Luke 21:25-36 Listen
Opening wide the eyes of our heart
The holiday season is upon us and it occurs to me that I should ask, so how ya doing? Did you make it through round one – Thanksgiving – with all the usual family drama?
I’m thinking we should be more tender, kind and honest with each other about how difficult the next six weeks can be. It’s a crazy-making time of binges and benders, as well as joy and celebration. Amidst all the beauty is a great deal of emotional pain, and not only for children. Enforced jolliness is oppression. So let us be kind to one another and help each another for Christ’s sake.
Advent is actually my favorite season. It expresses what Saint Augustine taught: our life is filled with longing for what is yet to be. Beginning in the dark season with hymns in minor keys, Advent sings its promise: light is coming, light is coming. Wait. Be patient.
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when the phrase 24/7 referred to the one drug store open all night for emergencies? Now 24/7 refers to all of life: every thing open and on! at all times. Unless we have lost our minds completely that’s scary, or at least it ought to be, because human beings are not created for 24/7 lives.
The good news is that Advent is the antidote for a 24/7 culture, teaching us to order time differently. The gospel of Luke, with its bracing apocalyptic vision, provides practices to resist the forces that keep us speeding along without time for reflection.
Life up your heads, for your redemption is perched on the edge of eternity waiting to break into time.
Just to say these words – let alone recommend putting them into practice – reveals what an odd season we are entering. When everything is going faster and faster, there is little time for reflection, not to mention prayer. Yet without any time for reflection or prayer, you and I become superficial persons, driven by the forces of a superficial culture making decisions driven by marketing and media.
Advent is the Church’s way of disciplining our time to focus on things that matter eternally, rather than be endlessly distracted by superficial matters that fritter away our lives, and in the end, leave us with lots of stuff and little joy. Even young children – so alive with the wonder of the season – grow weary by the end of it all. They too have an aching sense that there is more to life than the accumulation of stuff.
Be alert! Be ready! says Luke.
When alert, your senses are alive; you see clearly and hear acutely. To be alert is in to be fully aware of the present moment. It is what the Buddhists call, mindfulness. Christians call it prayerfulness. This is what Jesus encourages upon his followers – young and old – alertness, alive to the present moment and ready for the surprising possibility of God breaking into our lives in some unexpected way. That surprising, way of God coming in the flesh so long ago, describes the event we anticipate in Advent. Christmas is only looking backward in nostalgia for what occurred in a manger. To be mindful in the present moment is to be open to the possibility of God coming among us now and in the future.
When I was child, my father was a pilot with the Strategic Air Command – SAC, as it was called. At the time, I didn’t know fully, as I do now, what SAC meant nor the phrase B-52. All I knew then was when he was on Alert! he wore an orange jump suit around the house. The orange suit meant he was ready to leave the house at any moment, a thought that occurred to me more than once. Looking back and thinking of Advent, I think the whole family not just my father dressed in orange, at least in our hearts, because we were on alert, too. There was awareness of possibilities unknown and of time itself, which took on an unpredictable quality knowing that things might change for all of us at a moment’s notice.
The ancient practice of the Advent is similar: to be acutely alert to each another, to time itself, and above all else, to God whose coming is certain but ever and always unpredictable. The Church doesn’t dress in orange; but we dress the sanctuary in purple for the same reason, to signal a heightened awareness and a season of anticipation. Luke’s gospel encourages us to open wide the eyes of our hearts and yearn for the completion of what God began in Jesus Christ so long ago.
This Advent season begin to practice slowness. I know that’s like saying pretend you don’t live in Washington DC. Still. Take the time to light the candles at home; if you have children in your care share the biblical stories, listen carefully to the hymns. Get a really good Advent calendar and adjust the rhythm in your home to the Church’s rhythm, opening each day with anticipation. Be alert. We can do this together.
Let us journey together toward the light; children bright with wonder and adults more weary, all of us with open hands, open hearts, waiting for the coming of God among us.