“Stop, Look, Listen”
Over at home in Chesterfield we have a family of deer that somehow have claimed the bushes behind our backyard as their homestead. There is mother and her twin does. The come and go at will, but they all love to graze in our backyard, even lying down to rest. We are happy to watch them from our kitchen window and enjoy their presence.
But every now and then, particularly at night, we may walk out from home to find the does grazing on our front yard. Whenever that happens, and as soon as the deer hear noises, they freeze in their places, their ears and eyes pointed in our direction, as we try, as quietly as possible to walk away and continue on our way. The does are hungry, and yet, they are wise enough to realize that their lives depend on stopping, looking, and listening.
The reading from the Gospel of Mark is set in our Lord’s teaching after arriving in Jerusalem and the darkening clouds around Jesus’ ministry. The disciples are intent listening to their Teacher and pondering the meaning of His words – and His actions!
Inevitably, the conversation is centered around the Temple, and all that it meant for the Jewish nation. Even rebuilt at great expense and mostly by compulsory taxation and the wheeling and dealing of the religious leaders of the day, still its significance could not be ignored. “Look, Teacher” – they said – “what large stones and what large buildings!” In answering them, Jesus’ words could not have been more alarming, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down…” (Mark 13:2)
After being told that all they have come to admire would be turned into rubble, their question, “Tell us, when will all this happen?” betrays both alarm and, I can easily imagine, a dash of incredulity. Are there going to be any signs of such calamity, they ask. And so, Jesus patiently explains then their need to stop, to look, and to listen to what He had to say and to do.
“Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near,” (Mark 13:28) said Jesus to his disciples in words meant to us as well.
Advent – the first season in the Christian year, is meant to disrupt our lives calling us to stop, to look, and to listen, and then to be reassured. Advent is a call for us to step down from the squirrel cage of daily living and to take stock of what is going around us. In other words, Advent is a call to be aware, to be fully present, and to rediscover God’s presence in the world.
No; This is not a sermon about a cartoonish “The End is Near.” But what I am trying to communicate is that it will be to our profit to use this season of Advent to its fullest meaning.
I know; We all are looking forward to Christmas and (a manageable amount of) snow, candles and carols – and comfort food! A manger, bonfires, spice, and yes, the ever-growing Christmas shopping list.
But let me suggest that doing so would be like stepping down from the regular squeaky squirrel cage of yesteryear into a brilliantly decorated Christmassy squirrel cage.
Advent is here to tell us that it is OK to slow down or even stop. It is a time to look for the signals of God’s presence in the world – for He has not left us behind. Advent is a call to remember that in His faithfulness, God has called us into an intimate fellowship, and to embrace who we are, for God has embraced us as we are.
Advent is a call to stop, to look, and to listen what God may be saying to us in the struggles of single parents trying to make ends meet, in the gasps of those dying in hospitals and yes, even in the divisive and corrosive spirit running amok in our nation.
Advent is a call to stop, look, and listen to what God may be saying to us in the secret of our hearts: “You are my beloved and blessed child, you are forgiven and accepted, I am dying to meet you and to embrace you back into my fold, filled with hope and joy.”
Finally, Advent is a call to remember that even a glass of water to someone in need will leave an eternal mark of gratitude. It is a time to reach out to those in need, even those who brought misery upon themselves for, is it not what God did and continues doing for us?
“Let your face shine, O God, and we shall be safe,” (Psalm 80:3). Stop, listen, and look for God’s shining face in your life, and like the ancient Maggi, follow the Advent Light in hope, faith, and joy.
“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”