Keep Alert

by | Dec 4, 2023

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

Mark 13:32-33

As we begin the season of Advent, I have been overwhelmed with the sense that Jesus came to earth at a time when we humans needed him the most. But we don’t always recognize when God intervenes in our lives. Advent at its best is a season when we are encouraged to keep alert to God’s love, and to nurture our expectant hope for God to save us in ways we cannot imagine.

Many of us follow the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love in the four Sundays of Advent, so I heard two sermons on keeping alert to hope yesterday. As I heard the pastors preach, I thought about the people of Gaza, and how can they have hope? I did remember that the release of some of the Israeli hostages gave families hope, even for the families whose loved ones were not released. But the people of Gaza don’t have a finite (though horrendous) number of individuals who have been abducted; virtually all the residents of Gaza are under attack, if not by bombs, then hunger, or lack of water, or loss of medical help, or exposure to the cold. Told to flee their homes in the North, they face attacks in the South.

And yet, miraculously, some Palestinians and Israelis hold on to hope, and work together for peace. I have mentioned the Parents Circle Families Forum, also known more descriptively as the Bereaved Families Forum. They are Israelis and Palestinians who have bonded over their shared grief, as all of them hold in common having lost a family member by the violence in Israel/Palestine. They have a trilingual Facebook page at which includes resources and comments from members of the group. Though they have experienced tragedy at the hands of the other in this tight-knit conflict, they have chosen to see each other as humans as a solution for true peace. In a recent CNN interview, one of the former directors mentioned in passing that “anger is a very bad advisor.”

The bereaved families continue to dialogue, even during this war. In an open invitation for people to share with each other, they state:

Humanity begins with listening……. Almost two months in which we are flooded with horrifying testimonies, listening in pain and shock to the cries of loss, stories of heroism, sirens and the sounds of explosions, we invite each and every one of you to dare and expand the range of listening. Let’s listen, together, from the bottom of the heart.

Tova Boxbaum is an Israeli who was born after her parents lost a child in the Holocaust, whose brother was killed while serving in the military, and whose cousin was one of the eleven Israeli athletes killed in 1972 at the Munich Olympics. She grieves the loss of her family members, but writes:

[O]nly when the occupation is over, all children between the sea and the Jordan River will have a life of justice and freedom – there will be safety for my loved ones too. Security will not be achieved through force and more killings, but through political agreements. Vengeance will provoke more vengeance, the loss will aggravate, and the hand outstretched for peace will find another outstretched hand.

When thousands of children are killed, innocent people will suffer profoundly, and when incitement leads to increased fear, hatred, and racism – it’s important to me more than ever to be a part of the Bereaved Families Forum with Palestinians who share the same fate and the same values. Together we preserve humanity and hope for brighter and better days.

It does seem that grief helps people move beyond their regular fears and assumptions and resentments. I was in a highly irritated mood when the Synod Assembly began on Saturday morning. Incoming moderator Yvonne Harmon from Northminster in Diamond Bar opened the meeting with a reflection, and she mentioned how she has learned to let God lead her through the difficult times she has experienced after her husband died on New Year’s Day eleven months ago. My irritability dissolved in the face of her gracious faithfulness, and was replaced with gratitude as the reports from the presbyteries revealed a season of resurrection hope, humble sharing, and mutual care in the Presbyterian Church in Southern California.

And as I sat in Interwoven yesterday, burdened by the despair over what is happening in God’s special land, I found hope in the babies in the gathering; I think there have been four or five births this year. But as I rejoiced in this body of loving, welcoming, and joyous disciples, I remembered how many of them have seen tragedy, illness, or conflict with their former churches which has led them to find healing at Interwoven. What a blessing, that we are able to offer a new church family for people from every generation and race to worship and serve and love together. If you are free Christmas Eve afternoon, Interwoven will be holding a musical celebration at 3 pm at their new home at Eagle Rock Presbyterian Church, 4848 Eagle Rock Boulevard.

Last Wednesday, we held a preview of our Presbytery-wide Lenten series, and even in this preview session, in my small group I learned something precious from folks who I thought I knew. Even as we focus on ways that false narratives have separated and caricatured people of different races, I heard from presbytery friends of experiences and vulnerabilities of all kinds that make us such sensitive, complex, wonderful, faithful children of God.

So in this season of expectancy, may we who are feeling despair keep alert to the light of Christ coming into the world. Let us keep alert to hope. As Walter Burghardt wrote,

You must be men and women of ceaseless hope, because only tomorrow can today’s human and Christian promise be realized . . . Every human act, every Christian act, is an act of hope. But that means you must be men and women of the present, you must live this moment—really live it, not just endure it—because this very moment, for all its imperfection and frustration, because of its imperfection and frustration, is pregnant with all sorts of possibilities, is pregnant with future, is pregnant with love, is pregnant with Christ.

with hope,