Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 30, 2014:

First Reading: Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm: Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 (Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Gospel: Mark 13:24-37

You may read the Gospel for Sunday and wonder if I've pasted the right lessons into the space above. You may have been prepared for angels appearing to Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph. You might be like me, a woman who has already been listening to Christmas CDs; you may be hoping for a glimpse of Christmas in Advent.

Instead, again, you get this apocalyptic text from Mark, about tribulation, and a darkened sun and moon and stars falling from the sky. Yikes. Isaiah's not much better; we're not to the comforting texts yet.

But the end of this chunk of Mark is important. It implores us several times to watch. We're not very good at watching. We're not very good at waiting. These statements are true throughout the year, but they're especially true during the liturgical season of Advent. The pace of our socializing goes into full-throttle frenzy, and we give ourselves over to trying to create a perfect holiday. Then we spend the month of January nursing a cold (or succumbing to more serious illness) and the rest of the year paying our credit card bills.

Seen in this light, the Gospel chunk of Mark makes sense. The way we celebrate Advent is indicative of the way we spend the rest of the year, and in this way, the apocalyptic tone makes sense. So many of us are making a ruin of our lives. What can we do so that our lives do not end up in ashes?

The Gospel tells us to keep watch, and we might return to some ancient spiritual disciplines to help us with that. We think of Lent as the time of year for spiritual discipline, but Advent might be an even more important time, since our culture gives us more pressure in the season of Advent than Lent.

Return to the old practices. Light an Advent wreath each evening. Or buy yourself an Advent calendar. Those of us without children often let these traditions slide. Maybe we could take them up again.

We could return to some even more ancient practices.

Add some devotional time to your day. There are many books set up specifically for Advent or you could resolve to read more of the Bible.

You might keep a journal to record your thoughts as you move towards Christmas.  If you don't have time to write much, write a haiku or a sentence to capture your thought for the day.  Or take a picture.  This practice can help you stay alert.

Perhaps you might decide to undertake a fast. Many of us gain 4-10 pounds during an average holiday season. If we choose to abstain from food one day a week, we might avoid that fate--and our hunger pains might lead us to think about the real reason the season exists. Maybe we'll fast from parties. Maybe we'll get together with the adults in our lives and decide to fast from gifts. We could give each other time, instead, an afternoon spent in each other's company. Maybe we'll fast from the news, with its relentless grim information.

Maybe we want to be really brave and consider a larger technology fast. How much time do you spend on the Internet? How much of that time brings you closer to God or your fellow humans? How much of that time transforms you into a more creative person? How much time do you spend tending to your electronic devices? Computers, cell phones, T.V.s and Tivos, and Ipods, and gadgets I don't even know about yet. What would happen if you turned them all off for a day and spent your time observing the non-electronic world?

You might decide to give some of your time and/or money to charity. Or you might resolve to help those charities in January, when the fervor of charitable activities at year's end dies down, and those organizations really need you.

You could decide to pray. Maybe now is the time to add fixed-hour prayer to your life. Even if you don't want to buy an expensive set of breviaries and prayer books, you could go to this site: The prayers change through the day.

Whatever you do, choose a discipline that will help you keep watch. When we train ourselves to be alert, we'll be amazed at how much evidence of Divine Love surrounds us every day.

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