an abundance of caution

I told my congregation this morning that the Advent texts – which are pretty apocalyptic – always seem too bombastic for the season that takes over in middle-class America right about now. These texts are full of God’s coming judgement, enemies getting defeated, wrongs being righted, adversaries destroyed, cosmos being restored to their proper balance. In normal years, the passage that today’s verse is from feels…excessive:

But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light,

 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
    and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

2020 is different, though. This year FEELS apocalyptic, at least for those of us who’ve been living with so much privilege that we’ve been able to ignore or block out the generations of suffering that brought us to this place.

Mark’s apocalypse says to “beware, keep alert. No one knows when all this will happen. Keep awake. Watch out. Use AN ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION.”

“Apocalypse” means “unveiling.” It isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but it is a revelation in the purest sense. We have certainly received an apocalypse this year. I have felt it most intensely in the unveiling of the kinds of cruelty that the people I come from have been willing to participate in exacting out of others. 250,000 people died because, among a few other reasons, church people refused to worship in ways other than in-person gatherings. I have been uncovering my own veiled white supremacy and as I acknowledge my own complicity it becomes impossible to ignore the continuing cruelty of religious institutions that shaped me. We white people mostly assumed that our government had the peoples’ interest at heart; we learned that we were very, very wrong. We white people assumed that the rule of law and the nation’s systems and structures would keep a narcissistic maniac in check; they did not.

“Watch out,” Mark says. No one knows the day or the hour that this unveiling will happen. Keep awake.

I do not think this unveiling is anywhere near over. I think we’ll be living in apocalypse for generations, yet. Theologian Kelly Brown Douglas says that God’s justice isn’t complete until every person – every single one – has experienced liberation; until every one knows that they are free. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but there are millions – billions – of God’s children still in bondage because of human greed, human lust for power-over, human neglect.

So, we wait, with an abundance of caution, our eyes open and our hearts ready. Because when the sun goes dark and the stars fall from the sky; when God’s justice arrives it will be very, very, very good news for some [Jesus says he’s come for the poor, the prisoners, and the sick]. And the Good News for Everyone will also feel like some Very Bad News for those of us who’ve chosen to stay asleep, to throw caution to the wind, to live our lives as if we are the only ones who matter, as if we are not caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, as if your well-being is not intimately tied to my own.

I am so furious as the selfishness all around us this year: selfishness of refusing to wear masks, selfishness of voting for a man who promises to preserve our white supremacist stratification, selfishness of closing ears to the cries of Black people being killed by police, selfishness of activists claiming “religious liberty” all the way to the Supreme Court. I am so furious.

Nobody knows the day or the hour. We best get our priorities straight, and soon. LOVE. YOUR. NEIGHBOR.

This is the first in a series of Advent reflections, part of the #unmuteyourself devotional.

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