Advent Sunday Mark 13.24-37
The Gospel gets us started this Advent Sunday with images not of swaddling clothes, twinkly stars, and fleecy lambs but of the world as it really is, here. Gorgeous, fragile, and falling apart. American novelist Flannery O’Connor once wrote, To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind, you draw large and startling figures. That’s precisely what Jesus does in his prophetic wake-up call. He shouts, he draws startling figures, and he uses every rhetorical device at his disposal to snap his listeners to attention. “Beware,” he warns his disciples. “Keep alert.” “Keep awake.”
These aren’t the sweet, nice invitations we like to accept as we shop for gifts, decorate Christmas trees, and sing carols. Yet as author and theologian Fleming Rutledge reminds us, “Advent begins in the dark. It is not a season for the faint of heart.” Whether we like it or not, the invitations Advent offers us are hard-edged; they don’t look pretty on greeting cards. However, they are essential and life-giving. They help us say hello to here. They help us find redemption in the most startling places. Here. There are five Advent invitations we can say yes to …
1. The invitation to tell the truth.
Advent is a brutally candid season; it calls for honesty, even when honesty leads us straight to lamentation. In Advent, we are invited to describe life on earth as it is, and not as we mistakenly assume our religion requires us to render it.
We are invited to shout forth our pain and bewilderment. To name the seeming absence of God. To draw the large, startling figures of the apocalypse. Avoiding all forms of denial, polite piety, and cheap cheer, we are invited to allow the radical honesty of Scripture to make us honest. W e’re asked to stop posturing and pretending. Advent reminds us that we are called to dwell courageously in the truth.
2. The invitation to yearn. That is, to name the “here” of our desires without shame or reservation. Advent is the season when longing makes sense. When it’s okay to say we are hungry, thirsty, lonely, empty, unfinished, unhoused. In Advent, we want, and we want fiercely.
We sit in darkness, longing for light. We sit in exile, longing for home. We sit with aching, empty arms, waiting to cradle a life that’s still unformed, still hidden, still in process. A life, our life, waiting to be lived. In Advent, our desire for God moves us into God's desire for us. And we do so as God loves and delights in us.
3. The invitation to wait.
During Advent, we live with quiet anticipation in the "not yet." This is no easy task in the modern world, which applauds accomplishments, achievements, that list of things to do being done, far more than it does for time used to practise the pause. We are deeply in need of a spirituality of time, the belief that the instant and immediate is not necessarily the best. Advent reminds us that things worth waiting for – take time. "Our food is expectation," writes Nora Gallagher about Advent. In this season, we strive to find not perfection, but possibility.
4. The invitation to notice. To attend. To look. “Look at the fig tree,” Jesus says. Be attentive to the details. Don’t theologise, don’t revel in abstraction, don’t be distracted, preoccupied, don’t assume that God is present only in creed, theory, and doctrine. Look at the sprouting leaves. The forming flower. Notice the changing sky. Attend to the movements of the ocean, the moon – and the movements of your soul and spirit. The God who shows up in a teenager’s womb can show up anywhere. Practise the pause. Pay attention.
5. The invitation to imagine.
In Advent, we are called to hope creatively. To hope in spite of the evidence. Or as Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, we’re called to trust that “darkness does not come from a different place than light; it is not presided over by a different God.” With our imaginations, we can hold in tension the grief of our circumstances, and the compassion of a Messiah who comes to save us. Advent is an antidote to illusion. It cuts to the chase. It insists on the truth. It lays us bare. Advent invites us to dwell richly in the here, precisely because here is where God dwells. When the sun darkens, the ground shakes, and our hearts are gripped by fear. When you see these things hope fiercely and live truthfully. Deep in the gathering dark, something tender continues to grow. Yearn for it, pause for it, notice it, imagine it. Something beautiful waits to be born.