Mark 13:24-37 and For the New Year, 1981 by Denise Levertov
December 3rd, 2023
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Welcome again on this first Sunday of Advent! Today we begin a new liturgical year, a new season on our spiritual journeys and it feels important to ritualize these shifts. Thank you to our crew who adorned this space lovingly yesterday!
I invite you as you are moved to take some deeper breathes, tuning into deeper things aiming to hear beyond the surface whatever message there is for each of us.
God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Things on planet earth seem quite difficult right now.
Are you with me?
We worry about the changes that are here and that are coming on our warmest year ever recorded.
Our kids are more anxious than ever.
Our communities feel fragmented.
Many systems are broken.
And war rages on. In more than one place.
The very place where tradition starts this story for Christians, the city that Christian Tradition notes as the place of Jesus’ birth will not hold any celebrations this year. In Bethlehem, Christmas is canceled. The large tree in Manger Square won’t be adorned with the usual array of lights. There won’t be any decorations and there won’t be any public celebrations.
How do we have hope right now? What does that even mean? In a time like this?
The part that we heard from the Gospel of Mark speaks of a time of suffering, where things are so dire that that the sun has been darkened and the moon is hard to see and the stars above, the shooting stars are the only thing that gives light. It’s apocalyptic literature from another time, from an earlier iteration of the human mind, but I think it could describe some of how we feel right now. It does feel as if all of heavens are being shaken.
And you might not be surprised to know that some read this text, and interpret it to mean that total destruction is something to root for almost because it means that God is now ready to take just some people into another realm. “Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven….Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away…” so, “Keep awake.”
But a literal interpretation keeps it all on the surface. What if there is more here? What if this text is pointing to the fact that when things are quite difficult, when we worry about all of the changes that are here and coming, when we are anxious, when we feel fragmented, when things are broken, when the sun has been darkened and the moon is hard to see and the stars above are the only thing that gives light, keep awake.
The Greek word, egeiró, keep awake, we get that multiple times in our sacred text and its more like to raise up, to be raised up. So I wonder if this is story is really about our call as people of faith to raise our consciousness! To go higher when the world is all down here.
What if hope is not a philosophy or something abstract? What if it comes in part from refusing to be numb and seeing our role as among those who don’t give up?
Steven Charleston, a member of the Choctaw Nation, a poet, a justice leader and an Episcopal Bishop suggests that hope is a tool.
He writes, “Hope is a tool to create light, a spark that can suddenly illuminate the gloom that creeps into our lives. The reason we have faith as the tinder and blessing as the spark is so we can have hope-the first flame of light in the darkness.”
Therefore in a time like this, how do we find hope? In a time of suffering, when it feels like the sun has been darkened what if we find hope by continuing to raise our consciousness, getting above the chaos and confusion however we can, so that this tool that is hope is visible to us, so that this spark can show the way forward can be seen by us and so that we can know for sure when it comes into our lives.
There is so much that is wrong and so much suffering and so many lives lost and still there are sparks… Even in horror, there is humanity miraculously but we must look for it.
Maybe you read or watched the interview with 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, a Jewish woman taken hostage from her Kibbutz but among the first to be released at the end of October. She shared that when she arrived to the area where they were held, the guards told the group that they were Muslims and that they weren’t going to hurt them. They were then seen by paramedics and a doctor and given medicine and toiletries. And the hostages all shared and ate the same food together.
It turns out that before brilliant Brown University math student Hisham Awartani was shot while walking with his friends in Burlington, VT simply for speaking Arabic and wearing the traditional scarf of the Palestinians, it turns out that earlier in November, he attended a vigil with other students and he made connections with Jewish students on campus then they met together and shared a shabbat meal. These same Jewish students are now holding a sit in for their friend. outside of the office of the President of Brown University.
Even in the horror, there is humanity and there is hope but we must see it look for it and tune our hearts to it!
“Hope is a tool to create light, a spark that can suddenly illuminate the gloom that creeps into our lives.”
So Community, let us take a moment and I invite you to take a deep breath and then we will take some time as we are moved to reflect with those around us and if you are still pondering its fine to say that you are still pondering.
How do you find hope?
Beloved of God, let us keep raising our consciousness, let us refuse to go numb, let us see hope as a tool in an act of defiance, let us share the spark. As the poet Denise Levertov wrote, hope grows when it is shared.
So beloveds, here is some hope, let me break off a fragment for you and please take it, even though it seems like a small grain because I don’t want mine to shrink and I want yours to grow and this how it goes, only so by division, this is how hope will increase!
May it be so. Amen!