Jesus says to us: For in the days before covid [PAUSE]
For in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, having weddings, and they knew nothing until covid — I mean, the flood — came and swept them away, too…. so will it be with the coming of the human one.
Two women will be grinding meal together, one will look up from her work, and realize that her work companion is not near her — realize that she’s spent months at a makeshift desk in her kitchen, going through the motions, and that time and change and years have passed her by.
How many times, in those first months — years? I guess? — of the covid era did we talk about how difficult it was to make plans more than a couple weeks out. And often I’d hear the same metaphor: I felt like I was robbed of my security in the future.
Let’s back up. It’s Advent! Advent blessings to you! It’s a season I associate with Christmas anticipation, cozy gatherings, and carving out time (amidst all the errands of “Christmas anticipation”) — carving out time for some reflection and contemplation on Mary’s radical “yes” to the coming of Emmanuel — her “yes” to God not only being with her, but within her.
But the readings this first week of Advent remind me that it is not only a season of coziness and contemplation. Advent is a season of revelation. Sometimes revelation is marked by beauty, as in expecting the arrival of a child, full of new life and pure potential. But sometimes (dare I say, more often), revelation is the veil lifted, the confrontation with reality, the harsh light of disillusionment. And it’s in that bright light of hard truth that we must come to a new understanding and new relationship with reality. We must come to it; there is no going back to the illusions that once protected us.
Revelation is disorienting, but it is a gift. Revelation is a gift because it is only once we face reality as it is, only once we are able to center that reality, that we are able to engage with it, to be transformed by it — and perhaps to transform it.
So. Our gospel text this morning. Our revelatory, apocalyptic text this morning. We could read Jesus’s words here as commands. Don’t be merry with food and drink, for a flood is coming. Don’t sleep, for a thief will come in the night. Stay awake, stay vigilant, and expect the worst.
Eek. Following those commands would not only be impossible, but hearing this passage as commands would be disturbingly out of character for Jesus. “Don’t be merry with food and drink” — would be disturbingly out of character coming from a man who lingers over dinner tables, and pours his friends wine. “Don’t sleep, for a thief is coming” — disturbingly out of a character from a man who literally sleeps in the hull of a boat through the dangers of a storm. Jesus is many things, but he is not a model of hypervigilance and gloomy expectations.
Hm.Perhaps, in this passage, Jesus is simply describing the nature of revelation. Perhaps he’s describing the reality of what it will feel like to encounter God With Us in the flesh, to encounter the Human One, perhaps even to encounter our own humanity. Perhaps he’s giving us metaphors for what it feels like to go through a sea change.
Encountering God might be similar to looking up from concentrated work and realizing that you are alone, when you thought your companion was in the room.
Encountering God might feel like a thief in the night: reality itself breaks into the home of our life and startles us awake, leaving us with a racing heart, disoriented in a house that no longer feels like home. (I see you; I know you’ve felt God there.)
Encountering God might feel like being flooded, the cold tsunami wave of new reality crashing down on all of our heads. None of our systems seem to hold, none of our institutions left standing. I know you’ve been there – couldn’t have lived through the last 2-3 (or 6-7 years) without that encounter.
These sudden, disillusioning encounters with God can come from anywhere — through the loss of a job, a marriage, a friend. Through the election result we never thought would happen. Through a positive test or an unexpected diagnosis. Through a novel virus and calendar full of canceled events. Through a video witness of yet another brown body murdered at the hands of the state. Through yet another shooting and yet another shooting and yet another shooting and yet another shooting, each one invoking the traumas of the last, and some of those dead people start to seem a lot like you.
In a flash, the world we knew is flooded, is swept away, is taken from us — we are flooded, again — I am flooded. The world is flooded away and the one we’re left in invites us to encounter, to engage, to transform.
Take a moment. Take a moment — remember a time when your life transformed. Remember what happened. Remember the moment you realized, or learned, or heard.
How did that moment, that season, that situation — how did that flood change you? What commitment did you make, what values did you take on, how was your character shaped? I’m not saying these moments are good or fore-ordained — bad things happen without God designing them for us. But given that that moment, that heartbreak, that flood occurred — who did you become, as a result?[PAUSE]
The readiness that Jesus asks us for — our readiness cannot be a readiness for any event that might crash our reality — they are multitude. Our readiness must be for the character that we form ourselves to be as we prepare to encounter those events. Readiness through the values we live in our daily actions. The question that remains, when faced with the next harsh new reality, will be: Who will we choose to become now? Who will we choose to become in light of this? Who are we, in the wake of this?
In our next moments together
- We will form ourselves by committing to “look for the life of the world to come” – right here in the middle of this messy, broken one.
- We will form ourselves as people who confess. People who say what is true, even when it is uncomfortable, even when it is incriminating.
- We will form ourselves as people who witness the worst event in human history in the breaking of body and spelling and blood — a people who continue to witness, because we do not shy away from hard realities. We tell the story of them. We raise them up. We take them in, bite by bite, until they become a part of us — Holy things for holy people.
- And then form ourselves as people who go. We are sent out, with intention, to be God’s people in the world, to announce God is with us — God may even be within us —
We are sent transformed, not to prevent future disasters, but to witness reality as it occurs. We go to encounter the world as it is and look for the world to come in the midst of it. We go to engage reality — to say what is true, to tell the stories of the overlooked and marginalized until they are seen and brought in. We go transformed, to transform.