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Tearing Boundaries: HOPE (Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37)

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel…

Jesus declares to us today, “…what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mark 13:37). Emmanuel. It means God-With-Us. This year, 2017, has been marked by transitions and a general sense of unsettling in the world around us. Listening to the national news the past 72 hours, the endless list of issues, near and far, has shaken our sense of normalcy. Stability. Safety. Comfort. We must name it. We must keep awake. We must listen. Learn. We must ask the tough questions. How will what has done behind closed doors impact our children, families, the most vulnerable amongst us? We long to have Hope, Peace, Joy and Love burst forth in our world. Instead, in our day-to-day conversations, across social media, and on the news, we are confronted with tired bodies. Exhausted bodies. Lonely bodies. Unhealthy bodies. Assaulted bodies. Incarcerated bodies. Exiled bodies. Angry bodies. Bodies that spew forth words of hate. Words of division.

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light…” (Mark 13:24).

Jacqui J. Lewis, the senior pastor at a “900-member multiracial, welcoming, and inclusive congregation in New York City”[1] writes that she has been “thinking hard about the possibility that maybe we had to get to a really funky, terrible, crazy, shadowy, and ominous place in order to wake up. Maybe we had to hit bottom in order to rise up…”[2]

O (God), that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…” (Isaiah 64:1).

O Come, O Come Emmanuel… God-With-Us. God becoming flesh. Boundaries crossed. Expectations shattered. Hope embodied. As we step into the beginning of a new church year, this sacred space of four weeks that we call Advent, we are called by Christ to “Keep awake.” And. Jesus. Says. This. To. ALL. ALL God’s people. ALL God’s creatures. ALL God’s earth.

This Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, launches a new year in the calendar year of the church. Over the next 12 months, many of the assigned Bible readings focus on my favorite Gospel, the book of Mark. This is Good News that can leave you breathless. Mark is the shortest Gospel, and the urgency of Jesus’ message tears throughout the text. Sometime this week, I encourage you to take out your Bible and turn to Mark. Look at the format with which we are familiar in our structured numbering and written English. And then pause. How might our understanding of the story be changed if, as in the original Greek, there were no chapter or verse markers, no punctuation, no capital letters? As we see Christmas ringing out in the malls, and we look towards the birth of Jesus in the life of the church, the author of Mark does not provide us with a birth story. There isn’t a narrative of a manger, shepherds, or angels. There is no mention of God wrapped in the womb, thrust forth by the birthing pains, a gush of life giving waters, and that first gasp of life giving air. Instead, this is the image that will be threaded into our lives for the upcoming year of the Church: {A visual and auditory “tearing” occurred, as Pastor Kris tore a sheep of paper in half}

In this moving, living Gospel, the author of Mark leaves us winded and torn. The word “immediately” appears 35 times (RSV). Everything Jesus does is urgent. This text is filled with images of Jesus continually crossing over boundaries no person should feel comfortable crossing. Following Jesus means “going over to the other side” (Mark 6:53), “crossing over” (Mark 4:35) and “crossing over again” (Mark 5:21). And in this constant crossing over, shattering of boundaries, God is tearing into the world.

This Holy revelation begins in the very first chapter of Mark: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11, NRSV)

And this is bookmarked with the end of Jesus’ life: “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:37-39, NRSV)

Bookmarks. Markers of God tearing through the power and oppression, embodying Hope with urgency. Here, we return to bodies. God’s body. Our individual bodies. The body of our faith community—and the Body, the ALL to which Jesus speaks: “…what I say to you I say to all.” In this “funky, terrible, crazy, shadowy, and ominous place” in which we find ourselves, we need to keep awake. We need to care for each other. We need to show up, and respond.

But in the long, arduous journey in the months and years ahead, I also want to encourage you to embrace the gift that is given this Advent season. The waiting. The staying awake. The tearing forth of Hope. The stepping back, away from the great consumption of the shopping season, and reclaiming the unexpected gift found in the idea of God becoming flesh. It is here in our own bodies, our lived mind, body, and soul experience as human beings that God’s Hope can shine forth. It might be for this reason that God was born. Christine Valters Paintner writes,

“For so long, we have been exiles from our bodies—our holy bodies, our beautiful bodies, our bodies created loving by God and sustained and nourished by the earth… In our rush through life, we neglect the body’s wisdom. We work through fatigue and illness, pushing our bodies and feeling frustrated when they don’t keep up. We look at our physical selves with disdain when parts don’t measure up to some external standard, one that is always designed to sell us something.

God became flesh. Christ’s Incarnation points to embodiment as one of the most 570important spiritual journeys we make, and its effect is felt in multiple relationships:

  • Time (Do we rush through our lives or savor slowness?);
  • Consumerism (Do we buy into the constant quest for self-improvement or rest into the beauty and bounty of our bodies?);
  • Food (Do we eat just to fill our hunger, to fill an emptiness, or to truly nourish ourselves?);
  • The earth (Do we see ourselves as separate from the earth or in intimate communion?); and
  • Healthcare (Do we seek the quick fix or cure and lose patience with the slow process of healing?).

… If we believe that God became flesh, how might we take the incarnation seriously…?”[3]

O Come, O Come Emmanuel… God tearing forth in our midst. Yes, we must respond to the events in the world around us. God calls us out. But responding in part means that we must also care for our bodies. The bodies, the individuals, in this faith community. And the bodies of our neighbors who are exhausted. Lonely. Physically sick. Mentally worn. Exiled. Imprisoned. We must care for the children. The foster children, and families of all shapes and sizes. The elderly. And yes, those that are angry, spewing forth hateful words of division. Relationships. Embodiment. God-With-Us. This is the gift of Hope, birthed in the center of our lives.


Pastor Kris


[1] The Huffington Post. Accessed December 01, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/jlewis-512.

[2] Jacqui J. Lewis. In Faith and resistance in the age of Trump, Miguel A. De La Torre, editor. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2017. xxv.

[3] Paintner, Christine Valters. The wisdom of the body: a contemplative journey to wholeness for women. Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2017. 1-2.