Are we there yet?!?! Screamed a child in the line up to see Santa in the mall. Its so hot in here I fear I am going to get heat stroke, there is noise everywhere, and I am trying to see my brother whose got a job working at the castle this year. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing him dressed up like an elf, yet I was distracted by all the screaming and panicked parents trying to keep their kids clean and off the floor for the photos. The crazy flux of folks pushing in on each other between stores, lining up for a photo with Santa, jingle bells blaring on the sound system, a commodity based Christmas hanging all around me- the scene was so much that even I agreed with that child’s scream- Are we there yet!?!?! I just wanted the noise to be over! I never saw my brother in his elf costume, I walked out of the mall that day and vowed to never enter another one again from Oct 31 until February 1 and its stuck. I walked out of that mall over 15 years ago, not because I felt better than anyone as a Christian, or in disgust. I walked out because I knew that it wasn’t my path to being “there” yet. It wasn’t my path to Christmas. I’ve often smirked at the irony however that a visit to Santa transformed time for me, an invitation our gospel holds for us all today.
In this section of Mark, the idea of time is one which the listeners would have gotten right away because of how it was tied to their lives via the temple. For the listeners of Mark's gospel, the temple was the center of their world and it dictated how their time was spent. For Jesus to be coming and speaking about being alert to an altered time, an Advent, his audience would know the implications personally. The idea for them that the presence of God in the temple being destroyed would upend their sense of time and history called into deep question that sense of “are we there yet?” There is a transformation here in Christ’s apocalyptic speech, one which leads us directly into the death and resurrection in the next chapter of Mark. In this way, we begin Advent- the transformation of time- leaning into the cross and resurrection of Christ. It can feel weird to be knee deep in Easter while we deck the halls, yet there is a synergy expressed in mark which calls us to deeper awareness and presence because of this season. But are we there yet?
Overnight, our parish is transformed into the richness of blue and purples. An empty manger waits it's traveling members, and our prayer station has a new Icon. Her name is “Christ the Holy Silence” and she is our window for Advent. There is something remarkable about this small window into God, through prayer, which halts me into a deep and silent awareness of a season which is asking me to be differently. Written in Russia in the 18th century, this icon is unusual because Christ here is represented as an Angel, holding forth space of peace- seated in a position of invitation. What really strikes me is that it is first, unusual. Advent is always unusual for me because of the crazy nature of a season which overtakes life. Second, its is invitational rather than seasonal. She isn't wearing holy, or and elf hat. She is not Christ the Holy Silence of Advent. She is Christ the Holy Silence which asks me to think about where I carve out silence in my world and life all year. It asks me what Advent does to transform my life, rather than just my season. It reminds me that even with Christmas on the horizon, not only are we not there yet but the horizon will always be longer than we expected. Christ never gives a date for his return, he gives a time- a time which is not yet here. In advent, through Christ the Holy Silence, we are asked to re-frame our time permanently through the transformation of the Manger. But how?
As Tertullian, a father of the church reminds us that Christians are not born, they are made, which means we are leaning into a lifetime rather than a season of transformation through baptism. If it was simply about being born, we should all be experts in the faith by now- we’ve been doing it long enough. Rather it is the constant work of living and wrestling with the Word made flesh, Jesus, present to us in the gospels that makes us- forms us- as Christians. The gospels are the formation of our time, of our lives, of our being. This formation asks us to lean into the gospels, grounded in our baptism, and learn from these seasons of the church towards the transformation of our lives. Our goal remains the coming of Christ again and the summation of all time into him, these seasons give us moments to lean in more deeply to listen and learn. Yet until He comes again, we remain in the Advent of his transforming time, which invites us to reflect how it is we spend our time. Here’s how I think we can continue to lean into this transformation:
Prayer. Carve out time in your day to pray. Find that comfortable chair you love, light a simple tea light candle, and rest in the warmth of the moment. Recite the trisagion as you light the candle, Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal one, have mercy upon us. Make this your mantra, and just rest in the space you created for yourself. Go for a walk in nature and become aware of God’s beauty. Listen to that favorite music with intention, and marvel at the variety of God’s creative talent. Decorate your homes with mangers scenes and as you do put your figures on pilgrimage throughout your house. Move them periodically closer to the manger as Christmas approaches, and reflect on the significance of their stories in time. Enter into the story through one of those characters, which one speaks to you? Live this advent through their eyes, and pray with them. Commit to transform your time through prayer by opening yourself up everyday to Christ the Holy Silence in your heart. Lean into your challenges with prayer, the restlessness and distraction, the loss of words and confusion and just stop. Stop and know that God is in that prayer too. Pray with me. Pray for the world. Pray for each other. Pray.
Dare to risk. Risk being different in a season full of expectations by choosing presence over busyness. Invite friends for dinner, rather than just sending a Christmas card. Visit our home bound parishioners, or those in hospital. Volunteer to visit at Purdy Pavilion care center. Call that friend from church you’ve not seen. Invite that family for hot chocolate and carols. Find ways to listen to sumptuous music, make memories, share roasted chestnuts and the lights at Vandusen. Come out to the Dunbar House Christmas party, and share time with a resident whose life you transform by your donations. Help us warm our manger with items for the Christmas blitz which will transform the lives of dozens of street people this Christmas. Seek out, name, and lean into those things which bring you into community that aren’t just task orientated, but life giving. Make time. Give yourself time. Allow your time to be transformed by letting go of those things which don’t feed you. Christ at his second coming wont ask us for a list of our tasks, but if we have loved one another as he loved us. Let go and let God. Dare to risk in a world which is hungry for the freedom we wait for this Advent.No matter how hard we try to do everything, be everything, sort out the details, Christmas happens regardless of our preparation.
Advent my friends calls us to be present in the moment and pattern our lives in the Holy silence of Christ’s transforming time, which knows no bounds. The gospel this morning is calling us into a life of transformation through the invitation of a season.
Open your hearts and ears this Advent. Be prepared to be surprised. Be weird. Be holy. Be aware. Be here. Be alert. Just be. We do not know when the time will come so be ready. Christ is coming in the Advent of his transformed time to form us into his people of the Kingdom. Christ calls you to lean into advent and pattern your life on it, how will you respond?