Week One of Advent: Look Again!
The ordinary routines of life can lull us to sleep.
Did you notice anything new when you looked in the mirror upon waking? How about when you drove to work this morning?
What if I told you to look again? What would you see that you didn't see before?
The hypnotic quality of our routines can cause us to become blind and deaf to the Spirit of Life moving through our lives in ways that often go unnoticed. In Matthew 24:37-44, Jesus used the images of a flood, kidnapping and thieving to emphasize his words, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming...Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Was Jesus wanting people to fear him or using fear to describe God's ways? I don't think so (children would never have been drawn to Jesus and He wouldn't have told people they must become like them to see the Kingdom). It helps to know that Jesus was a master at using hyperbole when teaching in order to break through the mind's predictability. We tend to get as hung up on the hyperbole as we get lulled by the ordinary. So what is Jesus saying? Perhaps it's as simple and difficult as this:
Act with justice and kindness.
The Old Testament prophets railed against the people's lack of these as they went about their ordinary lives and religious routines. They chose to be comforted by voices telling them what they wanted to hear...all was fine, nothing needed to change. And those who needed things to change continued to suffer. This preference for ignoring the prophetic voice and sleep-walking through life was as routine as the ordinary itself. Just look at the question and Jesus' response to those "asleep at the wheel" in Matthew 25, “'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' And his reply was, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’"
It's in the middle of our ordinary, busy or boring, lives that we're to keep watch. That's the context of God's arrival (the definition of Advent). Are we too caught up in our own predictable story-lines to see it?
A friend of mine, a long-time nurse, texted me Sunday night (the first day of Advent). She was so full of rage. After having observed the immigrant patients and their families post-election, especially the children, she noticed a change. The children and teenagers were silent. Not even saying “hello.” After watching this time and again with her patients, whether from Mexico or India, she became inflamed. It threw a wrench in her ability to go through the motions believing everything is fine (and even more distasteful to clothe it in religious language like, “God is in control.”).
Her text encouraged me. It's the perfect way to begin Advent. She broke her normal nursing routine. She observed.
And she saw fear.
Maybe that's one reason we don't want to “keep awake.” We really don't want to see the fear in the immigrants' eyes. We'd rather not see the exhaustion in our own or the sadness in our spouse's. We don't want to see Christ lying in an animals' food trough. So we clean it up and make it a presentable decoration, just like we put on a happy face and show up at our ugly Christmas sweater work party.
It's risky to ready oneself to really see.
In my mind's eye, I saw my friend's kind face as a light in the darkness for her patients. She allowed herself to be a witness. She really saw these children. And in doing so she became an intercessor. Pouring out her complaint of injustice, her anger and deep sadness as a Psalmist's lament to God.
And she became an agent of healing. She's not yet sure what her next steps will be toward change. While she gathers and sifts through what she's noticing (the meaning of discernment), she need not underestimate her presence, words and touch in the moment. For according to Matthew 25, each time she sees and comforts those who are fearful, Jesus says she sees and comforts Him.
To truly be seen is a cup of water to a parched soul. Do you remember the last time you were seen? And seeing is a holy “yes.” Like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, we, too, are invited to be the vehicle through which God comes into the world. It's our bodies through which God sees, listens, touches and offers hope and healing to all of Creation.
Join me this Advent season, let's look again.
If you're anticipating tension around the table this year, here are 7 ways to invite (or perhaps choose) life to be your table companion.
Begin by offering yourself hospitality. When we welcome every part of ourselves, we lift the burden of demanding others to give us what they may neither be willing nor able to give. So in your mind's eye, give yourself the look of approval or hug of acceptance you need!
Do away with the “kids table” this year. Allow them to join the “grown ups.” Sure, they may spill the gravy, but their simple presence may open our eyes to the Kingdom and hand us the keys. If you're hosting, you'll find it's worth the messy table cloth.
Let humor pull up a chair. Here's where kids at the table are helpful once again! When it's not at the expense of anyone else, laughter can be common ground (like enjoying good food).
Keep Jesus' meal of thanks in mind. Around Jesus' supper table was a member of the radical Zealot party, a tax collector, some fishermen, a beloved disciple, a doubter, a hot-head and a betrayer...if these were Christ's table guests, what do we expect?
