Read these Lectionary readings for November 27, 2011: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory…Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
Mark 13:24-26

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent is an alarming one—full of violent images and ominous predictions.  It is a harsh beginning to such a holy season and if it wasn’t for the discipline of following the lectionary schedule, I would not be reading and reflecting on this passage right now!

But the truth is, the scenario described here is much closer to our reality these days than the dreamy images of beautiful angels, lowing cattle and nursing mothers that we associate with this season.  At the global level, our days and nights are filled with images of the unresolved tensions of clashing nations, economic upheaval, violent interpersonal conflict, and alarming weather patterns.  At a more personal level, we are plagued by our own confusion and distress about conflicts we can’t resolve, questions we can’t answer, and moral failure among ourselves and others that cause us to question the very Gospel message we preach.

This passage helps us to be honest about the places in our own lives that are full of confusion and distress, fear and foreboding.  It tells us that in these very places we are to wait for the Son of Man to come into our lives with power and glory.  Advent is not the time to run away and hide our heads in the sand.  It is a time to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.  It is a time for us to be awake and alert so we will not miss the Light that dawns in the dark places of our own lives that feel desolate, confusing and beyond hope.

For the darkness of waiting
of not knowing what is to come
of staying ready and quiet and attentive,
we praise you, O God:

For the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of staying silent
for the terror of having nothing to say
and for the greater terror
of needing to say nothing,
we praise you, O God:

For the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of loving
in which it is safe to surrender
to let go of our self-protection
and to stop holding back our desire,
we praise you, O God:

For the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of choosing
when you give us the moment
to speak, and act, and change,
and we cannot know what we have set in motion,
but we still have to take the risk,
we praise you, O God:

For the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of hoping
in a world which longs for you,
for the wrestling and laboring of all creation
for wholeness and justice and freedom,
we praise you, O God.

For the darkness and the light
Are both alike to you.

[1] Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year, Janet Morley, ed. (Mary Knoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992), p. 22, 23. Used by permission.

©Ruth Haley Barton, 2011. Feel free to share this article using the buttons below; please do not reproduce and distribute without permission.

Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center.  A teacher, spiritual director, and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (June 2012) and Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.

So where is the place of your own distress and confusion, your own fear and foreboding?  Do you have the courage to wait for the coming of Christ there?

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