We kept a Thanksgiving ritual at our house this weekend. I am not talking about smoking a turkey or enjoying all of our favorite holiday dishes such as mac and cheese, fried okra, dressing or cranberry sauce though we cooked and ate all of those things.
Instead, I am talking about our yearly Thanksgiving ritual of decorating for Christmas. Practically ever year at our house, Thanksgiving is the first major period of decorating. On those years when we have most of our ducks in a row, by the end of Thanksgiving weekend, much if not most, of our decorating is complete and ready to be enjoyed from now until roughly New Years. My hunch is that many of you do the same.
Now, why do I bring this up? I do so because we are all being warned that this will be one of the most unique Christmas seasons of our recent lives due to the virus and how it will alter our plans. And, without question, I am a firm believer that we need to do everything we can to adjust with the times in order to keep ourselves and others safe in this most unusual of Christmas seasons that we are going to live through over the next several weeks.
And yet, at our house we have begun one of the most unexpected Christmas seasons of our lifetimes by keeping the same tradition we always have by decorating for the holiday on Thanksgiving weekend.
There is something very biblical about this. What I mean here is that one of the ways scripture teaches us to prepare for the unexpected is by keeping our commitments to the things we have always done. Let me say this a different way. So often we think that when life takes an alternate path that this means that we should change who we are, how we live and what we value. Yet, often, what scripture invites us to do in life’s unknown moments is to stay true to who we are and to who are called to be. Advent speaks to this reality. The four themes of the season of Hope, Joy, Love and Peace are just as needed and relevant this Advent as they are at any time.
Our passage of scripture for today focused on hope or expectation helps us get started with these important ideas. Mark 13 is one of the traditional texts for this Sunday. Here Jesus speaks about the fact that one day, he will return to earth in an unexpected, unanticipated way to bring life on earth to an end just as he came to earth for the first time as the baby of Bethlehem and also caught the world by surprise.
This day invites us to hold in tension the fact that long ago, few people lived expecting and watching for the coming of Christ’s messiah at Bethlehem. Most missed what was happening. Likewise, one day, Christ will come again and the question is will he be met with the same surprise and by a people unprepared?
In the midst of all of this, is the reminder that alongside these grand arrivals of Christ at Bethlehem and the return of Christ the King at the end of the age, we also live with the hope and expectation of daily encounters with the living God which can also often catch us by surprise. Do we live with the belief that Christ will come and visit us in these normal days just as he came at Bethlehem and will come at the end of the age? We don’t know when it will happen or how, we simply believe that it will. Yet do we live with readiness?
So how do we live ready? How do we get ready for the unknown moments when God will come near both in our daily lives and at the end of the age? Our text offers one word over and over again. We must live life alert. We get ready by being ready. As I have already said, the call here is not for us to embrace a new tradition in this unusual work of watching for the unknown. Instead the call is to remain faithful to a time tested and honored tradition.
Of all of the disciplines of the faith, living alert is one of the most overlooked. To be alert is to remember that Jesus once came to Bethlehem and caught the world by surprise because most were not expecting him there. To be alert is to live every day believing that in the ordinariness of daily life that God does and will reveal himself though we never know how or where. To be alert is to get up every day during this Advent season with the belief that even in this unusual holiday season that we can learn and grow in our faith. To be alert is to know and believe with all of our hearts that one day, Christ will come again and that we must live anticipating that coming at any moment. I want to say again what I said a moment ago, alertness is one of the time tested, traditional disciplines of faith yet most often forgotten.
I began today with talking about the tradition of decorating for Christmas. I want to end there too. I don’t know about you, but, we still hang stockings at our house. Every member of our family has a stocking of their own, even our dog Gourrier. When I see those stockings hanging in front of the fireplace in our living room, I think of the famous line from Clement C. Moore’s poem Twas the Night Before Christmas that says “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.”
Stockings, hung, open, ready with hope or expectation that something exciting is on the way. We don’t know when or how but we keep the tradition, which is the only thing we know to do, of being ready. Let us live our faith this season, with the same expectation. Amen.