“Most of us depend on our calendar to help us keep track of time. We remember events and appointments in our personal lives, and follow the events of the world around us based on a calendar that turns over a new year on the first of every January. This week, as it does each year, the church gets a head start on the rest of the world by beginning a new year (Year B in the liturgical calendar) on the First Sunday of Advent.
Nora Gallagher uses the church year and its seasons as a framework for her graceful meditation, Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith. "The church calendar," she writes, "calls into consciousness the existence of a world uninhabited by efficiency, a world filled with the excessiveness of saints, ashes, smoke and fire; it fills my heart with both dread and hope."
Todays reading says “Therefore keep awake – for you do not know the when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep Awake.” (Mark 13:37)
Stay awake, be alert, be ready! In the midst of this gospel reading this time is very stressful. The description of end of days when the sun ceases to shine and the moon goes dark and the stars literally falling from the sky. We are being told that this could happen at any given moment. And we will not know that hour till we see it but when we do see it we will know!
I think if I was alive back then and I heard this for the first time, when they had no understanding how the real world and universe works, I would be terrified. I would have no problem staying awake because how could I sleep?
I really do Like Nora Gallagher’s reflection on the Church Year. The liturgical calendar is something very few of us truly live by. However Happy new year! The Church year is literally what a pastor’s life revolves around. The only time we pay attention to the secular calendar is around tax time.
But Nora’s reflection is so elegant and sweet it bears repeating; “’The church calendar,’ she writes, ‘calls into consciousness the existence of a world uninhabited by efficiency, a world filled with the excessiveness of saints, ashes, smoke and fire; it fills my heart with both dread and hope.’”
This season of advent we are watching, watching with hope, with Joy, with Love and with peace. This Sunday we watch with hope, the hope that comes with a small child. What does that hope look like? As we live this church calendar how acutely aware do we become of a world uninhabited by efficiency? Do we see a world filled with excessive saints? Do we taste a world of ash, smoke and fire?
Let’s talk about the lack of efficiency. Being Christian in this mad world is not efficient at all. We are called to run towards pain, hunger, disease and dis-ease. We are called to get out of our comfortable lives and challenge the world around us to be better, we are called to be better, we are called to be in this world as active participants working to bring about the kindom of heaven right here.
How does that happen? What does that look like? It is our relationship with the sacred. It is how we walk seeking that just world for all. The Just world for all campaign is a campaign of the united church of Christ which incorporates the 3 great loves.
“The 3 Great Loves is the denomination’s opportunity to express how our Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation work together to address the inequities in our current world.
Over the course of the next two years, through the lens of the 3 Great Loves, the United Church of Christ tells the story of how we are impacting and transforming the world, united in common purpose and mission.
During these upcoming two years, there will be moments of special invitation to participate in this denomination-wide undertaking. One by one we will focus on each of the 3 Great Loves in service to our communities.
Our expression of love, is and will be our living testimony”
Our living testimony. We are not a church that does altar calls, we do not seek miraculous healings though we do claim and proclaim them. We are a church of action. We are called to the reservations. We are called to the homeless and the hungry. We are called to care for each other and the world the best we can.
In the podcast for a just world, a new program from the United Church of Christ, the narrator speaks of the unique spirituality that embodies this program. She states “When I talk about spirituality I am talking about the demonstration of relationships, the commercial spiritual genre highlights only the relationship between an individual and the disembodied divine, but the embodiment of God's love and justice in Jesus and the demonstration of transforming life-giving relationships infused with liberating action and love. Show us the holiness the presence of God in all of our relationships.”
As we watch for hope it is through our spiritual relationship that not only do we watch for hope but also we are hope. As we seek ways to connect to make better this world it is our knowledge of the embodiment of divine love in Christ and our practice to mirror that love in this world to seek out and offer Gods love and Justice to those who are marginalized and/or in pain that we become the face of Christ, that we are transformed into the hope of the world.
The narrator in the podcast goes on to say “So then discipleship, the process of us walking more closely to Jesus more deeply in the action of love transforming our lives to demonstrate that embodiment which is to become more human while at the same time recognizing more deeply the sacred presence in every person, is part of our path in seeking a just world for all. Maybe it can be called a spirituality of justice. It has everything to do with recognizing our deep interconnectedness to one another, to creation, to God, and demonstrating those relationships in love. Do justice, walk humbly, love mercy… not just in individual interpersonal encounters but at the dinner table, with the food we eat for our bodies and nourishment, who we invite to share it with us, the way we preserve and prepare the food the way it is cultivated in the earth, the way we treat those who tend it along the agricultural supply chain.”
The concept of justice work and food go so hand in hand it can be overwhelming, but it truly is where all the world interconnects “Over 1 billion people are employed in world agriculture, representing 1 in 3 of all workers… Labour force participation rates are usually highest in the poorest countries. More people are employed out of necessity than by choice, as only a fraction of the working-age population can afford not to work. In these countries, low unemployment ﬁgures in conjunction with high labour participation rates result in large swathes engaged in vulnerable employment and many in working poverty.”
As Californians we are rich in agriculture and yet in those wet and rainy months much of our food comes form across the border. During the high production months much of our labor comes from across the border. We need to think about and at the very least be aware of our food and our practices around it
We should think about “If it crossed international borders through the trade policies and what we do with our food waste.”
You see “There is a demonstration of relationship in all of those things. When we remain unconscious to that fact, exploitation easily takes root and the dominant dehumanizing structures and systems are free to grow. But recognizing humanity. And deep interconnection along the way gives us the opportunity to choose life for ourselves. For others. For creation. And to plant seeds of life.”
The whole Gospel of Mark was written about 40 years after the crucifixion during Roman occupation perhaps that is why there is such an urgency to the whole gospel. “The Gospel of Mark moves at breakneck speed centering the sick, the poor, and the demon possessed the literal masses of people marginalized in the economy and systems of Roman occupation.”
Perhaps that is why there is such an urgency to todays message to keep awake, to keep our eyes open. I know in this time it is hard to keep our eyes open. We have witnessed injustice, hateful acts, natural disasters, and wars. We can be tempted to look away.
But we will stay awake, we will watch for the Hope in the world to come and we will strive to be that hope. Even if it means just changing our eating habits to a more sustainable way. Even if it means bringing toys for children. Even if it means just being aware of our global community and how we are all of us, each and every one of us, connected.
Just by watching for hope we become the hope that is embodied in the Christ child. Let us continue to be that hope as we seek a Just world for all.
 Kathyrn Matthews, First sunday of advent year B, accessed December 2, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_december_3_2017.
 Dorhauer, John, Three Great Loves, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017, http://www.ucc.org/3greatloves.
 Tracy Howe Wispelwey, Advent at the Border part 1, November 28, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017, https://soundcloud.com/forajustworld.
 Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations, Labour, accessed December 2, 2017, http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/i2490e/i2490e01b.pdf.
 Tracy Howe Wispelwey, Advent at the Border.