Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 33.14-16 1 Thessalonians 3.12—4.2 Luke 21.25-28, 34-36
“People will die of fright when they anticipate what is coming upon the earth. The powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then people will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and glory. When these things happen, stand straight and lift up your heads, for your redemption is near at hand.” – Luke 21.26-28
Advent begins the Church year with a gospel that imagines the end — Jesus’ coming in glory. Sunday’s gospel fairly froths with frightening images. Scary gospels can hardly worry us more than our everyday events and headlines. The Covid virus mutates and thrives anew among us — like plagues of old that we thought were over. In my family we are waiting for Christmas in July to get us all together; too many unvaccinated to mingle among too many with compromised immune systems. Refugees pile up at our borders awaiting asylum. A man with multiple arrests drives through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Every day the availability of guns leads to new shootings and vigilantes.
I meet the sunrise each morning with hope in a new day, a faithful reminder that no matter how threatening personal or world events, we live from beginning to end in the embrace of God — God within, God among us, God beyond us.
In our experience of being alive, we find God within us, in each breath, in the energy of every pulse, in our conscious capacity to take inside us all that is — geese on the fly, the evergreens standing among bare limbs, the wonder of the moon these nights.
In turning to one another and bridging our separate selves, we find God among us. We find love and friendship, belonging and understanding.
In experiencing our human limitation, we find we have heart and hope for mystery — God beyond us. The God of our beginning is the God of all we will become. Rather than be afraid, Jesus insists we stand up straight and raise our heads. Jesus gives us every reason to hope that the loving actions he teaches will get us through not only every day but any day.
Only Luke records this final admonition. Praying involves how we see and sense, who we notice and appreciate. Prayer engages us with all we care about in the here and now. In pausing to stand upright before God, we breathe not only air but heartening Spirit. We recommit to the way of love Jesus traveled, the way of building community, forgiving enemies, including outsiders. Harvard professor Susan Abraham describes prayer as “a discipline of receptivity to the sacred,” which reenchants us with the world. Prayer expects surprise and transformation. Prayer for the world puts the afflicted in our face as we open our hearts to them. In prayer we often sight a difference we can make and find strength that we are not alone in carrying it out.
Whether we see Jesus’ coming again as a threat or a fulfillment, the gospel challenges us to stay watchful and pray for strength. In living consciously, attentive to people and life within and around us, we find God already with us.
What troubles does prayer keep in your face? What dulls your senses? What sharpens them? What practices help you live consciously?