First Sunday in Advent
As a nine-year-old boy, I once lost sleep for a month because of one terrible thought:
“What if Heaven, as great and amazing as I’m sure it will be, eventually becomes boring?”
The enormity of eternity had just begun to dawn on my little mind. No matter how amazing and awesome and fantastic Heaven would surely be, I couldn’t escape the idea that eventually it would become boring. I was pretty generous with myself–I figured that I could probably sing hymns and praise God with the company of Heaven for at least a good 10,000 years.
I was terrified because if Heaven eventually became boring, there was no way to escape from it. It would, I reckoned, become a posh kind of Hell. A never-ending boredom.
I had no way to reconcile this thought, and it felt too scary to even talk about with the adults in my life. I became leery of going to sleep, scared that I might not wake up again and the eternal “meh” would begin.
Eventually the lack of sleep and constant mental agitation taught me a valuable coping mechanism — how to put away troublesome thoughts and pretend as if they don’t exist.
But of course that didn’t work for very long. All it took was one scare and the threat of death and everlasting boredom was immediately apparent again.
Another possible solution to this threat of eternal boredom is to simply have more faith. To trust that God, in God’s infinite wisdom and loving compassion, would not allow us to be bored for all eternity. Heaven simply must be greater than I am capable of imagining.
For many years I clung to this solution, but over time it too began to wear thin. What I failed to understand as a 9-year-old boy is that the Kingdom of God is already present. The crux of the Gospel is that God has come to be with us, and yet the truth of our lived reality is that God is still on the way. We live in the tension of these two truths — that God already saved the world through Jesus, and that Jesus is going to return and make all things new.
At the heart of Christian life is re-learning how to see. Jesus points to the fig tree and tells us what we already know — that the changing of seasons is apparent. In Houston, the leaves are only just now turning vibrant shades of gold and red. As the colors give way to brown and the leaves fall, I am not worried that the trees are all dying — I know that something bigger is happening. Something world-changing is on the way. Winter is coming, and we are already getting a little taste. The temperature is cooler, the humidity has gone down. Sometimes I can even see my breath as a brief cloud of fog.
I know this because I have seen it before. I have been trained to recognize the signs. Jesus invites us to pay attention to the signs of the Kingdom of Heaven. Like Winter in Houston, the Kingdom of Heaven is coming, and we must learn to see the evidence of its approach.
Here are a few practices that might help you to see signs of the Kingdom of Heaven:
Go for a walk
My friend once described running as a very introspective activity. When she runs, all of her attention is focused on her own body and on taking the next step. When she slows down and walks, she is able to see and even glory in the world which surrounds her.
Write with a pencil
Another friend has taken to writing his sermons with a pencil, rather than making a mad-dash on the computer the night before. The pencil slows him down and helps him to think deeply rather than to simply throw words at a screen.
Wash your dishes with a friend
Everyone has dishes, and it seems like there are always more to wash. Forego the dishwasher and invite a friend to help you scrub each pot, plate, and fork clean.
Stop and say hi to your neighbor
There is a little old man in my neighborhood approaching 90 years. He works for my landlords and helps to maintain our yard. Sometimes I find him cutting the grass with scissors, pushing rocks back and forth with a rusty rake, or even painstakingly plucking single blades of grass with his hands. He accomplishes very little. Each time I walk by, I am tempted to simply ignore him, but then he smiles at me and his whole countenance lights up. Sometimes we chat for a few seconds, and sometimes he holds forth for ten minutes.
Simple. Mundane. Commonplace. Boring. However we might describe these actions, we must admit that it is often challenging to envision anything grand in the midst of such practices. And yet, when we have eyes to see, we realize that in these Advent moments we learn to recognize God’s glorious, present, and eternal kingdom.