Beginning at the End

Closed CurtainAdvent 1A: Matthew 24: 36-44

36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Oh, this can’t be right.  Our Gospel passage for the first reading in Advent is starting toward the end of the Gospel According to Matthew.  What happened to Mary?  Where are those angels announcing the coming birth?  After all, we need something joyful to think about it as we drag the boxes of Christmas decorations out of storage and begin to prepare for the season that most retailers have already proclaimed on the heels of the Jack-o-Lanterns!  I mean, really, first they tell us that we have to wait to sing Christmas carols and then they give us this perceived warning of a thief coming in the middle of the night.  Why in the world are we beginning at what feels like the end of the story?

There are those in our modern world who will pounce on this Scripture as a warning of what might happen if we do not act right or think right or live right.  There are those who will abuse it by holding over the heads of persons to scare them into religion.  I don’t think that’s what it’s about.  Faith is not about doing the right thing or living the right way or being scared into a place that does not feel welcoming and grace-filled.  Faith is about relationship.  And, as the Scripture says, it is about waking up so that God can gather us in.  God doesn’t want a bunch of zombies that have to be pulled kicking and screaming into faith.  God desires a relationship with those who desire a relationship with God.  And God has faith that in the deepest part of ourselves, there is faith enough for all.

Jesus is not standing at the edge of some far off place waiting for us to step over the line.  Jesus is here, ahead of time itself, calling and gathering and sanctifying each of us as we awake to the morning.  Remember last week’s Scripture that we read for Christ the King? We were again given the image of Jesus hanging on the Cross, minutes away from death.  It was the end.  And there, there beside him was the thief.  “But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” The thief was not left behind but instead was gathered into the Reign of God.  Advent is not waiting to see whether or not you make the cut but rather waking up to the glorious Gathering that is happening all around us.

The curtain on the Advent season is about to rise.  Jesus is not waiting in the wings somewhere until the play is done; rather, Jesus is standing on the stage itself, inviting us in.  “Come, wait with me.  You do know when the Glory will come but this waiting is a holy place.  Come, all, wait with me.  Stay awake so that you won’t miss the inbreaking of Glory itself, the dawn of the fullness of the Kingdom of God.”  The reason that we begin at the end is because it is the same as the beginning.  God is the Alpha and the Omega.  Birth and death are all wrapped up together, needing each other to give life.  Awaken now that you do not miss one thing.  Open your eyes.  There is a baby coming!  The extraordinary miracle of what is about to happen is matched only by the moment before it does–this moment, this time.  The world awaits!  Awaken that you do not miss the story!

Awake! awake! and sing the blessed story; Awake! awake! and let your song of praise arise;                                                                       Awake! awake! the earth is full of glory, And light is beaming from the radiant skies;                                                                                  The rocks and rills, the vales and hills resound with gladness, All nature joins to sing the triumph song.

(Refrain)  The Lord Jehovah reigns and sin is backward hurled! Rejoice! rejoice! lift heart and voice, Jehovah reigns! Proclaim His sov’reign pow’r to all the world, And let His glorious banner be unfurled! Jehovah reigns! Rejoice! rejoice! rejoice! Jehovah reigns!

Ring out! ring out! O bells of joy and gladness; Repeat, repeat anew the story o’er again,                                                                             Till all the earth shall lose its weight of sadness, And shout anew the glorious refrain;                                                                                   Ye angels in the heights, sing of the great Redeemer, Who saves us from the pow’r of sin and death.

