By John Barrett
The Gospel author Mark sets the tone this Advent season in saying “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” This Advent season seems different to me. Usually, the beginning of Advent breaks into my otherwise ebb and flow late November and heightens my anticipation for the coming of the Lord.
But the tumultuous events of this year have forced me to be watchful and alert long before this first week of Advent.
I’ve been watchful and alert of the pandemic as the staggering amount of cases have gripped me in fear and changed my very livelihood. I’ve been watchful and alert of the integrity of our democracy as the election has been marred by inflammatory rhetoric. I’ve been watchful and alert of deep-seated racial injustices that have made me re-evaluate our nation’s capacity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, Mark has not just set the tone for Advent, he has set the tone for 2020.
I can’t help but to feel guilty this Advent season. I don’t think it’s fair for God to expect me to be even more watchful and alert of what’s going on in my world. Isaiah magnifies what little capacity for waiting I have left: “We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.”
So how can the leaf stay connected to its branch this Advent lest it blow away in the wind?
Paul calms me down as he reminds me that “the testimony to Christ was confirmed among me, so that I am not lacking in any spiritual gift as I wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I teach ninth grade Theology. My students and I spend an entire unit grappling with this term, revelation. The word itself derives from the Latin, “to remove the veil.” The beauty of this unit comes in its culmination when my students and I discover that in God’s revelation, the veil removed does not merely show us a what, but a who; not just an object, but a subject.
As I grow mindful of this reality, my guilt this Advent season diminishes. Mark isn’t asking me to be watchful and alert of more “whats”, more objects. Rather, Mark challenges me to be watchful and alert of the “who”, the eternal subject who is God!
So, this Advent, I choose to be in relationship with the extraordinary God who reveals Godself in the ordinary events of my life: a pandemic, an election, a movement for racial justice.
I choose to be watchful and be alert, not just of the many exhausting “whats,” but of the eternal “Who” who reconnects His scattered leaves to their proper branches.
And even though I don’t know when the time will come, I wait in joyful hope that the potter might find me working and see a little bit of himself in the clay of his creation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Barrett is a Cleveland native who spends most of his time teaching ninth grade Theology, enjoying the company of his family and friends, and fly-fishing on the Rocky River. John teaches courses on Scripture and Christology and encourages his students to approach course material with Jacob - the Old Testament figure - in mind. John encourages students to adopt Jacob’s encounter with the Angel of the Lord by wrestling with the material in front of them even if it means they leave the experience a changed person.