Monday, November 28, 2016

First Sunday in Advent - Keep Awake For the Unexpected

Have you ever been listening to a piece of music, enjoying the melody, flowing along with it... when all of a sudden the melody completely changed? (Play music Many would describe the way the melody changes in Sir Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 as sudden. Most people would say that they know the song Pomp and Circumstance, but Sir Elgar actually wrote five different Marches with the same name. The No.1, which we heard, starts with large brass fanfare and a full string melody which includes the musical whip banging in the background before all of a sudden going into the much softer fluid grandeur of the what we all associate with Pomp and Circumstance. Perhaps you could hear the audience's surprise in the form of laughter when the melody suddenly changes. It was an unexpected turn of events. 

We as Christians have gotten so used to the idea of waiting for Jesus to come. Every year we wait, spending Advent waiting for Jesus to be born. We have it timed down to the day. Christmas hardly comes unexpectedly. It's the same day every year. Although as anyone who has any experience with babies being born knows, they can't exactly be timed out naturally. They come when they come. I myself was apparently two weeks late being born. Sorry Mom and Dad. But in our Christian lives, we have expectations of what the seasons will be, what the ebb and tide of involvement and giving will be, we even, especially in liturgical traditions, have expectations about the timing and sequence of church services. They follow a flow, and even when we do something slightly new, it's not usually new enough to totally mess us up. But what if we say, did Advent in the spring? Whoa! That would trip a few of us up! For some of us today, the Lutheran pattern of our service is slightly different, but you still are able to look at the bulletin and recognize the parts as they come along. We are people of habits and traditions and following what we have always done.

Jesus however, tells his disciples today, that no one knows when the time will come, when the Son of Man will arrive. It will be unexpected. He tells them that as in the days of Noah, people will be going about doing what they have always been doing on that day. We don't tend to work in fields or grind meal these days, but we still do eat and drink and get married, and we do understand what Jesus is saying. You'll be going about your chores and there won't have been a bulletin made up that told you ahead of time that Jesus was coming. There will be no fanfare, no playing of Pomp and Circumstance to let you know. Surprise! Jesus, in glory. Whoa, whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa.

As human beings, we obviously have some issues with the unknown. We aren't very good at waiting for surprises, we aren't very good at sitting in mystery, we aren't very good at being in the dark. In the church, we have created a tradition of trying to guess when Jesus is coming again. We have created a tradition of trying to anticipate and schedule God into our lives. We fail to allow God to surprise us. Yet, I think part of the idea is the surprise. We see Jesus telling his disciples to keep awake, yet we tire of staying awake and so, we schedule time to watch and wait into the calendar. But the whole idea of keeping awake is that we cannot schedule or watch at the appropriate time. Keeping awake is a mindfulness exercise for all the time, for every moment. It's a lot of work, to be mindful of the possibility of the entrance of God into every moment. Keeping awake like this takes brain power, takes energy, takes observing things that sometimes we get caught up in. Do you know the difference between a good soap opera and a bad soap opera? A good soap opera gets you emotionally involved so that you don't even realize you're sitting there staring at a TV and wasting what could otherwise be useful time. A bad soap opera is one where you don't get emotionally involved, where you are able to analyze what is going on and watch interactions between the characters... And usually realize how bad the acting or the plot line really is. Being awake in ones own life is a bit like trying to watch a bad soap opera. Not that the characters are cheesy or the plot line is jumbled, but that you're able to see what is going on and how it all fits together. Even more so, keeping awake requires knowing a little bit about what you might be looking and waiting and watching for... but we have a hard time in defining God and we certainly don't know what Jesus' second coming might look like. 

Yet, The funny thing about the exercise of keeping awake, of mindful watching, is the result. We human beings are great at finding what we are looking for, even when it doesn't exist sometimes. In negative terms you can see this happen in relationships when one partner gets paranoid about something another is doing. In positive terms, we talk about gratitude practices that make you mindful of what you are grateful and then... you start realizing you are grateful for so many things. When we start being mindful and keeping awake looking for the unexpected presence of God in our lives, unsurprisingly, ironically enough, we find God in our lives. 

Keeping awake gets easier as you do it. It becomes a habit, a pattern. Part of the reason we dedicate a season to waiting for Jesus to be born is because this kind of mindset requires time to sink in and become part of our daily routine. My suggestion to you this season is find some way to make sure you are keeping awake this Advent. Find some way to be accountable to someone else about how you have seen God in your life, someone with whom to share how Jesus is being born in you this year. We are a community together. We can help each other keep awake. Just as y'all help each other wake up when someone falls asleep during the sermon. Just as y'all keep each other aware of the changes in weather during storms so that everyone is safe. The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. There will be no warning signs, there will be no fanfare, there will be no gathering clouds. 

Today we restart this journey, this quest. To keep awake. To wait and watch and look for Jesus. We have done this before and we will do this again, but we renew our efforts today. We all fall short of being constantly watching, waiting, and looking. So, we start again. Watching, waiting, looking. Because all parts of Jesus' ministry are present in our lives, being born, doing ministry, dying for our sins, resurrecting in new life. All of parts of Jesus' ministry are present in our lives. I cannot tell you where you will find him in your life this season, but I know he is there. Keep watch therefore and wonder at the marvelous works God is doing. Amen.