advent 1 again

I am trying out something new — I will post here from time to time my Homilies in Audio and sometimes in print format. here is the Preaching for Advent 1. Please feel free to click the comment button at the top right of this post and offer your thoughts and your feedback…. Thanks for visiting.

TODAY’S GOSPEL

Mark 13:24-37

But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It 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. Therefore, 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, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

SERMON TEXT
Still this morning I was hearing adverts on radio about Black Friday. A consumer holiday which came to life in the 90s in America, Black Friday is a day to show just how helpful citizens could be by lining up for hours to buy stuff at great prices, the day after one has given thanks for all of the stuff they already have. These sales have been called ‘Door Crashers’ because people have literally been trampled to death as doors of these stores have been crashed in as people attempted to out run and out muscle one another for TVs, Toasters, and Toys and Trinkets. People have been in fistfights for the bargains offered on everything from Nike’s to Knickers. Since its birth, it has mutated from a day following the American Thanksgiving Holiday to now include Thanksgiving Day, as well as the weekend that follows. It did not take long for this condition to spread north to Canada and this year its influence has now travelled across the Atlantic ocean and is in full effect in Great Briton.  Black Friday has since given birth to Black Monday – a more peaceable feast as it is exercised from the comfort of one’s home or office – but it’s common creed is consumption – as much as possible.  At the same time the retailers tell us that this whole event is to get ready. It’s a time to help us be prepared – for of all things CHRISTMAS.

Against that backdrop we come and hear the declaration that God is calling us to keep awake, to be alert, and to keep watch. I’m pretty sure that Jesus invocation to the disciples to keep awake was not at all related to lining up outside the local Walmart at 10 pm to be able to crash the door at 5 am.

As we witness all of this excess, we are also faced with the news that nearly 7000 people have now died from Ebola in West Africa. Every few weeks there is more news about ISIS and its brutal and violent attacks on innocents. People in America who feel disenfranchised and unheard are marching in the streets. We hear local stories of poverty, job loss, and isolation. While Mark places these very stark words of Jesus in his gospel as a message to the disciples to get ready to be busy, alert and on watch – God gives this word to the very real world and to the present condition in which live. This eschatological message of Jesus is as powerful today as it was to his listeners so long ago.

Eschatology is the study of the end of the age, of the last days. Commonly in some Christian circles it is concerned with the destruction of all that is and the revelation of what will be in the second coming. In a mystical sense, some see the eschaton as a time when the current or old reality will end and reunion with God and God’s will is restored.

The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan is good reading for all Christians who are journeying toward Christmas through this season of wonder and waiting called Advent. In the book, they offer two approaches to eschatology – the talk of end times.

There is:

  ‘Supernatural eschatology,’ or ‘interventionist eschatology.’ Within this understanding, only God can bring about the new world. It can happen only through a dramatic divine intervention. All we can do is wait for it and pray for it. Many twentieth-century scholars argued that this is what Jesus and the earliest Christians expected. It has also been found in popular Christianity through the centuries  

The second form is what they call

  ‘participatory eschatology,’ or ‘collaborative eschatology.’ Put simply, we are to participate with God in bringing about the world promised by Christmas. Rather than waiting for God to do it, we are to collaborate with God.  Participatory eschatology involves a twofold affirmation: we are to do it with God, and we cannot do it without God. In St. Augustine’s brilliant aphorism, God without us will not; we without God cannot. We who have seen the star and heard the angels sing are called to participate in the new birth and new world proclaimed by these stories. * 

Today the prophet reminds us that despite the fact that we are a people who still live in unjust and violent ways, that even though we might feel like we are not worthy or we sinned or failed – Yet, O Lord, God; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. God is in it with us… God without us will not. We are in it with God – We without God cannot!

Advent provides us a wonderful opportunity. It’s an opportunity to keep awake, alert, and active. This season is indeed a call to action – we will be given a glimpse of what God-With-Us is telling us to keep alert for. Through the lens of participatory eschatology, we will sing the Song of Mary and declare that humble and the vulnerable will be raised up and the powerful will be humbled. Through the lens of participatory eschatology , we will be reminded by the John the Baptist that we will one day turn away from our ways of destruction and waste, toward reconciliation and peace and restoration of the earth – we will make straight the path. Through the lens of collaborative eschatology, we will be reminded by the prophet Isaiah that we will one day God-With-Us, see the day when the captives will be freed and those who mourn will be given full and utter comfort.  Through the lens of collaborative eschatology, we will hear Zachariah  declare to us that it is time to embrace the dawn from on high and to give light to those who have sat in great darkness.

It is easy to be discouraged – indeed – beyond the troubled world we live in, we might be troubled or discouraged in our own world, or our own hearts. When our own world is crumbling around us, difficult to comprehend how we can participate in bringing and end to that which is destructive in order to embrace that which would bring us into full and complete relationship with God and God’s reign. We at times surely do identify with the words of the prophet Isaiah:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 

We certainly have times when we would be more than happy to have that ‘interventionist eschatology.’ It would be a relief if God would just deal with all the problems we see in our world our lives, and we who feel that we are righteous would be taken into eternal bliss. But alas, I think we need to heed the words of Jesus to the disciples who toiled in difficult days and muster the energy to respond in our difficult days.

Etty Hillesum was a young woman who lived under German occupation in her native Holland during World War II. She kept a journal. Among the many powerful words in her journal are these

 The jasmine behind my house has been completely ruined by the rains and storms of the last few days…But somewhere inside me the jasmine continues to blossom undisturbed…And it spreads its scent round the House in which You dwell, oh God. You can see, I look after You. I bring you not only my tears and my forebodings on this stormy, grey Sunday morning, I even bring you scented jasmine.. I shall try to make you at home always. **

Etty, and her family were murdered at Auschwitz. Her journals were discovered in1981 and were published as An Interrupted Life-The Diaries of Etty Hillesum. Etty came to a place of deep assurance in the face of unimaginable conditions.  Etty did not lose hope in the face of horror and evil.  To God speaks saying, “I shall try to make You at home always.”  You might say she she was totally prepared to collaborate with God. Her prayer is active – she declares that she is busy making God at home – even in the face of unspeakable injustice. No matter what we face, Etty’s words can be inspiration for us to engage in participatory eschatology. We can be proactive in bringing to an end the age of injustice, of greed, of consumption, and destruction. We can collaborate with God, keeping alert and ready to act at all times – we have no idea how much effort or time it will take – only that we need to be ready to embrace the God who assumes the vulnerability of the Cradle and the Cross.

God without us will not; we without God cannot. Amen!

_____

*Marcus Borg, and John Dominic Crossan: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Birth (New Yoork, HarperOne, 2009).

** As referenced by Barbara Lundbald – It’s that Time Again: Depression and the Holidays (Isaiah 64:1-9) [http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/its-that-time-again-depression-and-the-holidays/]