“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
We are told that we will see our redemption coming. In fact, the warnings say that everyone will see it. Everyone will be pointing at something on the horizon. We are told that, oddly enough, it will likely be broadcast on the news feed that runs across the bottom of your television screen.
Does it ever seem like that to you? Does it ever feel like that? Think about what we hear or read in the news or in our social media feeds. What is filling our attention there? It sometimes seems like nothing else can possibly happen today except maybe, well, maybe we just utter a prayer, “Lord, Come quickly!”
But that’s just how it will happen.
It will appear as if everything is lining up, like everyone is ready. Everyone will be pointing to this sign and that. Perhaps they’ll be shaking their heads, saying “I don’t remember it ever being like this.”
There will be disaster after disaster. And each one will be the worst one ever.
Then, says Jesus, know — KNOW! — know that redemption is around the corner. Know that redemption is around the corner.
That’s hard, though, isn’t it? … Some days, everything seems imminent and threatening. Some days, our own disasters color every breath we take. In those moments, some people will cry aloud that the world is finished. They claim that some mythical way of life that hasn’t ever really been as pristine as in their memory, is dissolving. At the same time, others will pray that it is just beginning, that God is in the process of starting something new.
Did you notice that in the Gospel? Some people will be pointing at disaster. While others will be pointing at redemption.
But Redemption is not an event. It is a state. It is not a once-in-a-lifetime (or even an end-of-civilization) moment, but it is a condition of God’s very being.
When we hear apocalyptic whatever, when we see signs and hear vague and vicious fear, we have to remember that God IS redeeming us even now. God IS moving. God IS showing up. Right now. Even now.
One of my favorite books from my childhood is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved it because of the adventure, that lovely trio of odd witches, and the time travel. In the story, there is something called a tesseract which, by the way, I was extremely delighted to find out as an adult, is a real and true thing in geometry and physics. In the story, though, time travel was possible because if you were going from point A to point B, you could get there faster if the points folded up so all you had to do was step from one to another. There! Time travel solved! You’re welcome.
But there are two kinds of time we can think about. They come from the greek words KAIROS and CHRONOS. Which have always sounded a bit like exotic islands where Survivor is filmed, or twins born to some celebrity who just HAS to have unique names. KAIROS and CHRONOS.
With CHRONOS there is the sense that time is linear and experienced as the days pass in turn. This is, of course where we get Chronology from. But on the other hand, there is the sense — and I know you’ve experienced this — there are the moments when time stands still, when the world opens up. This KAIROS is the kind of time in which everything happens, the moments that contain all that there is. Imagine. The moment of creation. In that moment, it’s all in there. It is all that there is.
So, Kairos is about how to read the time on God’s watch. We might be looking at the headlines as we mark our days or at the Doomsday clock (which has recently been brought back into focus with current tensions in the world), but God looks around and says . . . “Now.”
“Now is the time of my redemption.”
God says “I know things look bad. BUT….Stand up! Pay attention!”
Truly, redemption is coming. . . . And it will look terrible, because God comes to redeem us in our brokenness.
We are never at our best when God shows up. And, frankly, neither is God. Look at the stories that we have of the nativity and epiphany.
Epiphany especially is a failure — our pageant in a few weeks will be a lovely story about wise kings who seek the savior, but really, it is about looking for God in all the wrong places. A series of assumptions about where God shows up. And this happens again and again. I know it does in my life.
And we, too, on THIS side of Advent, if we are looking for the God-who-redeems, God-who gains possession of this world, where should we look? Where should we even begin?
Well what we already know about this story should give us a clue. Jesus was born into and remained in the margins of society. He spent time with the broken and the outcast. He told people who had been devastated by either their own choices, or the systems they were born into, that what separated them from God had been cast away. He defined faith as seeking God fully and claimed that it made us whole in spite of our holes. He turned the devastation of people’s lives on its head and showed that God keeps showing up, keeps redeeming that which is broken.
That is why, when we hear the news reports and the campaign speeches, and we watch the videos and read the Facebook posts, we aren’t supposed to shake our head and move on. We aren’t supposed to pile on. And we aren’t supposed to link the notion of fear with any particular person or people. We, the body of Christ, are asked to “Stand up and Raise up your head.” We are told to pay attention!
If we feel our anxiety rising, we are not to look at the source, but to its end. We are supposed to notice that the anxiety and fear are not the bits that are from God.
The point of it all is to show us Where to expect God. I mentioned earlier that redemption is a state. But it is more than that. It is a place. It is the place that God enters the world.
And the place that I need God to enter my world, the place I need redemption, looks a lot like devastation.
So, if I pay attention as the world seems to fall apart, I will see where God is moving, where redemption is about to spring up. If I stand up and raise my head, I will look for God’s coming, and notice the devastation that God wants to take possession of.
If I look for God today, I will look for God in any refugee who is slowly on the run, who has not suddenly decided to move across mountains and oceans for a better life, but who quite truly has no where left to run from the hell that hunts them.
[holding up a red Starbucks coffee cup] But I probably won’t look for God in the color of my coffee cup, counting the presence or absence of snowflakes as a personal assault. You know what this is. This is a cup. And it is Anxiety.
However, I will hope for God to appear in the fishing communities of Brazil who have been devastated for decades to come by toxic sludge from the mining disaster.
I will look for God in our own inability to care for our own vulnerable citizens AND, equally, in our inability to equip them with the tools to care for themselves.
I will look for God in my own pain and loss that unhinges my world. I will pay attention. I will look to the margins — the margins of the world, and the shadows of my heart.
That is where God is moving. Right now. Even now. Redemption is coming.
Some are pointing at the signs. They “faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” But others point at God, moving, breathing out redemption. Claiming us and all God has made as beloved.
God enters our world in the middle of our devastation. What kind of god would be worthy of your belief if they met you anywhere else?
The Rev. Alan B. Cowart
Advent 1, Year C
29 November 2015
Grace Episcopal Church