Well, here it is, once again the first Sunday of Advent and instead of being greeted with a text of excitement and warm fuzzy anticipation about the impending birth of a lovely little baby who would carry a message of love and inclusion into the world we are given this gospel text of apocalyptic warning. This is not a warning message about Christ’s birth, but of the second coming of the Messiah.
Be vigilant! You do not know the day your savior is coming.
The second coming is an event that has been hyped up over the generations to be a time of gloom and doom, judgement and suffering. It has been used by some as a threat to induce good behavior – always be good because if you aren’t judgement day is gonna get ya! It has been used by others as pass to avoid the work of justice that is available to be done in the here and now. The excuse being – today isn’t important – keep your eye on the prize – that mysterious second coming will bring God’s glory to us, erasing the pain of this world, and moving us into our rightful homes in God’s mansion in the sky.
While there may be some merit in these approaches to thinking about apocalypse, they are also distractions. They are handy ways of allowing ourselves to stay in the spiritual slumber that this same scripture text so adamantly warns us against. When we spend so much energy focused on some nebulous concept of the timing of the second coming of Christ, which we are clearly told we have no knowledge of, we fail to be awake and alert to the presence of the Christ that came into the world before the creation of the world itself. The Christ that has been and will be present with all of creation in all times and beyond time. The same Christ who is revealing God to us and through us in each moment.
That is the apocalypse we are invited to wake ourselves to – the ongoing apocalypse of Immanuel, God with us. You see the word apocalypse means an uncovering – a revealing. We are invited to wake, to slough off complacency, and be vigilant in seeing, being, and doing the work of God in the world.
This week as I was thinking about what it means to be awake and looking out for and doing the work of God I kept running into illustrations of bees. Cindy sent me a blog post by her friend Anita Amstutz who is a beekeeper and a bee advocate at thinklikeabee.org, she says this about beehives:
The beehive is not about consolidating power, it is about sharing power. Everyone has a job. Everyone has a place. Every being is valued. Every gift from the hive is medicine for the body and soothing to the soul…[Bees] are vigilant, awake to outside forces that might dismantle the commonwealth. They adapt. They are resilient. They work together to create healthy communities.
It was this same concept of community working together for the betterment of all among bees that inspired the sock company Bombas’ name – derived from the Latin word for bumblebee, and their slogan: bee better. Bombas is a company born in response to a quote that one of the two partners saw online that said socks are the most requested clothing item at homeless shelters. The partners saw a need and developed a strategy and a product to meet that need. They re-engineered socks to fit better and be more supportive for athletic endeavors and for each pair that is purchased, they donate a pair to someone in need. In a little more than two years they have donated over a million pairs of socks. As their company story points out: bees are small but their combined efforts have a big impact.
We are called to this kind of activity. We are called to be diligent workers in the kindom of God. Individually doing our part [no matter how insignificant our role may seem] to create a healthy community that allows everyone to survive and hopefully thrive.
In order to participate, we must first wake. We must wake to the world around us, wake to awareness of the places we see God at work, and wake to action in the spaces in need of God’s presence.
Awake we are watchful, we are alert and aware, we are equipped for action. Asleep we are vulnerable, we stumble and fall, we may be well-intentioned, yet woefully unprepared.
Just ask my elementary aged self about this reality. One of my family’s favorite stories to tell about me is this:
Once upon a time I was at an elementary school awards assembly. These assemblies were held in the school gymnasium where the kids were all squished into cross-legged seated positions on the floor. On this particular day we sat for a very long time. Finally, a while into the assembly, they called my name. I was so excited! I stood up to go get my award and failed to realized that my legs had fallen asleep from the hip socket down. So as I took my first step towards the stage, I proceeded to stumble and fall on top of my classmates. I got back up and stumbled and fell on more of my classmates. Time and again as I made my way forward I fell on more schoolmates. But I was determined to make it to the front and get my prize! My aunt was teaching school there at the time and saw what was going on – she tried to call out to me – Michelle, just wait a minute! Wait! But I was determined and so, after falling on many, many people, I made it to the stage, got my award, and found my way back to my seat…during this whole time everyone in the auditorium was just staring at me with perplexed looks on their faces – what was wrong with this poor child who kept falling everywhere?! I was oblivious to the stares being so focused on getting my award. I sat back down in my seat and a few minutes later they called my name again and as I stood up, without waiting a beat, all of the kids on the floor scooted aside to make a clear path for me to get to the front stage again. It was like the parting of the red sea.
Why do I tell you this embarrassing story? Well – here are a couple of things I glean from it this week:
…sometimes we have good goals but need to be mindful about how we carry our actions out. The physical world affects our spirits and vice versa – we see this in the Romans text – how we live out our physical lives impacts our spirits and when we choose to be awake spiritually, our physical lives reflect that choice. To be spiritually awake is to seek balance in the fluctuating tension between our physical and spiritual selves.
…sometimes we need community people to speak up and help us know we are stumbling. My dear Aunt Brenda was trying to call out to me, Michelle, wait! But I was so focused on getting to that stage I just didn’t pay attention to the helpful words of wisdom coming from my community. We need to be able to listen for and hear the voices of our community and we need voices that will speak up in moments of need. And sometimes we need to be the voices speaking up to and for others.
…sometimes our bumbling in-attentive actions produce results that are effective, [like the clear path made for me the second time I was called up for an award] but the process might be less painful for many if we are more attentive in the first place.
And if ever there was a moment for us to need to be attentive it is right now. Now is a time for us to wake. Our faith is one that has always called us to action on behalf of the other, the outsider, those labeled less-than. And in this moment of our cultural reality there is a present and growing need for active attentiveness from people of faith. The time for complacency has passed; the time for presence is upon us.
What that need for presence looks like we don’t fully know. There are many ways to be present with people, for people, with God, for God. We cannot predict what we will encounter on the path ahead, but we can choose to travel the path awake, in the light. We can choose to renounce deeds of darkness, choosing instead to live honorably with generous hospitality and a watchful eye towards God’s justice.
This is what the season of advent is all about. It is about choosing to wake and be present in life. It is a season of eager anticipation and attentive waiting for the in-breaking of God’s love in the world. An in-breaking that didn’t just happen once upon a time, but happens again and again, every day in countless ways when God’s people live awake.