My dogs are great at watching and waiting. They know the signs of feeding time. They will sit and watch, or maybe stare is a better word because they think they have Jedi mind skills, at the place where the cookies are kept in anticipation of their receiving one. They know when I am putting on my running shoes that they are about to go for a walk. They know the sounds of my car pulling into the driveway and are often standing on the fence or at the back door watching for me.
Before my blue-tick Basset Hound, Jezebel, died she had discerned her call in the world as that of sentry. In her later
years she attempted to train Cutty the Golden Retriever to be her protégé, but he is often scared of his own bark. He has followed her lead in taking up his post daily at the front window to watch and wait for anyone who might dare to encroach upon his domain, but he often falls asleep at his post or scares himself when he barks and has to run to one of his parents for comfort and reassurance. Jezebel was one of the best, so I can’t really be disappointed in Cutty’s lack of skill or courage, as no dog could measure up to her.
Whereas most dogs sleep twenty hours a day, Jezebel kept watch twenty hours a day. She was always on the alert and would invariably be the first dog in the house to notice even the slightest of movements be it four legged, two legged, or the falling of a leaf from a tree. Whatever it was, she was better than a motion detector and took every opportunity to begin a barking frenzy that was quickly taken up by the other dogs in the house.
Jezebel was great at watching but terrible at discerning that which garnered any sort of threat to her home. She barked at leaf, squirrel, one of her kindred being led on a leash by one of ours, cat, or funny noise. She was indiscriminate in her barking and though detailed oriented, she always kept the big picture in mind.
Banshee, also known as Church Dog, often has trouble with the big picture. She likes to sit at the window in my office to protect her domain from any trespassers—even Richard Norris when he comes to work in the Transfiguration Garden. When walking in the neighborhood, she is constantly watching for cats. Its not that cats are her archnemesis, its simply that they fascinate her. Though she has never been close to a cat, so I am not totally positive she wouldn’t eat one if given the chance. But she loves to watch them.
One day we were walking down the street and passed a neighbor’s house. This neighbor owns a cat that likes to sit on the front lawn and watch the world pass by. On this particular
day, the cat was sitting in the middle of the lawn when Banshee noticed her. Banshee was so intrigued with watching the cat, that she ignored my warnings to watch where she was going and walked right into a parked car. She didn’t find the situation nearly as funny as I did, and was duly embarrassed, but she did pay attention for the rest of the walk.
That’s kind of what Advent is all about; expectant watching and waiting. Jezebel, Banshee, even Cutty offer examples of expectant waiting and watching and the inherent dangers of watching too closely, over-reacting, or falling asleep. Some of us are a little like Jezebel—we are always on guard, always watching for signs in the world—we allow our fears to overwhelm our better judgement and react to every little thing. Others of us are like Banshee and allow ourselves to get overly focused on one particular thing that we find ourselves distracted and unaware of the dangers that might be in our path. Even others of us may find we are more like Cutty, we want to watch and be alert, but we are easily frightened or lulled into sleep, unable to keep awake. It is these dangers which Jesus alerts us too in our reading from Mark.
Jesus is talking about his second coming—offering his disciples encouragement, instruction, and even warning in a prophetic manner that invites mystery even two thousand years later. Jesus encourages us to pay attention to details such as “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be following from heaven.” He goes on to say that we will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds”. Jesus goes on to teach us to learn the lessons of the fig tree and just as it offers signs that summer is near, so too might we know the signs of the second coming. Finally we are warned to keep awake, to not fall asleep to our faith, as we know neither the day or the hour of Christ’s return. So we take time each year in the season of Advent to watch and to wait.
This year that watching and waiting seems especially poignant due to the pandemic and our long night of watching and waiting for a cure or a vaccine or a miracle. We’ve prayed, we’ve kept alert, and we are tired, but we are also resilient. In many ways, we can relate to the Israelites of Isaiah’s day. They have not had an easy experience. Earlier this fall we sojourned with them out of Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Isaiah picks up the story many years later after they have conquered and subsequently lost that land flowing with milk and honey. They are in exile, their Temple has been destroyed, and they have been forced into captivity. They cry out to God that he would “tear open the heavens and come down” and deliver his people from their iniquities.
Restore us O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.
The Israelites prayed that God might reveal himself, not as a destructive force of whom they would fear even as their iniquities, their failures have caused their current situation and fall from grace. They understand that their life, their future is in the hands of their Creator—he is the potter and they are the clay. In pleading for his return, they offer themselves to God to be shaped and molded as he sees fit and reminding God that even in their fallen and broken state, they remain his people.
There is some hope in that knowledge. God doesn’t forsake his people. Time and time again we have fallen short and abandoned God, yet he does not abandon us and will one day keep his promise to return, coming in cloud. I hope we don’t miss it: that we are so distracted by things like pandemics and politics and pandemonium that we forget to watch for the details or forget the lessons of the fig tree or simply don’t keep alert and awake in our fatigue.
This is a season of watching and waiting in a year in which we have spent so much time watching and waiting already. Its not that we have to be overly alert to every detail or get too focused on any one single detail. We don’t know the day or the hour and we may never know but we stay awake, alert in expectant waiting to the possibilities of Jesus and all the ways we have known him in his first coming so that we might know him in his second coming as well.
Restore us O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved. Amen.
Advent 1B: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; I Corinthians 3:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, November 29, 2020
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer