Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Hope of Watching

What are you waiting for?

It's a time of expectation. A time of wondering and watching.
We often talk about Jesus and his birth. That is what we are here to celebrate and remember at this time of the year. It would be helpful to note that Jesus' birth has already happened, though. Advent is a time of looking forward. If we are expecting something to come or to happen, and Jesus' birth has already happened, then what are we waiting and watching for?

This year for Advent I'm paying attention to the lectionary scriptures.
On this first Sunday of the Advent season the scripture comes to us from the Gospel of Mark.
And, it's not a happy-shiny piece.

Mark 13:24-37

New International Version (NIV)
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[a]
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The Day and Hour Unknown

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[c]! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

 Pain. Sorrow. Heartache.
Are these the things we have to look forward too?

The famous notion is that "things are going to get worse before they get better".
As I read through the passage for today the first thing that comes to mind is Ferguson and situations similar to it. When travesty comes to the forefront of your life and unexplainable events rock your world the natural response can be to react in inexplicable ways. Things certainly got worse before they got better in Ferguson. (Not that anything has gotten "better" yet.) I cannot imagine living in the midst of an environment where people think it's ok to just do whatever you want and act however you want to act just because somebody else didn't get the outcome they wanted in life. That's important to note. All the people doing the looting and rioting...the court decision had nothing to actually do with any one of them. Sometimes people will use any opportunity to simply be ridiculous. The man who is going away in our scripture seems to have some idea as to the unpredictability of human beings in this world. Anything can happen. He puts his servants in charge before he goes and tell them to keep watch. But, what are they watching for?

The events in Ferguson makes me think of another timely word. Apocalypse.
We are familiar with the word because of the grand scale that any Hollywood movie uses on/with the subject. In religious circles, we use the word to speak of the final destruction of the earth, especially those events laid out for us to read in a book like Revelation. The word is also used in a more general sense to speak of an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale. During this time of the year we tend to think of a sweet little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. But, there were moments of catastrophic proportion in those fleeting moments of the Savior's birth. King Herod had issues with the birth of "The King" happening in nearby Bethlehem. Somewhere in those first couple of years, but after the moment when Jesus and his family go to Egypt, soldiers are sent to Bethlehem to kill every first born child under the age of two years. A hateful sign from the current king that the throne would not be shared or given away to any one else.

People in the early Gospel story and all the way back into the Old Testament account were living in a sense of "advent". They were looking forward to a time when a "savior" would come and rescue them, set them free, from the rule of the Roman government lording over their heads. But, that waiting was not without it's trials and test to their faith. This period of time between the Old and New testament accounts is known as time of the Maccabees. This Jewish family would stand up for themselves and their country in the face of that Roman power seeking to over rule the Hebrew people. War ensued. The time of holiday known as Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish people still to this day. A candle staff with eight holders is used to remember the days of fighting the Maccabees did with the Romans. Oil was used to keep those candles lit. And, the oil did not run out. Finally, the Romans give up, thinking the Maccabees and the Jews are a pest not worth their time or their resources to overthrow at the current moment. The persistence and perseverance of a few seems to reflect the servants Jesus refers to in the Mark passage. Watching. Waiting. Protecting. Keeping the days against the evil that seeks to tear the house down.

I saw news footage on Friday of a man in Ferguson who took a stand against the rioters. Some people out on the interstate decided they would set up a roadblock because they did not like the decision that the courts gave on the matter of the police officer's shooting & killing a young black man. The man in question got out of his car and decided to confront those making a line across the road, not letting anybody drive through. This man had a job to get to and a family to support. Instead of just allowing people to make decisions for others and causing the people around them to suffer, this one man decided enough was enough. He got into faces and forced people to move. The police force showed up soon after and cleaned up the scene and got traffic flowing again. But, I was moved by this one man who felt the need to stand up against the flow. The courage to stand up against the atrocities of our world comes from a place not natural to ourselves. Atrocity sometimes begets atrocity. It multiplies and adds to the level of wickedness in the original or previous situation. The only way to combat it is to be ever watchful and assert the necessary influence to said situation so as to defuse the power of obscenity and violation, stopping it in it's tracks. 

Advent is a time of watching. The people who were looking for a savior were watching.
They kept their eyes open and saw the signs. They were aware that something great was happening in their midst. Jesus tells his followers that one day he will return. He also tells them to watch the signs. The signs will be impossible to miss. War. Famine. Rumors of war. Neighbor taking up sword against neighbor. Senseless acts of violence that leaves one wondering where the good in the world really is. Natural disasters they leave us in awe and sadness at the unfeeling power of nature itself. Advent and apocalypse are unlikely kin that need each other in order to make sense. Take it literally or figuratively and the viewpoint is still the same. Have you seen the sun go out and the moon not shining? Have you witnessed the stars falling or the heavenly bodies being shaken? People in Ferguson have, watching stores being looted and their town tore up by rioting. People in New Orleans have when a hurricane blew their city down and buried it in water. People in New York have, when two planes flew into a pair of towers, bringing rubble and cement raining down upon unlikely bystanders.Travesty comes when we least expect it. 

Watching does not afford us the luxury of avoiding the trouble that lie ahead. 
What watching does do is prepare us for what is coming toward us.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a device or a person who could tell you what was coming and get you ready for any hurt or cut or scrape? Well, it doesn't quite work like that. Again, we aren't going to magically avoid any of this and we don't have some protection policy in place to cure us from all the hurts of the world. This is all to say, we are going through the hurts and pains and the agony. Through it. Not around it. Or under or over it. We are going to walk right through it. I've had this conversation with my boy since he was old enough to walk.He doesn't look where he's going. He walks right into things that are on the floor. Dog toys. Shoes. A clothes basket. The child has narrowly missed hitting his head several times on the edge of a table or scraping himself on another object lying on the floor. Aren't we all guilty of not watching? We are mesmerized by what's on the TV screen. We think what's going on behind us is more important than looking where we are going. "Whoever put his hand to plow and looks back..." I wonder if those doing the protesting in Ferguson are looking where they are going. Do they realize they are about trip over even harder times and cause their town to slip into an economic and socialistic downfall. Fox News reporter Charlie LeDuff was live at the release of the news that the grand jury had acquitted the police officer in Ferguson. Many people saw what was coming. Rioting might happen. LeDuff was not concerned so much with 'getting the story' as much as he wanted to caution those waiting outside on the courthouse lawn. "I was present in Detroit when the riots happened there. I lived through it. We never recovered. We were never the same." 

The truth about watching where we are going is this - we have a chance to respond and react as we walk over and through the travesties. If we're not watching where we are going, then we walk right into it and get hurt or lost in what's going on. The servants in the house have been entrusted with the care of the homestead until the master returns. What are we doing with what we have here? Churches go through their own "Ferguson" at times. We riot because we don't like decisions that are being made. We get concerned with getting what we want out of the situation. We don't care about other people's feelings and what others have worked so hard to achieve, long before we were ever on the scene. All we seem to care about is the here and now. Give me what I want the way I want it. We walk head long into the travesty and become part of the problem, not the solution. If we had truly been watching, we would have entered the fray cautiously, tentatively. Instead we enter with a fist full of hate and a mind full of revenge. We do not enter as servants looking to care for the creation. We enter as thieves looking to get what we can for ourselves. 

What we are looking for is a way to solve the hurts of the world around us.
What we are looking for is a savior who will return, and in doing so, will lead us to greener pastures and brighter tomorrows. In watching, we increase our faith. And, we believe the day will come.

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