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AfterWords: Falling Skies and Fig Leaves (November 28, 2021)

Advent 2021
1. Raise Up Your Heads (Hope – November 28, 2021)
2. AfterWords: Falling Skies and Fig Leaves (November 28, 2021)
3. A Liturgy As Big As Life: We Will Keep the Feast (Peace – December 5, 2021)
4. AfterWords: Feasting with Friends (December 5, 2021)
5. Joy in the Middle of It (Joy – December 12, 2021)
6. AfterWords: Wending Through Unknown Country (December 12, 2021)
7. Nativity Family Sunday (Love – December 19, 2021)
8. AfterWords: Ugly-Crying at the Cathedral (December 19, 2021)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-minute read (3 Good Minutes, I hope!)

You guys. 

I’m honored (and a little giddy) to be here, in this space.

When Jordan and Morgan (the -ANs) asked me about writing a weekly blog post riffing on Sunday’s messages, I thought: Who, me? It was as if the cool kid had asked me to the dance. Now: what to wear? Friends, bear with me as I try this on for size. And know that these inklings do not reflect the views of The Parish, the ANs, or cool kids anywhere. 

Advent is here, a season with a sparse, serious side. I respect that. But also: YAY. Christmas is coming!

Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days—sort of. Advent 2021 is wrapping up a year that, in some respects, can be described as a dumpster fire—redux. Everything, even the holidays, feels a bit… off.

This Advent, sometimes I feel like I’m hobbling toward hope, too tired to look for the light. Honestly, there are moments I’m just not in the mood. But ready or not, the liturgical calendar has flipped a page.

I love that The Parish observes the church year. On Sunday, we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath—and not on Zoom! And we had the honor of hearing from Jordan’s older sibling, Luke. (I can’t help but think of him as Brother Luke.) He untangled a tough passage: Luke 21 and Jesus’s warning of sci-fi-style, cosmic disorder. Jesus segues into a promise of redemption. Oh, and there’s parable about a fig tree.

Following the last few years’ unique brand of chaos, it’s upon us again: a season that asks us to lift our heads and see God’s kingdom come. Can you see it?

Maybe you see what I see in our country, our neighborhoods, even our families: “sad divisions,” as Jordan mentioned in prayer. We don’t trust one another. I’d go as far as to say we don’t like one another, at least not those who don’t—won’t!—share our pet outrages and opinions. We are slow to listen and quick to speak. We prefer to have the last word, thank you very much.

That’s the bad news, or some of it. I’m good at bad news. By that I mean: I’ve developed mad skills for finding what’s missing, what’s lost, what’s not here. Perhaps a new lens is in order, one that brings into focus the Last Word—”the bigger story,” as Jordan put it.

We lose sight of the Last Word. In the blur of these strange days, we run around like Chicken Little, crying that the sky is falling. In Luke 21, the sky is literally falling. But Jesus, the same Jesus who calmed the storm as his friends were freaking out, invites us to behold restoration, reconciliation, re-creation. The celestial catastrophe to come—as well as the earthly one at hand—is not the end of all things, but, as Luke said, labor pains.

Long lay the world, in sin and error pining…

The light shows up in the dark, regardless of whether I’m in the mood for chasing it. The light chases me.

Till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.

God is good at good news. (News outlets, not so much.)

Luke implored us to ask God to show us: What might redemption look like during this challenging chapter? As stuff comes unglued, can we fathom “on earth as it is in heaven”?

(Side note: We tend to think we’re so singular, muddling through these “unprecedented times.” But there’s plenty of precedent for pain, strife, and uncertainty. Case in point: the history of humankind.)

Point blank, Luke asked us: What are we thirsty for? What are we hoping for?

Not this, is my first-instinct answer. Not more of the same. Then I’m kind of stumped. What’s on my wish list? A kinder, gentler Twitter? Dinner party conversation that’s always congenial, never contentious? Peace on earth, goodwill to men? While I’m at it, goodwill toward me, my way, my kingdom come. Now we’re talking.

Or… a fig tree, sprouting leaves so we “know that summer is near” (Luke 21:30). What an odd juxtaposition of images: falling skies and budding leaves. Jesus is so random. (The best people are.)

Perhaps hoping for not this is an okay start, a tiny green leaf. Because I can’t for the life of me order up the next right thing. I don’t have to, thanks be to God, who has in mind more than I can ask or imagine. He’s up to his usual tricks, making things new, bit by bit, leaf by leaf. May we have eyes to see.

What are you hoping for?

I’ll leave you with a leaf—rather, a whole mess of leaves. Not fig leaves, but leaves nonetheless. Leave it to the poets to remind us what is here.

When I Am Among the Trees
Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

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