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[Jesus said:] 25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
On Taking Biscuits Out of the Oven Early
Let us pray:
Teach us to stay awake, Lord
With the time that we all have left.
Remind us that you are arriving
Again and again and again
A new moment to be with you
And your disturbing grace.
Teach us to be awake, alert,
Not these disturbed and worried selves we are today.
In the name of the one we wait for,
“But how do you know?” he asked me.
“You just do, buddy,” I replied. “You touch it with your finger and see how it bounces back. And that’s how you know.”
We were talking about steaks on the grill. Finn, our resident sous chef in the house…seriously, he calls himself that when we cook together…was fascinated by the grill and wanted to know how I knew when the steaks were done.
In my house growing up we only had thermometers for humans. For some reason we never stuck one in our meat to see if it was done. You just kind of knew. Color, smell, and touch. You pay attention. You don’t leave steaks on the grill. You watch them.
Same with biscuits, an art that Rhonda has mastered and I’m still apprenticing in, by the way.
“How long do we put the biscuits in the oven for?” Finn will ask. “For a while,” I’ll say. “But how will we know when they’re done?” he consistently retorts, exasperated.
“We just will,” I say, “because they’ll look done. They’ll be taller, and you’ll see the layers, and the tops will brown a bit, and they’ll be done. But you have to watch.”
You have to watch.
Because you don’t want to take biscuits out of the oven early, Beloved. That’s a breakfast disaster. And, likewise, if you leave them in there too long they become door stops.
You have to watch. Be alert. Be awake.
Advent always begins with that warning phrase for humanity: you have to watch.
Every year Advent begins with these dark and foreboding lessons that talk about the sky falling and the heavenly bodies of sun, moon, and stars, all used as metaphors for God and Christ in the scriptures, mind you, but these heavenly bodies start doing wild things as if to say that something huge, cosmic even, is about to take place.
Has already begun.
So pay attention. Watch.
There is a blessing, Beloved, to times of waiting in our lives. They are frustrating; this is true.
And sometimes the waiting can be unbearable. Especially if we’re waiting for a baby. For a diagnosis. For a job. For a failed relationship to heal. For our bodies to heal.
But we must remember that the Psalmist sings that God is both in the highest heavens and in the deepest pits. And therefore everywhere in-between those places, in the journey between, in the waiting to arrive. With all of our Advent talk about shining lights in the darkness of the world, we have to remember that God is in the darkness, too…waiting with us. God may be silent, but God is still present.
I remember sitting in prayer with a mentor once. And we were just sitting there in silence, and I kept opening my eye and peeking out at him, afraid I was missing something. Like, I don’t know what I was afraid I’d miss. Maybe him levitating or something.
He just sat there, serene in his face, meditating. And I fidgeted, and shifted, and sometimes would sigh or clear my throat or crack my knuckles.
I was sure he’d fallen asleep or something.
And finally he cleared his throat and said, “Tim, what are you waiting for?”
“For this to be over,” I said with a chuckle.
“Then,” he said, “you’re not ready yet. Then,” he said, “it’s not over.”
You can’t take the biscuits out until they’re ready, Beloved.
This is the spiritual lesson that God teaches us in Advent.
And see, here’s the thing, Jesus in this passage talks about the sun changing and the stars falling and all sorts of crazy, cosmic things happening. And humans read the Left Behind series which totally ruined a whole bunch of theology out there and we’re still cleaning up the mess from those fictional, FICTIONAL, books.
But people started looking at wars and global events as signs of the end times. They still do. We always have, I guessed, but it got super crazy in my lifetime after those books…
But they’ve missed it, Beloved. They’ve missed it. Jesus said “Pay attention,” and we missed it.
Because you don’t need to look to the end of time, just to the end of the Gospel of Luke. Or Mark. Or Matthew. Or John. Because at the crucifixion, the writers say that God hanging on the tools of our violence and destruction had cosmic consequences. In the same way that the heavens shown through a star that God had become flesh, at the crucifixion the heavens bore witness to the creator’s pain and death. That it was like the sun darkened, and the heavens shook and trembled, and as Jesus says, “Pay attention because salvation is at hand!”
The cross is the end of time, Beloved. The end of the time that sin and death had power over us. The disciples almost slept through it, and ran away from it, but it happened.
And notice this. Notice that Jesus didn’t rise from the grave on Friday. Or even on Saturday.
God waited. Because humanity has to take time to process. Because seeds don’t grow over night. Because life doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. Because biscuits don’t rise in a second.
And you can’t rush these things, Beloved. You can’t rush these things…
When it comes to God, when it comes to new life, when it comes to all life, the lesson of Advent is that the waiting is as important as anything else.
Because there are things to be learned in the waiting. Or, as a spiritual mentor of mine once said, “Let no crisis go to waste! There is always something to be learned…”
So, some things I’m learning this Advent:
-to wait. I don’t do it patiently, mind you, but I’m trying to do it. Wait. Don’t try to resolve things too quickly in my life, in your life, wait.
-to be awake. To not be distracted by the worries that come with waiting, but to hold my eyes open.
-to remind myself that my story is a story of hope, when it is mixed with God’s sacred story. God pointed Abraham to the stars, reminding him that his family, which we are a part of in Christ, numbers as many as those stars, and even when it seems those stars begin to fall, I begin to the fall, God’s promise of love never falls.
-to remember that salvation has already happened. Is always happening. And so if I’m only waiting for “the sign from God” on something I might miss the importance of waiting at all because redemption is always in process.
-and, Beloved, I’m still learning to not take the biscuits out of the oven early. A reminder that I’m still imperfect, still in process, and that sometimes we have to practice waiting to eventually get it right.
Which, of course, is why we have Advent every year. Because we need to be taught how to practice waiting, to watch, every year.