Message for Sunday 3 December 2017–“Be Mindful” (First Sunday of Advent)

Today we highlight Jesus’ talk about a universal cataclysm which will end history (Mark 13:24-37). It’s challenging to wrangle such a depressing topic into hopeful holiday cheer. There’s only so much that can be done to transform the last judgment of death and destruction into an uplifting message.

What drives some peoples’ preoccupation with catastrophic biblical prophecies? Financial gain and a morbid fascination with enemies’ destruction feed some of the end-time mania. Sensationalist captains of the apocalypse industry create a self-justifying enterprise that builds egos and bank accounts. The culmination is that the horrible end of history has grown into a lucrative endeavor and a Hollywood cliché. Revelation seminars and prophecy peddlers reveal a huge business that has transformed the end times into a theater of the absurd.

Rather than dwell on apocalyptic fire and judgment, there’s joy to share by accepting Jesus’ invitation to watch in the sense of being aware and awake. Here is the key verse in the passage of Mark we’re considering: “[a]nd what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:37). What are people of faith supposed to be watching for? Parts of the Bible suggest horrific events, such as the Great Judgment, but there are many other occurrences to watch. It can be helpful to anticipate and prepare for situations likely to turn an individual’s world upside-down , such as accidents, war and illnesses. On one level, the value of anticipating / watching may help prepare for circumstances likely to upend life. Watching is therefore valuable as a form of disaster preparedness.

There’s more than simple watching to what Jesus was instructing. If properly cultivated, watchfulness can build into a state of mindfulness, which may help the wary navigate many of life’s uncertainties. The term mindfulness includes not only simple awareness but also a heightened sense of living in the moment. Mindfulness is a managed sense of awareness that doesn’t get stuck in the past or immobilized by fear of the future. Mindfulness invites people to remain tuned-in but not trapped, in either what has happened or what could happen. Want to be mindful? Strive to make your best life of wellbeing right now rather than worrying about apocalyptic fireworks. In being mindful, a person is watching / monitoring herself in relation to the environment. Sadly, mindfulness is often rejected in favor of fear, ignorance and anger. Any religion that doesn’t in some way encourage mindfulness weakens spirituality. Mindfulness is critical as a sensitivity to and alertness of self in relation to everything else. Mindfulness is therefore crucial to attaining joy and a life of greater wellbeing.

Being mindful is a boon for understanding and navigating day-to-day existence. A review of the world’s great spiritual writings suggests that mindfulness is not automatic but requires diligence to develop and maintain. Jesus was not asking his disciples to stare blithely into the heavens gleefully anticipating his violent return. No, there is something far more productive:  people being mindful of who and what they are in the present. This is why it is beneficial to encourage one another, to help everyone to do what they can by capturing the promise and possibility of every moment, one savored instance at a time.

Developing the discipline to live a mindful journey through life’s moment isn’t easy. This explains the need for diligence and resiliency in building self-management skills. Mindfulness takes time to integrate itself into consciousness and yet the struggle is worth it. Today’s Bible verses suggest that Jesus wanted people to watch for signs of an excruciating future. But there’s also a hidden danger, which is distraction by the sensationalized, prophetic apocalypse. Even people of faith can become sidetracked, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy as an apocalyptic consciousness promotes the very cataclysm for which an individual has been indoctrinated.

Stoking peoples’ hopes and fears about future judgment is a way to provide comfort and triumphalist expectations on earth, where people of faith have been historically persecuted. Hope for a better future is a precious commodity and prophetic fulfillment is woven into the DNA of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Yet, as if hysterically swayed, some folks labor more on their insatiable timetable for end times than in nourishing compassionate mindfulness in the here-and-now. If we strive for it, mindfulness invites God followers on a splendid, hopeful journey, one that involves aligning ourselves to God’s essence of love in the wondrous power of the present.

–Reverend Hoxey