Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37 and Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donohue
Good morning and Happy Sunday! Thank you for being here and for showing up to and for this day. As we come to this time in our gathering, I invite you to take a deep breath and let yourself arrive more fully. And as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19 verse 14)
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, which in the Christian tradition, is the beginning of a new year, Happy New Year Beloved Community! It seems more fitting than ever, that our liturgical year begins in a time in between, a time that is devoted to preparing for the arrival of in a way, a whole new world.
As you might remember, that is what the word Advent means, arrival- the arrival of someone or something notable. In Latin, Advent is more specifically, 'Coming'- the coming of someone or something- that will shift what is. Therefore Advent is all about waiting, waiting for something good, expecting something different, looking forward to a time when things are hopeful and happy…
And this year especially, it feels like Advent is for us, a time to ritualize and remember what in the world we are supposed to do when we are waiting. We are trying to find joy and to keep going and to be productive, but the truth is, we are waiting. Waiting for different leadership, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for more coordination on climate, waiting to be together again… How do we wait thoughtfully, generatively, faithfully? How do we live fully when it does feel like our life being different depends upon an arrival- the arrival of other someone’s and somethings? What do we do with ourselves when we are in the time between what is and whatever will be? What do we do when it feels like we have dropped to the bottom and we are waiting?
As you heard, the text says, "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.. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come…. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
This text is the climax of Jesus’s final address to his disciples in Mark’s Gospel and it is in the genre of a sort of “Last Will and Testament” literature, which had become well established among the writers of what became Christian sacred texts. It could be an example of Jesus’s attempt at giving the community some instructions for life without him present physically. And it seems to be a Truth coded in metaphor and drama, bringing in images used from the Prophet Isaiah, with a darkened sun and a hidden moon and stars and planets sent tumbling from the Universe, the very heavens are shaken.
It is a powerful, poetic and timeless way to speak to moments like the one in which we are surviving: moments that seem as if the very sun has been blotted out, as if the very foundation of the earth is shaking, as if we are waiting for and preparing for the arrival of, in a way, a whole new world.
And right now I wonder if this text in the Gospel of Mark is telling us what many have said and many of us have lived, things will often get worse before they get better, often we have to drop to the bottom before we can rise. It seems that many times in life, we have to get to a place that feels like total darkness before we are open to seeing the light. Sometimes the whole foundation has to crack, before the one meant to be built can be constructed.
But as Stephen Chbosky wrote in The Perks of Being a Wallflower “Things get worse before they get better, but this is a worse that feels too big.” Sometimes this worse can weigh us down, can have us feeling as if the Cosmos are literally caving in, as if the sun and the moon, our lights of the sky and the lights of our hearts have been dimmed…
The first readers of the Gospel of Mark around 70 Common Era, would have been hearing these words as a commentary on the Jewish revolt against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem. This is part of why we hear many phrases and themes from the Book of Daniel, including the Son of Man arriving in clouds, desolation and sacrilege. They likely would have heard this teaching as a holy reminder of a painful and powerful truth: that often things have to get worse before they get better.
Which means we have to hang on through this part. We have to have faith beyond these hours. We have to expect that light will come. And we have to keep paying attention. Even though we are tired. Because it is also in these very moments in the rough, cold, darkness where we are vulnerable. In the words of Christopher Hutson, “The powers that be will lull us to sleep by reassuring us that they have our best interests at heart as they pursue their worldly agendas. They play to our fears, our prejudices, our self-interests, so we do not notice their demonic behaviors. Beware. Keep alert. Keep awake.”
This year Advent is a time of not just metaphoric waiting, but a literal waiting for and preparing for the arrival of a whole new world, so what do we do with ourselves, while we wait? I believe our call right now is to hang together, to keep reminding ourselves and one another that the light will come and also to keep awake. Because as the poet John O'Donohue spoke to us, once we are awake, we can’t go back and we don’t need to, once our eyes and our hearts have opened, we can never again accept the lowlands. Instead the Eternal gifts us with urgency. We have to stay awake because we know that being at the bottom means we will get to be present for the rising, for the new creation that will come after this.
Keep alert. Keep awake. Because in the words of Valarie Kaur maybe this darkness is the darkness of a womb? She said, “the Global temperatures are climbing. The seas are rising. The storms are coming. The fires are raging. And our current leadership is doing nothing to stop it. Humanity itself is in transition. Will we—Will we marshal the vision and the skill and the solidarity to solve this problem together? Is this—Is this the darkness of the tomb or the darkness of the womb? All I know is that the only way we will survive as a people is if we show up, is if we show up to the labor… you are the midwives in this time of great transition, tasked with birthing a new future for all of us.” Maybe this is the darkness, not of the end of this world, but the beginning? Maybe this is the darkness not of a tomb, but of a womb? How do we wait faithfully? We stay awake and we show up as doulas, attendants, midwives for a world that is trying to be born.
Beloved of God, in this moment that at times feels as if the very sun has been blotted out, as if the very core of the earth has been rocked, as we wait, let us hang on for we could be in a time of gestation. Let us look for signs of new life. Let us remember that things often have to get worse and harder before they get better, and often we have to drop to the bottom before we can rise. We must come to a place that feels like total darkness before we are open to seeing the light, before we are ready for the labor. It’s a time in between, a time that is devoted to preparing for the arrival of a whole new world. Keep alert. Keep awake. Maybe this is the darkness not of a tomb, but of a womb, ready to birth a whole new world?