We now enter the period of Advent, the beginning of the church year and the count down to Christmas. How much different Advent looks in modern society than it did when first practised in the Christian year.
Today the period of Advent, the days and weeks leading up to Christmas is all about festivities, commercial mayhem, political correctness and a consumer binge our early church elders could never have imagined. Apart from Santa and reindeers and elves and Mrs Claus and figgy pudding and socks that sing carols, Advent has become peppered with inane piped carols, sparkly tinsel and fake stars, both human and ornamental.
Advent has become all about celebrations, parties, exquisite Christmas dinners with relatives you hope only to see once a year and unwanted gifts you drop into the op shop as soon as it is respectable. Advent and Christmas has become a gooey festival all about a birth, the story of which we have mangled beyond recognition.
This is not Advent or Christmas. Advent was and is a counterpart of Lent, a period before the two pivotal events in the Christmas Calendar during which we are to contemplate the transcendence of the Godhead and the relationship we as a community and as individuals have with that Godhead. It is a period in which we are to contemplate our complete dependence on the grace and generosity of the one who created all and who set about giving us life in all its fullness.
Mark, it has been said, is writing in this passage about that Mark during the Jewish revolt against Rome, and is encouraging his community not to participate in the rebel’s revolt. The key idea he returns to is that we are to stay awake, be fully conscious, because the fulfilment of reign of God will come not in that which we see or that which we want to make happen, but in the unexpected.
- Stay Awake and be aware that not all that promises freedom does so. The uprising against the Romans may seen as a means to freedom but will in fact end in disaster for all involved. Do not let your frustration and anger invite you into a place where there can only be one winner. This will end as it started, with the Romans more forcibly in power.
- Stay awake and be aware of your own actions and words and how they may in fact add fuel to the fire and bring about the very outcome you wish to avoid. Any encouragement you give to those involved in this uprising which promises false hope will make you complicit in the outcome that is foreseeable.
- Stay awake and be aware that God does not work through violence, especially violence as a response to violence. There can be no other outcome than both an escalation of violence and the supremacy of those with the power.
So Marks Jesus has a direct response to a societal issue of his times. How does that speak to us in our days and how do we stay awake in the midst of the violence of consumerism and false happiness?
We are to stay awake by using this period of Advent to reflect on our complicity in the supremacy of consumerism and the enslavement of all to the god of possessions.
We are to stay awake to the false hope to be found in what we are waiting for; that this year Christmas will be a time when all our family gets together, even the ones we never see, those we have fallen out with and those we don’t particularly like that we will find happiness of the prawns and roast turkey.
We are to stay awake to the false hope of privilege in a world where many have no where to sleep, no food to eat, no hope of employment and no way to rectify these issues.
We are to stay awake to the complicity of privilege in this country and in countries around the world where we benefit by dint of the colonial project that swept the world in 16, 17 and 81th century.
Marks Jesus asks us to stay awake and be conscious of the sovereignty of God that stands in direct opposition to the gods we now worship, whether those gods are the gods of war his and modern people were and are being asked to participate in or the gods of consumerism and privilege we as modern Australian are being not so gently cajoled into.
What are we waiting for at Christmas? What are we to stay awake for?
It is not an answer that sits comfortably with the propaganda we hear. As Rowan Williams says, we rarely think about what we think and why we think that way. Our inability to contemplate or think of ourselves as being fully complicit in the way the world is means it will continue because we continue in denial.
This advent, let us stay awake, not just to what we see and think about others, but to what we seen within and think about ourselves and allow the judgement embedded in the story of the birth to disturb and recalibrate our thinking and engagement with the world.
It is after all the reason for the season.