Text: Mark 13 (“the Little Apocalypse”)
One of our highest spiritual goals is to wake up. This is a theme found in today’s apocalyptic reading. Jesus tells his friends to stay awake to the possibility of disaster, judgement, and salvation.
Keep watch! Stay alert! Stay awake! says Jesus.
OK. But what will help us accomplish this goal?
One way to stay awake is through fear. If we can generate enough terror in our hearts, we are unlikely to fall asleep.
This past year, I have sometimes been kept awake by fear. With the success of racism as a political brand, I have found it easy to be freaked out about what is happening in our world and what might happen next.
But you may be glad to know that I don’t support this as a tactic for staying awake. Not only is terror unsustainable in the longer term, I am confident it is not what Jesus is talking about in this passage.
Jesus invites his friends to stay awake not out of fear, but out of faith. He knows that some of their fears will come to pass, things like war, earthquake, and famine, which he mentions earlier in this chapter. But he also tells his friends not to be alarmed, because at the deepest level all is well and all will be well.
Instead of being freaked out by all the incredible changes in our lives and in the broader culture, Jesus recommends that we relax into alertness — to “Keep Calm and Carry On,” as a British wartime slogan urged.
Today on the first Sunday of Advent, our focus is on hope, which is usually directed to the future. For example, I hope for gifts at Christmas; for encouraging lab test results; and for fewer wars.
But there is another aspect to hope. Hope is also a blessed state that floods over us when we are focused on the present and not on our regrets about the past or our anxieties about the future.
None of us have had the past we wanted in all respects. Nor will any of us get the future we want in all respects. All of us have suffered at least some neglect, loss, and pain. All of us are fragile and mortal.
But when we look to the depths, we remember that we have come from Love, and it is to Love that we all return. This faith can help us stay awake to the present moment, to keep watch for the beauty and truth in front of us now, and to be alert to all the sensations and feelings of today.
This vision of hope reminds me of an ancient Hindu saying that I first heard from United Church Moderator Mardi Tindal on a canoe trip in 2002. Called “Salutation to the Dawn,” it goes like this:
Look to this day
for it is life,
the very life of life.
In today’s brief course lie all the verities and realities of existence —
the bliss of growth and the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well-spent makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope . . .
Look well, therefore, to this day.
I love this poem. Regardless of what we regret about the past and fear about the future, we only have now to give and receive love. We only have now to communicate and grow. We only have now to experience beauty and healing.
We don’t know what will happen in 2018 anymore than we knew what would happen in 2017. But whatever happens next year, each day we are granted will grace us with the opportunity to look well to its eternal moments.
So, this Advent, I pray that we will keep calm and carry on. May we look well to each day and so turn all our yesterdays into dreams of happiness and all our tomorrows into visions of hope.
May it be so. Amen.