What a week this has been! Nothing has been normal. Nothing has been business as usual. Thanksgiving always involves a flurry of activity: cleaning, preparing for guests, traveling, making beds, shopping, cooking, family and friends gathering, a heightened level of interactions, eating too much, washing dishes, and more cleaning. It’s fun and stressful and over much too quickly. And if you are a highly organized and efficient person—I am not!—you might have begun to decorate your home for Christmas.
The church calendar has been absolutely full. In the last two weeks, we’ve hosted a concert, a children’s play, an interfaith Thanksgiving celebration, and we’ve decorated for Advent and Christmas. Furniture has been moved over and over again. Bathrooms have been cleaned and restocked over and over again.
And in the midst of all this flurry of activity, we’ve experienced a full moon, high winds, king tides, and power outages. The season seems to be defined by interruptions, inconveniences and flashlights, frayed nerves and flared tempers.
And on the world stage, this season is marked by wars and rumors of ever-expanding wars, terrorist attacks, heightened security, fear, and suspicion. Our civil discourse has descended into name calling and vitriol. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are on the move, refugees from barbaric violence. This is the kind of world that Jesus knew, the kind of times that make people think the end must surely be near. But Jesus told his disciples that in times like these we are to lift our heads and look around. We are not to be like Chicken Little, scurrying around in a panic crying, “The sky is falling. The sky is falling” Jesus says that when we see buds on a fig tree, we know that summer is near. In the same way we know that the Kingdom of God is near when we see acts of kindness and mercy. Think back on the last week. How many buds, how many acts of kindness and mercy did you see?
Sharing from the congregation (Three stories were shared)
Yes, there are wars and rumors of wars, interruptions, inconveniences, and flashlights, frayed nerves, and flared tempers, and opportunities for ministry. I had a spiritual director once who insisted that I never scheduled more than three things in any one day, “Because,” she said, “ministry happens in the interruptions.” Ministry happens when we’re nudged or knocked out of our usual routine to relate in a new way, to see with fresh eyes, to hear someone’s pain or need, to be forced to think differently. During this season of interruption and busyness, we need to create space in our days to be rooted and grounded in love and to look up from our busyness to see where God is present. When the news seems particularly horrific, we need to avoid the temptation to withdraw. Instead we need to look up and out at one another. That’s where we will see God.
Maybe that’s why Jesus told his disciples to be like servants who keep their lamps lit—so they can recognize the master when he comes unexpectedly. In the dark the master might look like some inconvenient stranger and been turned away. Ordinary objects might suddenly seem menacing. But with adequate light, they cannot mistake the master’s face. In adequate light, they can see things as they are. In the bustle of our holiday preparations I wonder how often we keep our heads down, or maybe it’s more like having blinders on where the only thing we see is what is immediately in front of us. It’s not much different than working in the dark. We only let in a little light and it’s easy to mistake our master’s face for some inconvenient stranger’s. It’s easy to be annoyed by interruptions that delay our plans, and irritated by even the smallest inconveniences. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by wars and rumors of wars.
But if we take the time to keep our lamps lit—for people in Jesus time that meant refilling the oil—for us that might be similar to keeping fresh batteries on hand along with new bulbs for our flashlights—the light has to be portable you know—if we keep our flashlights handy and in good working order, we can recognize our master’s face when he comes unexpectedly. We can see the signs of God’s presence and know that it is not the end of time that is near—it is the Kingdom of God that is right here, right now, and still to come. Advent preparation for Christmas is not about buying gifts, sending cards, and decorating—although that’s what we get hooked into thinking is the top priority. It is about creating the time and space necessary to fill our lamps or recharge our batteries. It is about being able to recognize Christ when he comes to us in interruptions and inconveniences, unexpectedly in the guise of another. May we be prepared, alert, and have our lamps lit. Amen.