(Refrain)

“Awakening Chorus”, Charles H. Gabriel, 1905

Reflection:  Advent is our awakening season.  What do you need to do to no longer hit the “snooze button” of your faith?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

ADVENT 2B: As If



The Burning Bush, Nicholas Froment, ca. 1476

ADVENT 2B:  Lectionary:  2 Peter 3: (8-10) 11-15a
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish;and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

God will come when God will come.  We’ve heard that over and over. But, granted, this life of faith is difficult.  How do you keep holding on to a hope when you often see no progress at all?  How can we continue to be forced to wait for whatever it is for which we’re waiting?  Because, as the passage says, we are promised a new heaven and a new earth.  We are promised that all of Creation will be recreated.  We are promised that, once and for all, righteousness will have a home.  Righteousness, then, will be the norm.  Righteousness will be an everyday thing.

And in this Season of Advent, we learn to wait.  Good things cannot be rushed.  The plan for God’s Kingdom was not made hastily and it cannot be just thrown together because we are getting a bit impatient with the whole ordeal.  So, what do we do in the meantime?  We live as if it’s here.  We live righteousness.  We give it a home.  The Holy and the Sacred is not unattainable.  In fact, if we just open our eyes, it is spilling into our lives even as we speak.  God does not sit back and watch us squirm and strain until all is said and done.  Rather, God gives us glimpse after glimpse and incarnation after incarnation and waits with infinite patience for us to respond. Look around…there are more burning bushes and parted seas than we can ever possibly imagine.  As the writer of the Epistle passage that we read this week maintains, it is that Holy Patience, that Waiting God in which we find our salvation.  And so if we live as if the Holy and the Sacred has completely filled our lives, righteousness will indeed have a home and we will no longer be waiting for salvation.

In this season of Advent, give yourself the gift of living as if righteousness and peace and the fullness of God is all you know.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT: Awakening

ADVENT 1B:  Isaiah 13: (24-31) 32-37
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The first day of Advent…the first day of the Christian year…and (I know), the first day that I’ve written a blog posting in a really long time.  We begin this Year B of our Lectionary year with a reading from The Gospel According to Mark, whose writer really just sort of skips over the whole Advent / Christmas thing and cuts right to the chase.  Most over-personalized readings of this Scripture leave us with a fear of what comes next.  (Oh my, am I ready?  What’s going to happen to me?) We quickly go to visions of those who are unprepared being uncomfortably ripped from what they know or, as a series of cult fiction writings would depict it, being flat out left behind!  But keep reading…this is not meant to scare us; it is meant to wake us up.  Sure, it is meant to remind us that there is something coming!  We do not want to miss it.  But, more than that, we do not want to miss the present spiritual awakening that we are all having in this very moment.

We have skewed our understanding of Advent a bit.  I think all of us know that.  But, really, can you blame us?  The world is so bent on being prepared for what comes next that it tends to live one season ahead at all times–the Halloween decorations go up the end of August, the Thankgiving decorations go up the end of September, and the Christmas decorations go up the end of October.  The twelve days of Christmas tide, will of course, be filled with merchandise sales, a couple of unreplaced burned out Christmas lights, and and a flowering of little red hearts filled with candy to make sure we’re ready for the next thing.  Somewhere in there, Advent is lost.  Oh, we Christians, do alright with it.  We faithfully light one candle at a time while we begrudingingly ward off the singing of any Christmas carols.  But Advent is not merely a season of preparation for Christmas.  It is much, much more.  It is from the Latin “Adventus“, which means arrival or coming.  It is not really meant to be only a time of shopping and checking off our “to do” list for the December 25th festival. Rather, Advent is our awakening to the realization that the Divine is even now spilling into our lives, even now a new humanity is being birthed, and even now all of Creation is being reformed and recreated.

We cannot live one season ahead.  God will come when God will come.  The full revealing of what God has in store is yet to be.  But this season of Advent, this season of waiting, awakens us that we might see that it has already started to be.  The feast has yet to be set but the dancing has begun.  All we have to do is learn to stay awake.

