The Gift of Alienation

Through Advent, I will be writing reflections on the lectionary texts for the website Light Reflections, and reposting them here. Hope you enjoy! Please feel free to use any of them in sermon, teaching or other church education type prep.

WEEK 1: Luke 21:25-36
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.’

29 Then 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.’

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I always used to be puzzled by these images of a wild and violent nature announcing the arrival of something spiritual. They struck me as mythical and strange, reminding me too much of a Shakespearean literary device for me to take them seriously.

Unfortunately, these days, it seems not a week can pass without the earth’s distress erupting in the confusion of nations, or without the seas, waves and winds turning to the shores in attack – or, perhaps, defense. Such images produce rich literary meaning when we encounter them in our great poetry and prose. But what theological meaning do they reveal when we read them in our Scriptures?

Should we allegorize them, dismiss them as metaphor? Should we read them literally, wondering what particular geographical location gives a front-row seat to the Son of Man’s cloud-carried arrival? Or is there something in between these options – some deeper, spiritual reality borne to us by strangeness that can expose us to mystery and wonder?

I always used to be puzzled by these images of a wild and violent nature announcing the arrival of something spiritual – that is, until the summer of this year.

My husband and I took the month of June to walk the ancient Christian pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago. We began in France, just over the Spanish border, and then took thirty days to walk to the cathedral where St. James’ bones were entombed – about 850km, give or take a few.

And so for a month we walked through the outskirts of a society that grew more and more alien to us. The spiritual practice of putting one foot in front of the other into steps that had been trod by thousands of feet for over a thousand years drew our bodies out of the time and space that held the rest of society captive. As pilgrims, the time and space in and through which we moved lost its grip on us and we began living in some version of elsewhere.

I always used to be puzzled by these images of a wild and violent nature announcing the arrival of something spiritual, then, until about five kilometers before my walk’s end.

In Santiago, the sky is strange. The colours swirl in mystery; clouds and winds form gorgeous, threatening patterns that dance upon and drown the city underneath. In Santiago, there is a sublime difference between those who have driven there and those who have walked. Only we who have walked, it seems, can see the sky for what it is.

Only we who have walked know how much the outpouring of alienation and anticipation, exhausted despair and bright purple hope, and every wish and dream and fear and desire of thousands of people walking with intention for over a thousand years can change their destination’s very atmosphere.

The confusing, mysterious majesty of a spirit filled sky – a spirit filled sky that eludes our ability to understand it – is what marks the next four weeks for us as Christians. These are the weeks in which we look for signs; we look for signs that will give us the gift of alienation from the society around us so that we can step out of the bustling worries of this life to see the truth.

Be alert, as the gospel writer says, so that these mysterious and wondrous signs will turn your anticipation to the coming of Jesus – to the hope that this season, he will be born once more.

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The image used is Santiago Sky by Maria Luisa Hernandez

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