Advent: Abandoning Illusion for The Real
Advent is about expanding our vision. It is about aligning ourselves with God’s dream for the creation.
Amidst the rush of our lives, it is all too easy to imagine there is no alternative to the daily struggle. We are so easily mired in the complications of human burdens and expectations. We end up feeling weary and discomfited. In short, we become sad. Only when we are able to look up, to use the seeing eye of the heart, may we hope to identify with God’s hope for us and begin to embrace it for ourselves. Advent, in fact, is the antidote for unrest.
The season of Advent is the perfect moment to abandon illusion. No number of gifts, no amount of food, no number of family gatherings, and no number of friends can ever substitute for the God-sized hole in each of us. Only when we invite the Lord to come into our hearts do all those other things become real. Only then are we able to truly receive those gifts as acts of love, eat food as divine hospitality, recognize family gatherings as gentle moments of mutual acceptance, and the fellowship of friendship as an extension of divine kindness and support.
When Augustine finally surrendered his life to God, he observed, “My heart is restless ‘til I find my rest in thee.” In abandoning illusion for the adoption of the real, he became more than he could have imagined – more solid, more centered, more joyful, more free, and, above all, at peace. The same invitation is extended to us.
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves
Advent: The Stone in Our Shoe?
In a world in which the rhythm of life is no longer dictated by the movements of the church year, Advent sounds a strangely discordant note. Amidst the buying of presents, decorating homes, parties, and preparing for family reunions, Advent is a bothersome season. Just when we are trying to be especially happy, the church starts talking about the return of the Lord, when we know what we want is lights and food and presents and whatever else feels good. Why does the church have to be so solemn when we just want to have a good time? It’s a bit like going to a party and finding you have a stone in your shoe, with nowhere to discreetly tip it out.
Advent, however, is the assurance that God takes us seriously. It speaks not of going to God, but of God coming to us; God being present in the here and now; God asking us to take a good look at our world and to care about it in the same way that God cares. Jesus’ call to us today is about personal accountability and re-assessment. Repentance is about the opportunity to re-connect to God and to God’s world. It is not a coincidence that Christmas, the culmination of Advent, is marked by generous gifts to and programs for the poor. It reminds us that we are to be alert to God’s world — a world that will not overwhelm us, but a world that compels our compassion. When we know compassion, we come to know God, and God comes to us with great joy.
As this Advent moves forward, take a little time to invite God to come into your life so that you may open your eyes to all that God has made. Celebrate all that is good and heal whatever is broken. Teresa of Avila wrote, “We should walk in truth before God in as many ways as possible.” Advent tells the truth about our humanity, about God’s inexhaustible love for everything that is, and God’s call to compassionate participation. Walk in the love that is this Truth.
The Reverend Susan N. Eaves
The Powerless Power
Next Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, is kept as the Feast of Christ the King.
It seems strange to use the title “king” about Jesus in a world with a long history of corrupt and ineffective monarchs. In our own age, such concepts seem alien and even undesirable. Yet, the word or image of “king” may yet stir in us a sense of something we desire which is more than governments or royal titles. It may remind us that there is a dream of a time when all will be set right and, with the right ruler, we will experience justice and mercy.
In fact, this particular title for Jesus points to something we might easily miss. The lessons this coming Sunday speak not of the glory of human power and rule or the grandeur of human empires. Instead, they point to a simple man standing before a foreign judge as he is being condemned to death for witnessing to the power of the love of God. Bishop David Jenkins, the famous one-time bishop of Durham England, liked to call this “the powerless power that overpowers power.”
Today, we stand before Pontius Pilate with Christ. We stand up to proclaim once again that Jesus came to be with us. He came not to rule like a human monarch but to love us even to his own death on a cross. The mystery lies in the majesty of that love and its power to raise us from the dead. It is a mystery, but not a secret.
Thus we pray,
“ … mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.”
After all, that was what Jesus had in mind.
The Reverend Susan N. Eaves
From Whom Has Our Wellbeing Come?
The words of next Sunday’s gospel will seem disconnected from our own experience of life. Despite ourselves, we are already responding to prospects of Christmas, warm fires on dark nights, Christmas gift lists, and good food.
Meanwhile, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. What is all his talk of “wars and rumors of wars … For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines” about?
How can we respond to such a picture from the comfort of our own armchairs and lives lived in relative prosperity and peace? How might we reconcile these ominous phrases of “earthquakes” and “famines” with the gingerbread houses and twinkling lights already lining our thoughts?
The words strike a discordant note, foreign and uncomfortable at best (and seemingly out of step with getting a jump on our merrymaking). But a closer examination of this text draws me to the calm confidence of Jesus as he gazes into his future. His own death is fast approaching, yet he speaks not of fear, but of keeping trust with God, of remaining focused on the truth, of hope. He reminds us that we have already been given what we need, no matter the circumstances. In fact, he elaborates by reminding us not to become distracted when matters go awry, but instead to remember the fact of God’s love and provision for us. Chaos is not the point; the generosity of God is.
Thus, our response to this gospel begins not in the paralysis of anxiety, but in the assurance that all will be well. God, says Jesus, is taking care of us and we are called to act upon it. Our freedom lies in our entrance into the divine embrace of this truth – from it emerges all gratitude for life, all thanksgiving for blessing, all generosity to others, all hospitality, and all joy.
Make time and space to consider and know from whom our wellbeing has come. It is from that place, and that place alone, that we can begin to become stewards of our faith and lives.
The Reverend Susan N. Eaves
The “Least” of Us
Scripture is very concerned about the least among us, because God is very concerned about the least among us.
Jesus directs hard words at those filled with self-importance, who say long prayers but then steal from the poor. He goes on to remind us that God is concerned about the frail among us, be it the poor, the homeless, the suffering, or anyone we would rather not notice or perhaps might be drawn to condemn. The truth is there can be no one created who is outside the love of God, and therefore there can be no one outside our own field of loving attention.
The gospel next Sunday will focus on the widow with two coins who gave all she had as an offering in the Temple treasury. Widows were the “invisibles” of biblical days – invisible because they had been disgraced by the loss of husbands and clearly had no remaining brothers-in-law to care for them, as was the custom. To be thus twice abandoned was significant for it was understood as punishment, as a curse for some unnamed deficiency.
The gospel tells us Jesus was still, that he sat down before the Temple treasury and watched what was happening. As a result, he saw things hidden to those who were busy trying to impress others. He reminds us to go about our business with care, to be watchful, thoughtful, and kind. In doing so, he is offering us the same opportunity already claimed by the poor widow – to inhabit God’s world and to be free.
As we live the coming week, we can choose to inhabit it as the scribes of whom Jesus spoke. We could strut about trying to command the respect and admiration of others, or we can pay attention to all that surrounds us, trying to see the world through the eyes of Jesus, seeing rather than being seen.
It is not an accident that those with few resources or who are of little account to the world are blessed with a clarity of spiritual sight we might well envy. We, who are often encumbered by too much “stuff” — of material, emotional, or physical nature — might do well to sit down and observe for ourselves what it is they have to share with us. They have much to teach us.
The Reverend Susan N. Eaves