Advent, Day 6: The Man in Red, and the Son of Man

Today’s reading: Mark 13:24-37

I have to make a confession: when I first clicked on the scripture link from, and saw that today’s reading was one of Those Apocalyptic Texts, I literally groaned out loud.

Not that I don’t LIKE apocalyptic texts… I do, as much as the next person! (Ha!) But they are hard, especially as an Advent reflection and especially as a daily blog reflection where I simply don’t do any homework before I start writing. Apocalyptic texts practically cry out to have homework done about them. The symbolism… the metaphor… even—if you take them that way—the literality demand some pretty heavy study. (If you’re a person who believes that even apocalyptic texts can be read in a simple, clear-cut way, more power to you….. but I think verses like #30, which says “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” tend to make things a bit complex. Considering that the generation who first heard those words “passed away” nearly 2000 years ago. Now, I’m not trying to stir up trouble here… I’m just saying… it’s complicated.)

Far more complicated than I can delve into in this little corner of the WWW.

What I can do, though, it let my attention be drawn to one small piece of the text, and settle down there, and explore a bit. Once in a prayer practice called lectio divina I heard this referred to as “paying attention to where the scripture seems to glimmer” for you–this makes sense to me, as I often find my attention drawn to one small image, phrase, or idea from a scripture reading… and not necessarily to what may seem to be the main “point” of the passage. (This, I think, is one of the great gifts of the Word; it is so rich, so powerful, so personal, and so alive that it “glimmers” from every facet, even the smallest!)

Here’s where I saw glimmers today:

Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know 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.   (v. 35-36)

What a contrast to the message I most remember (and, as a mother, I most often GIVE) at Christmastime: Santa can’t come until you’re asleep!

I know a lot of parents worry about whether their kids will understand the difference between Santa and Jesus… will “the truth” about Santa cause them to question The Truth about Jesus? Personally I think that children typically have a much larger capacity to experience the excitement of myth, and a much broader elasticity to changing their beliefs, than adults do. (If kids learned “the truth” about Santa when they were 15, it might be different!) But I’m struck by today’s reading and its snapshot into one of the ways we can clearly differentiate between our faithful anticipation of The Christ, and our fun-filled anticipation of Mr. Claus.

I have crystal-clear memories of spending Christmas Eve night at my Grandma’s house, and looking out the bedroom window (well after I should have been in dreamland) and looking for the shining red light of Rudolph’s nose in the sky! (I remember Grandma had those old vinyl roll-up windowshades that would sometimes snap and go flying up all on their own… and I remember being VERY careful as I pulled them aside to peek for that glowing red nose in the sky!) I remember my Grandpa walking by the room where we were all “sleeping” in sleeping bags, and telling us again and again to be quiet and go to bed (and then coming back a few minutes later to “threaten” us once more). We were just too excited to sleep–and yet we knew The Man in Red couldn’t come until we did!

What if our excitement about the coming Christ kept us awake, as the Gospels tell us it should? How would we spend our sleepless nights? Peeking out the windows, looking for a Light in the sky? Smothering our giggles in our pillows, hoping just to stay out of trouble? Listening for the sound of trumpets, or the shuffle of sandal-clad feet on the rooftop? Checking our lists once again to be sure we’ve been mostly nice?

The Son of Man comes–suddenly, without the advance notice we have from St. Nick–whether we are stirring or dreaming, watching or dozing, ready or not. Even as we await his triumphant return, he comes to us in every day, surprising us again and again. In Advent, let us remember (and not only for these waiting days, but always) to prepare our hearts for his arrival, for every time he comes.

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