Remember the broken Body of Christ. Breaking bread together can be a tangible reminder that we follow a God who works through brokenness. Just as love flowed through the broken body of Jesus, love can flow through each of us, the broken Body of Christ. Be on the lookout to receive love from a broken person and to be a broken person through whom love shines through.
Leave or give others permission to leave. Jesus gave permission to one of his followers to leave the table. Rather than continue the charade of authenticity he said, “What you are about to do, do quickly” (John 13:27). In his case, he was about to betray Jesus. Did Jesus withdraw his love in that moment? No! He never stopped loving him, but he recognized when Judas was putting on an act. You or others may be itching to be somewhere else, unable to truly be present (in a life-giving way). No need to force yourself or others to hang around in misery (or make others miserable)!
Know that love is messy. Much messier than spilled gravy. The love of Christ isn't a pecan pie-gooey kind of love. It requires healthy boundaries and sacrifice. Both may not look or feel like love to you or others in the moment. That's okay, the book of Luke (12:51-53;18:29-30) warns that Jesus-followers must be prepared for family relationships to not reflect a Norman Rockwell painting. The path of and toward life rarely looks like it. But it's worth the journey!
A prayer for all who are gathering at a table this week:
God, may we welcome our family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers to the table as we welcome ourselves. May we recognize that not only do we have brokenness in common but we can find common ground in food and laughter. May we not shy away from awkwardness or tension but enter in with childlike curiosity. Give us discernment. Remind us of the permission we can give or receive to leave (without shame or shaming, without blame or blaming) on behalf of love. Thank you for the ways You join us at the table disguised as our own lives. May Your love be present in and with us as we break bread together.
In Christ's Name, Amen.
A Way of Wisdom
Oriental, Persian, rag, shag, rectangular or round
When the rug gets pulled out from under my feet
Oh Holy Ground!
Where mercy, grace, and wisdom meet.
Tend to the Part that Hurts
When a part of your body is hurting,
don't you pay attention?
With the gentlest touch and care
you tend to it,
sometimes asking for help,
not wanting to cause further harm,
giving it time to heal.
My dears, a part of the Body is hurting.
Today I'll be spending time with, even sitting beside, those who are voting for the candidate I did not vote for. Can you guess where I'll be?
In a sanctuary with other Christians gathered for prayer.
I imagine there will be petitions on behalf of both sides. Each longing for a specific outcome. Prayers offered for opposite results.
This election has both caused and shone a spotlight on divisions between friends and family members. At times it's been utterly barbaric. It would be easy for the church to be no different.
So I'm going to the Noon prayer service not only to join others in prayer but as a prayerful reminder that this is what the Body of Christ looks like...made up of people holding different views on politics, theology, raising kids and sports teams...and we do not need to let these things cause hate-filled division.
I don't believe the Spirit of God is as interested in the results of the election as much as what the Body of Christ is going to do afterward.
If the candidate I voted for wins, I'm not going to make a big deal about it on social media or elsewhere because I know there is real anxiety held by those who did not vote the same way.
If the candidate I voted for loses, I'm not going to make a big deal about it on social media or elsewhere because it doesn't change what God requires (at least according to the ancient prophet, Micah).
On Wednesday I'm going to trust that our work continues and together, with all of our differences and opinions, we can still...act with justice, treasure the Lord's gracious love and walk humbly in the company of our God.
For All Manner of Election
When that young woman
sitting in her hermitic cell
in the Church of St. Julian
of Norwich, England
penned her words
She sat in social upheaval
surrounded by people
full of panic and dread
All assigning blame for evil.
Imagine the tension wrought
as two rival dynasties fought
for the coveted throne
Proponents of both sides bled.
Black Plague for seven years brought
survival of families to a halt
perhaps even her own,
half of her country was dead.
Age thirty, in five hours of thought
sixteen visions she was shown
as she lie deathly sick in bed.
With the 13th Showing, finally a knowing
to her 14th century wondering,
all centuries wonder in great suffering,
Why would a God all-knowing
not stop sin from rapidly growing?
The Almighty had something to say
through Jesus the suffering Christ
who came to show the way
With great tenderness flowing
and no ounce of blame
He spoke mighty revelation
into the midst of a living hell.
Words not for her alone
She took up her Medieval pen
for those in whom dread does dwell.
Even now to our generation a banner,
into the longest winter, spring,
the suffering Christ to us does tell
“...all shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of thing
shall be well.”
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.