“First Sunday of Advent, Waking Dreamers”: Mark 13:24-27

Rev. Dr. Jan Gregory-Charpentier
Kingston Congregational Church
November 29, 2020
Advent 1
Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

Waking Dreamers

A few years ago, after the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown,
and the acquittal or refusal to indict their killers, I read the book Waking Up
White by Debby Irving. I think some of you also read it together this past summer.
So you may know, it’s a memoir and an exploration of the author’s growing
understanding of herself as a white person, a person whose life, and worldview,
and expectations for herself and others, have been deeply shaped by the white
culture she is immersed in, and yet, because of her privilege and position in life,
has also somewhat blind to. The full title of the book is Waking Up White: and
Finding Myself in the Story of Race. Before “waking up” Debby wasn’t a callous
or cold-hearted person. She was and is an open-minded, well-educated, self-professed liberal. She espouses values of tolerance, equality, and fairness. But
she came to see that so much of what she had been taught and had absorbed
about “how the world works,” is really more accurately defined as “how the
white world works,” or how the world works for white people. Living her adult life
in a more racially and culturally diverse neighborhood―Cambridge, MA―her
blinders have begun to peel away, and she has come to understand that her
experience, and assumptions, and engrained values are as culturally
constructed as anyone else’s―and that cultural construct is not neutral, it is
riddled with bias and built upon a foundation of awarded privilege. Before she
“woke up,” Debby Irving wasn’t a “bad” person. She was, using her metaphor,
asleep; asleep to how her whiteness shaped her and impacted the people
around her, and therefore also asleep to the pain and hurt that unowned bias
causes, and finally, asleep to how she might, and the world can be different
than it is now. It starts by waking up.

Which is just what Jesus says, too: pay attention, keep awake. In Mark 13,
Jesus is talking to his disciples about what it means to live through cataclysmic
times. Bible scholars refer to this chapter as “the little apocalypse,” employing
images borrowed from the prophets Joel, Ezekiel, and Daniel regarding “the day
of the Lord,” the coming time when God will overturn the powers of oppression,
rescue the suffering, and redress evil. In apocalyptic imagery, such reversal isn’t
just political, it’s cosmic. The wrongs and wretchedness of the world are so
deeply embedded, nothing but a new creation will do. The stars will fall, the
heavens will shake, Earth will be remade. Apocalyptic imagery is dramatic, if not
a little scary, but at its core it is a message of defiant hope in a God who is
bigger than―and, yeah, badder than― this bad world. Apocalyptic literature is
authored by the underdogs of history, those not invested in keeping things the
way they are or maintaining the status quo that holds them down. So, Mark
writes that “heaven and earth will pass away,” and Isaiah writes, “O that you
would tear open the heavens and come down;” and Black Lives Matter
protestors chant, “Defund the police,” along with “No justice, no peace.” It’s a
cry for the world to wake up, pay attention, see the real suffering of God’s
people, and believe the world can be different; it’s a call to dream a better
dream than this one we’re in, which if you could see through it, is a nightmare
for some.

Advent starts with a clarion call for us to be waking dreamers. To both
keep our eyes open and keep our hope alive. Both are absolutely necessary. If
we close our eyes, if we fall back asleep, lulled into complacency, or worse,
indifference, we are not on the side of the angels but rather the suffocating
status quo. That means listening to the real, hearing the truth, believing the firstperson narratives of those closest ground and deepest in the pit. Such wakefulness is uncomfortable, at times. Such attentiveness can be wearying. But
unless we touch and taste, even in small doses, the bitter desperation that so
many people―God’s people―live in, we won’t pray, work, and believe that
change can and should happen. We won’t be alert and ready to see the signs
of its coming, like as the subtle swelling of the buds on the branch of a fig tree or
the far-off silhouette of the returning Master coming down the road. Stay
awake. Stay expectant. Stay open-eyed to the world as it is.

And then join God in dreaming of how it can be. Join God in drawing a
better picture, if only in your mind, of a new creation, a world redefined by love
and justice. Yes, it’s cock-eyed optimism, its wishful thinking, it’s the stuff of
dreams. But dreams are amazingly powerful and hope is transformative. As Jim
Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine, famously said, “Hope is believing despite
the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.” Hope is an
underrated superpower. Hope is the dandelion that cracks the sidewalk. It
doesn’t take “no” for an answer and keeps pushing through. Hope, faith,
dreams, visions of a better day and a better way are tremendously powerful,
apocalyptic, even, when we foolishly believe that the powers and principalities
can be defeated, that entrenched institutions can reform and change, that our
own stony or frightened hearts can be remade into chambers of courage and
love. Hope sees figs on a barren branch, dignity in the down and out, humanity
in the enemy, possibility in the dead end, recovery in the addict, renewal in the
burnt out, healing in the marriage, love in the future, justice in the street and
redemption in a manger. Advent begins where we need to begin: by calling our
attention to what needs to change and taking stock of our own helplessness
and need; then looking up, looking to see the One who is coming―always
coming among us, always arriving in new and astounding ways― about to be
born once more into the deepest, most tender cracks of our world to change it
from the inside out, turn it over and upside down, until mourner’s laugh, the
lame dance, the blind see, and good news wakes us all up to the unstoppable
power of God’s love.

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