There are tough words in our gospel this morning. In this first Sunday of Advent we are reminded that our lives and our world are moving towards the Parousia–the Greek word for the coming–of Christ. It is the first of four seasons in our Church Year.
It is a time of preparation and expectation. It is feeling both “and/or:” Feeling the joy of our Lord’s birth arrival; or maybe the joy of family gathering in the next few weeks; and/or maybe fear or anxiety after reading our gospel.
Time after time, we have all tried to interpret what Jesus means in Luke’s Gospel when he talks about the “signs.” We think, hmmm, Signs in the sun? Is he referring to our unusually hot summers? Climate change? Does this have to do with the wildfires that have killed many in California? The Moon? Stars? Earth in distress? Is this about the major earthquake in Alaska and around the world or the most recent volcano activity in Guatemala? Or is it about those who are being killed because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their place of birth? Does this all mean that the kingdom of God is near?
See, like many of our worries, what drives these feelings is fear. Fears that drive us to create walls.
Maybe it is a fear of death or the idea of being judged at the final coming of Christ. Possibly, it’s knowing that we will be held accountable for our actions. Or fear of the unknown.
Or perhaps it’s the realization that our interpretations of the “signs” will continue to be erroneous. Because, generation after generation this has been the case. Who remembers Y2K? Horrible memories of a terrified eleven-year old come to mind.
But, perhaps we could see these “signs” through a different lens today. Maybe these are “signs” of God’s coming, (Advent/Parousia) into our individual lives. Maybe it is those moments that create tension in our lives that Jesus is referring to here. Think of a moment when time seemed to stop and when you suddenly realized, when self-deception was stripped away, that there was a clear view of who you truly were. Moments when our words eclipsed the sun, the moon and the stars. When we did not allow our neighbors to see the love they were created for. When we, with our words, made somebody feel like there was no place for them at the table. Maybe it was when we realized that our partner no longer felt understood by us. Or when we realized that perhaps we did not put enough effort into the ten-page paper that was completed at the last minute, and our grade reflected that. I’m sure you can think of a time when a word or phrase momentarily eclipsed everything else for you or because of you.
Sometimes the “signs” could be the lack of words. Silence. The silence when we yearn for God’s presence in our lives. Perhaps, time stops and silence is caused by the absence of someone whom we miss, especially during holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries. Or those moments when we’re up at night in silence, recognizing that we have missed so much time on silly things such as being angry at others, instead of embracing and loving like Jesus does. A love that is not limited for those we like but increasing and abounding for all. A love that grants us all a place in this community. A love that does not look at our outward appearance or possessions or even our legal status.
What about the “roaring of the sea and waves,”? The unpredictable roaring of the sea and the waves, for me, can be those moments that catch us completely by surprise. Could these unexpected events be used to remind us of our limitations as humans and of who is in control of our lives?
The sea roared for us recently when Abuelito (grandpa) had a stroke. In July, our family was together at General Convention. Abuelito had been feeling fine walking around the exhibit halls; we even got to celebrate our cousin’s birthday during their time here, there were no warnings. A few weeks after that my husband, Thanh and I received a phone call with the news –for us time seemed to stop–we did not know what to do. We felt helpless not being able to do anything to fix the situation. We wanted to be at the hospital, we wanted to hear Abuelito, we wanted the doctors to tell us he was fine, but it was out of our control. We immediately drove to Houston that Saturday afternoon. Fortunately, Abuelito is much better today, but that moment shook us and reminded us how our lives can change in a second. It is these moments that we perhaps readjust our priorities. It is perhaps also these moments when we are reminded that we do not have to go through these pains, worries, or sufferings alone.
So, here we are again; what do these signs do? I want to believe that our God–a God of love, hope, mercy and justice–is transforming us through this. God is coming, breaking into our lives, to allow us to see clearly: to see who we are and who we are called to be.
When our foundations are shaken, when the sun, moon and stars stand still, or when the roaring of the sea and waves rush in, what will we do? “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” God is continuously coming to challenge us to a new way of living–to listen and respond.
Stop wondering and giving in to the despair but instead, “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Praying, as in the Psalm–lifting up our souls and asking the Lord to teach us, instruct us and guide us. Just like Jesus taught his disciples through his ministries in Jerusalem. He also teaches us.
And today, he calls you and me, his disciples, to be prepared and reflect on what God’s priorities will be during the Parousia. God challenges us, how do we respond? I wholeheartedly believe that God’s priorities will not be like ours. God will not be worried about our degrees; our jobs–God will want to know about our actions. Did I seek justice for all? Did I love all?
We have to return to the gospels- Jesus did not spend a lot of time in the rich cities; Jesus spent time with those who were excluded. Those who were considered sinners. Jesus created relationships with them. Jesus is on the side of those who are marginalized: those whom we classify as “different.” Did I love them too? Did I speak up for them when they were treated unjustly? How did I respond when 36,000 farmworkers stayed and worked outside picking strawberries and other produce in the dangerous air from the California wildfires? What about the understaffed and overworked firefighters who put those fires out? It is easy to ignore injustice and pain when it does not directly affect us, isn’t it? Maybe it is just for me.
I could ignore the recent news of humans firing tear gas at others at the border. But, I refuse to forget where I come from. See, my parents came to this country during the Civil War in El Salvador–they came here illegally, crossing that same border and a few others too. Like most of the people there today, my parents wanted to live. They were literally trying to leave a country where being on the wrong bus was a death sentence. They left everything they knew behind because uncertainty was a safer option for them; they had no time to pack, no time for goodbyes, traveling only with the clothes on their backs. The Civil War in El Salvador was a roaring sea for my parents: it shook them. Once they made it to the U.S., they worked hard to provide a future filled with opportunities and hope for us–not using government assistance like others want you to believe, but with sweat and sacrifices. I tell you my story to invite you into conversation with those of us who may not look like you. To hear us like Jesus, and to be with us like Jesus. To hear each other’s stories and our truths to speak of those fears that hold us captive sometimes.
I challenge you to embrace these “comings” as the signs we need to help us transform into the beings God is calling us to be. God will do, what God does and we are invited into that. We are invited to participate in the labor. Transformation allows those walls we build, whether physical structures at our border or those built out of our own fears, begin to disappear. This will allow us to work to eliminate oppression, dehumanizing policies–those that perhaps legalize those internalized fears we may have–and practices that deprive the most vulnerable human beings–children, elderly, ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community–from enjoying a life of respect, of freedom and of love!
May we in this Advent awaken to the reality that God continuously comes to challenge us and to manifest his love with calming grace in a chaotic world.