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.
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.