Something is being born… into chaos.
We start Advent not with shepherds and angels and babies meek and mild. Instead we start with apocalyptic warnings. I don’t like it. I prefer the kids in animal and shepherd costumes—the cute Christmas. But we don’t always get what we want. Instead we start Advent with a passage that is full of images of floods, and people disappearing, and thieves. Over and over in this passage Jesus gives us the warning: you don’t know what’s about to happen. We are mostly sleep-walking through life. Wake up! calls Jesus.
An apocalypse is a revelation—a revealing of what is really real. Thinking of it that way helps me situate this reading. What is real? Well, we mostly don’t know what’s going on. That’s true. We mostly don’t know when things are going to fall apart in our lives, or when they’re suddenly going to come together. We don’t know when the kingdom is going to break through into our humdrum everyday lives.
For me, I’m usually just going about my business doing X, Y, Z, mostly sleepwalking through the routine of life. And then… how do you explain it? The heavens open up? Something breaks through? I understand why Jesus seemed to struggle for language. Nothing changes, but everything does. Suddenly I realize how utterly beautiful it is. I catch sight of the mountain after days of rain. I see, really see, a friend for who she is, and I’m struck dumb by the gift of friendship and accompaniment.
Whenever it happens, however it happens, it feels like a revelation. But it’s not always comfortable or immediately, apparently beautiful. It’s not always the glory of the mountain or the ease of a beautiful friendship. Sometimes it’s like a tent city in one of our most beautiful parks. It suddenly reveals what I mostly try to forget—our neighbors live in tremendous need. I’ve been eating and drinking, making merry, and completely asleep to the reality around me.
Sometimes the kingdom breaks in and I realize I’m trapped in rivalry with everyone around me, trying to prove that I’m the best, trying to earn my way. I’ve gotten sucked in and become consumed with trying to position myself to be on top, to win. It is often tremendously upsetting to realize this. It feels like a thief breaking into my psyche and stealing my easy, habitual ways of being. Though, after having been robbed of my habitual ways, I often feel liberated. I realize it doesn’t have to be that way. I can lose, give up, let go, and experience grace instead of winning, which is far sweeter.
This is how Christ comes, isn’t it?
Who would have thought that what we needed was an infant born in poverty to a colonized people? Who would think this is a revelation of reality? And yet, again and again, we need this news. It’s what wakes me up. Stay awake, says Christ. And I find myself rubbing the sleep from my eyes hoping to catch sight, once more, of what my heart is longing for, what’s been promised, and what I’m waiting for with bated breath.
Stay awake. Be prepared. The Human One is coming at a time we don’t know.
P.S. This week’s Word from Below comes from a collection of Advent and Epiphany reflections written by a group of Tacoma pastors who have meet weekly for more than six years to practice preaching peace. Download your free copy of the entire devotional today at www.bornfrombelow.com.