fully realized human being God created you to be?
Here at the beginning of Advent, as calendars are filling up, even as Snowball Bazaar Frenzy is beginning, what if you carved out 10 minutes every day–preferably at the same time every day–first thing in the morning, 4 o’clock in the afternoon, just before supper or just before bed–and simply paid attention…attention to your breath, to the sounds around you, “nowhere to go, nothing to do,” is how the sages describe it. Talk about a radical idea, subversive even. Pay attention to your life. Wake up.
“The night is far gone, the day is near…Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.” “Therefore you also must be ready [Jesus said], for the Son of Humanity–the Fully Realized Human Being– is coming at an unexpected hour.” Maybe this one. You might begin by really tasting this bite of bread, this sip of juice; notice how it feels on your tongue and in your mouth. Picture it going down your throat, becoming part of your body and blood, you becoming more of the Body of Christ. Notice. Pay attention. You never know when you might just become who you are supposed to be. You never know when God will turn up as a word of kindness, an act of courage, a change in history, a moment of grace. Wake up. Get ready. Let us keep the feast.
Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark