Advent is time out of time. It is the four weeks set aside before the birth of Jesus to remember his coming in the future, in the past, and in the present. It is the season of dreams. God used dreams to communicate with Mary and Joseph in the first Advent, and this continues to be the time to honor God’s voice in the mysterious places of our lives. Advent calls us to believe God is not dead, revelation is alive and our lives are an incarnation of love. We can believe in a mystical God that dwells in the fabric of creation still creating new life. We can believe in "deep calling to deep." We can share Isaiah’s vision of swords beaten into plowshares and new paths cut through the desert. It is the time to think about our beginnings and endings. It stirs us to watch and wait upon the Lord.
"Mama, take this badge off of me I can't use it anymore.
It's gettin' dark, too dark to see, I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door.
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door. Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door."
I was walking on Venice beach. That in itself is surreal. In the distance you could see the smoke from fires in Malibu. As the smoke billowed over the hills it was easy to imagine the mansions crumbling and exhausted firefighters battling against a wall of flames that look like the end of the world. The news said 5,000 acres burned. I was thinking about the fires when I passed an old hippy who had lived through the days of "flower power" singing Dylan’s song "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." The dream-like walk felt like a vision revealing the thin line between this crazy world and the deep well of eternity. Not to see the vision would be like being a blind man walking. We are knocking on heaven's door. Everything between here and there is dust no matter how big and powerful it looks. When we come knockin’ we are coming naked, no more or less than a child of God. We can't claim worth from mansions, from success or failure, from anything that we think is ours. All that we have is ourselves.
"Mama, put my guns in the ground. I can't shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin' down. I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door.
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door. Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door. "
I went to a nursing home to give a man communion who was old when I was a child. Walking down those halls, all your senses tell you to be afraid of death. You see blank stares; you smell urine and hospital food; you hear nurses calling to one another from behind desks and doors; you taste a dread that this is death for all of us who are left standing in the field; and you touch cold metal as you reach to touch skin lying behind a bed railing. The man has been in and out of consciousness and hooked up to oxygen. He told me he loved God, but that he left the old church when they let a woman priest come. There at the side of the bed, I felt a touch of panic. I know in my head that I am a worthy child of God. But, if my being is not good enough for him, even when he is knocking on heaven’s door, then maybe it’s partly true. Sitting there I felt like a living embodiment of the fear that people harbor. Maybe when people look at the end they fear they are not good enough. Maybe people worry in their end time if anything is enough: the world, the life they have lived, or the faith they have carried. Just as I let the fear sink in, the deep truth that lives in the quiet of this season pushed it aside. Like a sweet early present, above the hum of the oxygen machine, beyond the fear of death, I felt close to God’s heart. I swear we are enough for God. I know that we can trust God’s love for us even if we doubt our love. So I said, “Mr. Jones, I would like to give you communion, but I don’t want to offend you.” He said, wiping back a tear that I didn’t know had come, “I would love communion; I have been starving for it. I am glad you came.” That tear is my sign. We are knocking on heaven’s door, but we are not knocking first or alone. Beyond the worry and fear, there is tenderness and love. We can have courage in our faith, in our life, and in our death. So it’s okay to come with just our hearts before our maker. We can be sycamores in the world of faith, the ones standing tall and naked before God in a crowded forest of barked trees, looking strangely perfect.