Advent 1 Mark 1:1-8
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For those who like predictability and order, Advent is the perfect season. It is always four Sundays. And each Sunday has a theme. Last week it was hope. This week it is peace. While the scripture changes in three-year cycles the subject matter doesn’t. Last week it dealt with the end times when God’s will comes to fruition. This week should be called John the Baptist Sunday. It always features John, everybody’s crazy uncle, the one with questionable fashion sense and an eccentric diet, yelling at everyone to prepare for the Lord.
While I will grant that there is a place for predictability and order in our lives, I find it a challenge to find something new to say on Advent themes year in and year out. For that reason I am grateful to Michael Benedict for his new book God is the God we do. He isn’t a theologian; he is an architect. He isn’t a Christian; he is a secular Jew. His parents were atheists, not surprisingly after surviving the horror of the Nazi extermination camps; he is not. But his understanding of god as doing is new to me. I find it intriguing, especially in Advent. For ultimately Advent is a verb. It is about preparing to find God at Christmas and being awake enough to recognize God when we do. Benedict has given me a new place to look for Advent hope, peace, love and joy.
Last week I shared his understanding that whether on not god exists is entirely up to us. God comes into being by what we do and not do. While we are not god, what we are doing might be. This god has no image only actions. This is a god of deeds not creeds. How “Advent” is that?
Benedict goes further to explain this god is not all-powerful. God “is weaker than a curl of smoke.” God is not all-knowing. God only knows what you do. God is not everywhere, but wants to be. God is only where God is, and who God is, which is ‘here and there’ and ‘now and again’ – wherever good is being done. Ultimately god is the good we do, when and where and as we do it. God is practiced, like dance, like music, like kindness, like love.
And what are we to practice? According to Benedict our task is restoring the fully human person we were born to before the fears and cultural expectations warped and distorted the image: becoming more loving, more compassionate, more courageous, more just, more intelligent, more happy, more caring, more excellent in physical grace and skill, longer lived in health, and further-seeing in the wisdom that would have us preserve, honor and promote all forms and instances of life.
With John’s call to prepare and Benedict’s call to practice in mind, my hope for all of us is that this is the Advent where we finally all get it and in doing so live the lives we are intended to live that god might be here and now and everywhere. The good I hope for each of us is that we overcome all our fears, stop dead in our tracks and hear a voice inside the wilderness in our head cry out "ENOUGH!” Enough fighting. Enough crying. Enough struggling to hold on to a reality that isn’t, never was and never will be. The god we are waiting for to save us won’t come into existence until we do our part. And like a child quieting down after a tantrum, our sobs begin to subside, we shudder once or twice, we blink back our tears and through a mantle of wet lashes we begin to look at the world and ourselves with new eyes.
May this Advent be our ‘awakening.’ Awake we realise that it's time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change; or for happiness, safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. We come to terms with the fact that there is no Prince Charming and we are not “Cinderella” and that in the real world there aren't always fairytale endings (or beginnings for that matter). And any guarantee of "happily ever after" must begin with us. In the process a sense of serenity is born. Advent peace.
Awake we realise we are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who and what we are; and that's OK. We learn that people don't always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will be there for us and that it's not always about us.
And we begin to sift through all the trash we've been fed about how we should look and how much we should weigh. What we should wear and where we should shop. Where we should go to school or what we should do for a living. Who we should choose for our friends. Who we should marry and what we should expect of a marriage. Those ideas about the importance of having and raising children or what we owe to our parents.
We learn that it is truly in giving that we receive the most. And that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and we stop maneuvering through life merely as a consumer looking for our next fix. We learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which we must build a life. We learn that we don't know everything and it's not our job to save the world. We learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO.
We learn that the only cross to bear is the one we choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.
Then we learn about love. Romantic love and familial love and worldly love; how to love, how much to give in love and when to stop giving or walk away. We learn to look at things as they really are and not as we would have them be. We stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes. We learn that just as people grow and change so it is with love. We learn that we don't have the right to demand love just to make us happy.
We look in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that we will never be a perfect 10; nobody is, not even those airbrushed models. And we stop trying to compete with the image inside our head and agonizing over how we stack up. We learn that our body really is a temple and we begin to care for it with respect. We begin eating a balanced diet, drinking more water and taking more time to exercise. We learn that fatigue diminishes the spirit and can create doubt and fear. So we take more time to rest. And we learn that just as food feeds the body, laughter feeds the soul. So we take more time to laugh and to play. We learn that for the most part, in life, we get what we believe we deserve and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen is different from working toward making it happen. More importantly, we learn that in order to achieve success we need direction, discipline and perseverance. We also learn that no one can do it all alone and that it's ok to risk asking for help. We learn to fight for our life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom. We learn that life isn't always fair; we don't always get what we think we deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to good people.
On these occasions we learn not to personalize things. We learn that God isn't punishing us or failing to answer our prayers, it's just life happening. We learn that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be redirected or they will suffocate the life out of us and poison the universe that surrounds us. We learn to admit when we are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.
We learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we often take for granted; a full refrigerator, clean running water, a warm bed, a long hot shower.
Slowly we begin to take responsibility for ourselves, by ourselves and to make ourselves a promise to never betray ourselves and to never, ever settle for less than our heart's desire.
May this Advent inspire us put up a wind chime outside our window so we can listen to the wind. Let us make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility. Finally, with courage in our heart and with faith by our side let us take a stand, take a deep breath and begin to design the life we want to live as best we can. It will be enough.
This is the god we are called to give birth to. This is the god we are to awaken this Advent. But don’t just wake up. Experience the awakening. God is in the action. There you will know peace. It is enough.