Advent 2011 is upon us -- whether we are awake, enjoying the snooze or floating somewhere in between. What follows below is a small Advent reflection using the imagery of juxtaposition. As in, the placement of two concepts near each other.
During Advent, it rings especially true because divergent elements in the Gospel story have become necessarily juxtaposed. This is the season, of course, in which Christians from among the nations celebrate and proclaim that the One who purportedly created the world, and sustains it by his power and wisdom, has unbelievably juxtaposed himself with humanity. Which must be, as ever, the original shock-and-awe.
When we read this text, we encounter a darkened sun and an unlit moon; stars are falling from the sky; angels are collecting certain people from the four winds. W. Somerset Maugham once said: "Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young." The cosmic imagery in St. Mark's gospel gives credence to Maugham's adult admonition.
For the Christ-believer, Advent is that very specific occasion which offers us a meaningful contextualization for the very specific time of Christ's pending return. In whatever human era we find ourselves, then, it seems we desperately need our faith-based imagination to ready us for the spectacle that is to come. We are reminded, at this point, that we do our waiting and anticipating within the grandiose, mind-blowing context of God's cosmic narrative.
By contrast, and starkly juxtaposed, there is also this extremely down-to-earth image given to those of us who are waiting and anticipating in the middle of our non-spectacle lives. "It is like a man going on a journey," the text says. The man makes preparations as if he'll be a while, but then again, the hour of his return is truly unknown. Only God knows.
So on the one hand, the second arrival is the stuff of big drama somewhere in the unseen reaches of heaven. And on the other hand, there's a dusty, well-worn trail (from the first time He was among us) left by the master of the house, who has taken a bit of trip.
We are, therefore, told to keep awake. Because you never know what you might see.