First Sunday of Advent 2020, "Beware, keep alert"

Mark 13:24-37

Verses 32-33 “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.”

As a child, I read these and the surrounding verses and found myself filled with a sort of existential fear. The not knowing was paralyzing and anxiety-causing. I was an obedient child, always wanting to be of service and found great joy in doing so. Even then, the idea of the second coming of Christ-Christ coming at a “thief in the night”-was not comforting.

I loved Jesus. I loved reading and studying the scriptures. I had a thirst for knowledge that was healthy and then went a little further toward a mild obsession. If I understood everything about Jesus’ coming again, the signs of the times, we called them, I would be ready and prepared. So, I read Isaiah and Revelation. I drew pictures and made a timeline of what I would look for in the news to tell me when I needed to be ready. I hoped and prayed that somehow things would be in order at that time.

Over time, the shelf holding all of these and other heavy and frightening beliefs broke. Frankly, I have no desire to find a place to put them. They landed on the floor where they belonged and I have since swept and mopped innumerable times to rid my home of their influence. There is still more work to do, but this is the work of life.

What has taken the place of these beliefs is something very different; something full of comfort and compassion for the state of humanity I find myself and my fellow humans in. Reaching further into the non-human world, I finally realized the meaning of these scriptures as they applied in my life.

To “beware, keep alert” is wise. It does not mean the “hyperaware and alert to danger” style of life I had led previous to my shelf breaking. “Keep alert” I now translate as to stay open, to live life, ever searching with heart and eyes wide open, looking for God or the Divine, rather, in all. This way of looking for the coming of Christ has brought me to a place where I can find God in every place I find myself, every day.

The first monumental shift in my thinking on this topic, I experienced as an adult (outside the births of my four children) was on a walk in the woods on a cold May day in the mountains of Massachusetts. Since my childhood, the plague of anxiety was nearly always my companion. That day was no different. I was far from my children, my home, and was way outside my comfort zone. As I walked, I could not help but be open. My senses were alive and alert, watching and listening for whatever clues I might receive to teach me about where I was and how I was doing.

A leaf scratched the beech tree ahead on the trail. My eyes were drawn to the sound. As I walked more closely, I felt the need to remove the leaf from the tree. As I did so, I was drawn to holding the leaf in my hands, cradling it, holding it ever so gently. The forest was again quiet, and I continued my walk. As I reached the top of the mountain, the trail curved, opened, and the sun shone in. With the leaf in my hand, I stopped in the sunshine. The thought came to my mind to open up my hands to the wind and allow the leaf to fly. Without judging the thought, I did so. The leaf flew with the wind, high above the trees and disappeared.

At that moment, something happened to me. I realized the hearing, holding, walking with and letting go of the leaf was directly related to my anxiety and discomfort. With the flight of the leaf, my whole demeanor changed. I had no idea if it would stay that way or not. I felt in most ways that I had no control over my anxiety-when and if it reappeared.

For the most part, it has gone. Life has been more or less the same, with its cycles of ease and difficulty. 2020 has taxed me more than I ever would have imagined. I imagine everyone would be in that boat with me.

To recognize the divine in all of these moments does not always present ease. The leaf taking flight on the mountain that day did. Seeing the divine comes in the difficult moment of putting my grandmother to bed, the bones of her legs and arms covered in skin being the remains of her once vibrant and alive body. She, of all people, was open to seeing God every day. She was not waiting for any kind of second coming. Hers was a life full of seeing the divine in all. It seemed simple for her. Full of memories, I put her to bed, her spirit fully intact. Her smile and wit are diminished, but present.

May we be ready and be open to meeting God today and every day going forward. May we look back in our lives and see God’s hand throughout. May we not await a day that something outside us comes to change everything but know that God works from the inside out. Christ emerges from all of creation when we open our hearts to that kind of seeing.

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