“24 “But in those days, after that time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, 25 the stars will fall from the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory; 27 then the angels will be sent to gather the chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Promised One is near, right at the door. 30 The truth is, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it—neither the angels of heaven, nor the Only Begotten—no one but Abba God. 33 Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.
34 “It is like people traveling abroad. They leave their home and put the workers in charge, each with a certain task, and those who watch at the front gate are ordered to stay on the alert. 35 So stay alert! You do not know when the owner of the house is coming, whether at dusk, at midnight, when the cock crows or at early dawn. 36 Do not let the owner come suddenly and catch you asleep. 37 What l say to you, I say to all: stay alert!””
— The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation by Priests for Equality
Oh, [expletive redacted]! This is the gospel reading for the first week of Advent this year? We start the season with a visual of the sun darkening and the moon losing its brightness? The sky grows dark and the heavens are shaking? Really? The sky over the holy land is darkened and those are not stars falling – those are the air strikes that are killing children in Gaza. Of course, the heavens are shaken – so many of us have been shaken by these events. They point to past history and also to an unknown future.
In some translations, this text instructs us to stay awake. Who can sleep? So many of us are afraid to close our eyes at night because we don’t know what we will find when we open them again. We see these events and we are painfully aware that we are living with eyes wide open but we find it hard to believe what we see. We need the sun and the moon and the stars to help us discern when the day has given over to night. We need something to remind us of the rhythms that keep us alive. How can we enter the Advent season with an image of the disruption of what we know to be so familiar? Oh, that’s exactly how we enter the Advent season…with an image of the disruption of what we know to be so familiar. Violence, poverty, domestic terrorism, hatred, racism, wars and rumors of wars are all too familiar. It is time to disrupt that familiar with a revolutionary Advent.
For us, the sign is not the collapse of the sun, moon, and stars but the collapse of the systems we hold so dear. We rail against them but they are familiar to us and we believe them to be inextricably enmeshed in our lives so it can often feel like we are fighting a part of our own selves. Advent asks us to consider who we might be apart from these systems. When the systems begin to collapse, shake, and fall, who might we be? We might be the free people we have been longing and fighting to become. This is a sign that it is time to re-examine our urge to repair the world, and to ensure that we are repairing what is healthy and resisting, and maybe even removing what is malignant.
We are called to stay alert. We are called to learn to read and interpret the signs. We are called to notice when the time is right for us to make our move. We may not all be called to move at the same time but we will be in sync with the other disruptors. Perhaps the call to stay alert is a call to take our much-needed rest and then also to awaken gently and with the rhythm of the created day and not with the frenzied pace of the system that wants to grind us into dust. Be alert. Be in your body. Be in that precious space that you occupy in the world. That may be the work. But you must be alert to discern for yourself.
What if the stars are not falling from the sky because they have been evicted but they are leaving the sky to co-create a new way forward? Perhaps the stars noticed that the sun and moon were darkened but the work of the world had not been completed. The stars did not stay stuck in the sky because that is how things have always been. They left the sky to continue the work of giving light in a new and courageous way. Perhaps they left the sky to find us and to guide us and to join us in creating the world that is to come.
Advent is not calling us to simply sit with the distress of what has already happened. Advent is calling us to consider that we may have to create a whole new world out of the pieces we have in our hands. We are reminded of the words of bell hooks, “[O]ne of the most vital ways we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone.” (bell hooks (2014). “Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics”, p.227, Routledge) We are called into a community of resistance. We are called into communities so that we know and remember that we do not do this work alone. We do this work in collusion and cooperation with each other and with the sun, moon, stars, and all of creation. We are alert to the work of death-dealing systems and we are alert to the ways that we might participate in birthing something new, something beautiful, something that pulls us from our slumber and into the revolutionary work of repairing the world. Be alert for the star that will guide you…all the way!
God of All Creation,
Holy is your name. As Your kin-dom does come, we pray that Your will would be done on earth with help from heaven. As the stars leave their place in the sky to guide us, may we find ourselves awakened to the signs and strengthened for the journey. Amen and Asé
- What are those pieces in your hands that will be used to co-create something new?
- What systems should be dismantled in your own community and in our world?
Carla Jones Brown (She/Her) is a Teaching Elder in the PCUSA. She is a pastor, preacher, sister, mother, wife, and friend. She enjoys creating on paper and in the kitchen! She longs to see people live in
ways that allow them to clarify their deepest desires and dreams and also to discern where the Holy is leading them! She has served several congregations in Philadelphia and is currently serving as the Senior Pastor at Arch Street Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia.