Let go of distractions. A challenge for Advent.

Advent 1—Year C, Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-9, I Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

Advent 1. The first Sunday of Advent. The beginning of a whole new year in the church. Don’t you think we could have a little bit of a celebratory atmosphere? Can’t we at least make this as big a deal as we do New Year’s Eve? Maybe some party favors and balloons? But noooo. Jesus gives us apocalyptic doom. Jesus gives us weird things going on in the sun and moon and stars. Jesus gives us roaring seas and huge waves, the stuff of hurricanes. Jesus gives us nations in distress. Jesus doesn’t give us a party. Jesus gives us absolute, total, utter chaos. Happy New Year.

But take a look around the world. Storms are wreaking havoc. Wars and rumors of war. Nations in distress across the globe. There may be a pause on December 31st to have a party, but chaos really is the order of the day.

And this is where the gospel is infinitely good news.

Because in the midst of all this chaos, Jesus gives us another image—that of the fig tree and all the trees. “When you see them sprout their leaves, you know that summer is near…So too, when you see the chaos, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Now, Jesus could have just as easily said, “When you see the fig tree drop her leaves, you know that winter is settling in,” but Jesus didn’t say that; he pointed to an image of new life and growth, not death. Chaos has always been the stuff out of which God creates new life. In the beginning, God moved over the chaos and the wind of God swept over the waters and creation was born. In and amongst all the chaos that surrounds us, in the world, in our lives, leaves are sprouting, new life is coming into being, the kingdom of God is near. Can you see it? Can you hear? Can you smell it? Can you feel it?

Jesus goes on to warn us, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly…” It is so easy for our hearts to get weighed down. It is so tempting to want to drown out our fears with dissipation and drunkenness. I actually had to look up dissipation to see what that meant. It means “a wasteful expenditure, intemperate living, an act of self-indulgence, amusement.” This is just a fancy way of saying “all the things we do in this life to distract ourselves from experiencing that which is real or difficult.” Drunkeness can stand in for all the things we do to numb ourselves to life. And the worries of this life speak for themselves. How often do these worries rob us of the present moment because we are living our lives a week from now or a year from now or ten years from now? Jesus is calling out to us today, “Don’t be distracted! Pay attention! Stay awake because the kingdom of God is so near; it’s all around you, but it’s as subtle as the leaves starting to sprout. If you’re eyes aren’t open, you will miss it.”

Far from being a wet blanket on our New Year’s celebration, Jesus is infinitely hopeful. “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Stand up, raise your heads, your redemption is drawing near. Your birth into a new creation is in the midst of all this chaos.

The task before us in this season of Advent is to let go of the distractions that keep our hearts weighed down, so that our hearts can perceive the way that God is breaking into our world all around us. A new thing is about to be born—the Son of Man in glory, the babe in Bethlehem, God made flesh in us. Take notice of the chaos, but don’t fear it. Be on guard that the distractions that are everywhere not weigh down your heart. It takes a subtle eye to catch those first buds, but they are sprouting everywhere.

Stand up, raise your heads, it’s not just a new year we’re celebrating, but the promise of a new creation for those whose hearts are light enough to perceive it. Amen.

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
December 2, 2012