Today we mark the beginning of a new Church Year. We light the first of these four Advent candles to mark the Sundays until Dec 25, and we see these weeks as a time to watch and wait for Jesus to be born once more in that stable. Yet instead of our gospel lesson being about the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to the maiden Mary—something you might expect as we begin to prepare—we get Jesus teaching Peter, James, John, and Andrew about the end of the world as we know it (h/t to REM). If you studied theology, you’d have learned that religious professionals call this passage Mark’s “Little Apocalypse.” Jesus tells us that at the time the sun will be darkened and the moon will go dim, and stars will be falling out of the sky. Chaos reigns. Of course, we might also just call it another 2020, but I digress.
It’s happening already, a good ten days before Thanksgiving: People are putting up their Christmas trees. When I see the posts online, I comment, “So soon?” or “Already?” or “Thanksgiving? Advent?” I guess I’m just getting curmudgeonly in my new status as a 50 year old.
The kingdom of heaven is as if a man went on a journey, and doled out some money to his servants. One gets five talents, another two, and another one, Jesus says, based on their ability. Now let me pause right here to let you in on the math that Jesus’ first listeners would have at their fingertips. A talent was worth about 15 years of wages. In the US, the average salary is $50,000, so in rough figures we’re talking a talent being about $750,000. So this parable starts really like this: A man went on a journey and gave to his three servants 3.75, 1 and a half, and three quarters of a million bucks, each according to his ability. Jesus’ followers who were primarily working class folks probably would have been really paying attention from this point on. That’s a lot of dough.
Whether I like it or not, I’m in the wedding business. I’ve lost track of how many nuptials I’ve blessed along the way, but I can tell you this with a great deal of certainty: Weddings—like other major life transitions—cause significant stress. The details of pulling off a major event, the beginning of a new chapter in life, the desire for things to be social media perfect. Add in to this mix other potent ingredients, perhaps parents who have divorced and may not be on the best of terms, or a sibling rivalry that rears its ugly head.
Today we reach the end of Moses’ life, but what an end it is! Here’s Moses at the top of Mt. Nebo with a grand view of the entire Promised Land, and God telling him that this was indeed the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. Moses looks on Gilead and Dan and Judah as far as the sea. He could see the Negeb and the Plain out to Zoar. He sees all of it stretched out before him, and for all the people of Israel.
I must admit I knew nothing of the musical “Les Miserables” until I married Melissa—a francophone. Oh, sure, I had seen the posters for it back in the 80s with the young child superimposed on the French flag on them, but that’s it. Melissa and I were in my hometown of Detroit one year for Christmas when “Les Mis” happened to be in town, and so we made plans with some of my family members to see it on New Year’s Eve.
As I write this I am waiting for the power to come back on at the rectory and the main church building. In a flurry of rain and wind over the course of fifteen minutes, the power shut off. That was 20 hours ago, and National Grid’s website assures us that we’ll have the power restored in 33 hours give or take.
This morning we heard about God giving Moses the 10 commandments at Mt. Sinai. They detail how wee are to live our lives with both God and our neighbor—leading Jesus himself to say the entirety of the law could be distilled to those two things: love God and love your neighbor. Yet of those 10 we read today, there is only one of the ten commandments that people will readily break without batting an eye. It’s the one in the middle: Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
“Is the Lord among us or not?”
That is the central question asked by the Israelites there in Rephidim as they are camped out in the desert. They had traveled from the wilderness of Sin in stages to this place, as the Lord had commanded them. But now after putting down their belongings, they discover there’s no water to be found anywhere. It’s been a long day, and they are dying of thirst, so they begin to quarrel with Moses.
It’s been about five weeks since the children of Israel fled their captors in Egypt. Five weeks for the food to run out and to miss their modest dwellings. Five weeks of squinting into the harsh sun with no real shade in sight. Five weeks of yearning for their gardens and the fresh tomatoes and peppers and cilantro they used to cook with. It’s been five weeks, and they’re hungry and getting angry.