In this season of Advent, give yourself the gift of your own awakening to God’s Sacred Presence that is all around you.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli   

Looking Through

We are accustomed to thinking of Lent as a journey–a journey of penitence and perspectives, of crosses and crossings, of giving up and giving over.  But in those times that we dare to stand still, to really think about things, to really contemplate the place to which we’ve walked, what then?  Then Lent is a space through which we look beyond–beyond Lent, beyond the cross, beyond ourselves, beyond to what it is that we will become once this season has ended.

We 21st century journeyers not only want to know where we’re going; we also want to get there–fast!.  We are not really programmed to just stand still and look through something.  We’d rather keep moving, even though some of the steps along this road are painful.  At least when we’re moving, we have some sense of control, some sense that we can change things–if we only keep moving.  But when we stop–when we stand still–it is as if all the control leaves us.  We stand, exposed to the elements, vulnerable to others who are comfortably and successfully moving through life, and suddenly acutely, and often painfully, aware of our own place on the journey.

And yet, part of Lent and part of life is indeed about standing still.  A journey is seldom completed with constant motion.  We are just not made for that. (You can look up that seventh day concept when you have time!) Sometimes we are meant to move; sometimes we are meant to stand still and savor what God has shown us.  Behold!  There is the cross.  There you are.  And if you stand still long enough, you will be able to look through and see where you are headed.  We are not called to walk blindly into the unknown, never looking, never questioning, never contemplating where we are or where we’re going or where we’ve been; we are called to journey toward that which God has illumined in our lives.  So stop–stand still–and look through it all.  Behold!  And then start walking again…

Grace and Peace on the Journey–the walking and the standing,

Shelli

Picture:  Capernaum, Israel (February, 2010)   

Waiting to Be-Come

Most of us are so busy trying to become something that we often forget to be. God calls us to be–to be open, to be compassionate, to be ready, to be salt, to be light, to be for one another what Christ is for us. And while we are growing into our being, we are called to wait. When we are ready, when we are receptive, God will come and we will then become. So, once again, waiting is not passive. Waiting is not just sitting around until the world changes. Waiting is our time of being–just being with God. It is God’s coming into our lives that sparks our becoming.

So wait this season with purpose and intentional being. Be open to being and you will be open to God’s coming. And when God comes into our being, we become what we are fully meant to be. So, be salt; be light; be who God calls you to be. And wait. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, Come that I may be-come.

So go forth and be!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Journeying through Waiting

Perhaps the reason that we experience such difficulty with this act of waiting is that we have mistaken its meaning. For many of us, waiting means stopping, standing still, even retreating from the “goings on” of life. It often is misconstrued as doing nothing. But while our waiting often looks like that on the outside, I am realizing that active waiting is a journey in and of itself.

Think about this…things that involve transformation–growth, healing, acceptance, even, as we wait in this season of Advent, birth–also involve waiting. It does not mean that nothing is happening; it just means that we are not fully in control of where we are going and how it will all end up. The journey through waiting, then, is definitely ours to walk. The point is that, finally, someone else is leading the way. We just have to open ourselves to the possibility that we might end up in a different place altogether. We just have to open ourselves to the very real possibility that God will come in a way that we have neither planned or expected and do things that we can’t even fathom.

Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 40: 4-5, NRSV)

So, go forth and wait!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

This Season of Waiting

I must confess that I do not wait well. Waiting involves stopping, looking, and listening actively to the silence of one’s life. But often I want so badly to fill it with something “constructive”, to spend time doing something active. In fact, Henri Nouwen wrote that “for many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go.”

Advent is the season of waiting. This, though, is not the same as a season of rest. This is not a season for doing nothing. This is instead a season for actively partipating as the world waits for the coming of God. It is a season for waiting not for what we have planned, not even for what we know, but for that which is unimagineable, unintelligible, and unlike anything that we have ever known. Experience has shown us that God comes into our lives in ways and times that we do not expect. The point is, though, that God is really already there–we just have to learn to wait long enough for our lives to open up enough to see what God is already showing us–Emmanuel, God with us. This is the season to go forth and wait!

Grace and Peace,
Shelli