The Fear of Abandonment: Advent Reflections on Matthew 24:32-44
This is the first reflection in our Advent Series, "The Hopes and Fears of All the Years," by biblical scholars and preachers John C. Holbert and Alyce McKenzie. For an overview of the series with links to all the reflections, click here.
First Sunday in Advent:
Snow Globe Scene or Live Nativity?
I've always been fascinated by snow globes. First made in France in the 1800s, they quickly became a staple in gift shops around the world. Snow globe scenes can run the emotional gamut from trivial to touching. They portray angels, Easter bunnies, Smurfs, Teddy Bears, Halloween haunted houses, Santa in his sleigh, etc. They range in price from affordable by everyone to pricey globes made by Spode and Lennox. Some are motorized so the snow is battery-circulated. Some include a music box.
I found one on EBay whose base is the city of Bethlehem, and whose contents are the Holy Family. It plays "O Little Town of Bethlehem" when you wind the key on the base. And that's how many people view the stories and scenes of Advent. As timeless and irrelevant tableaus, encased in glass. That's how many view the people who show up in the stories and scenes surrounding Advent. They don't seem real. They seem like extras from the some first-century actors' guild. Like still figures in a snow globe scene.
This Advent series seeks to do them justice as people with real hopes and fears and therefore, with a real connection to us and to our hopes and fears.
The Necessity for Watchfulness
My NRSV Bible gives our text for November 28 from Matthew (24:36-44) the heading "The Necessity for Watchfulness." It is sandwiched between Jesus ‘ teachings about how to recognize signs that the Son of Man is about to arrive and several parables that commend readiness for the imminent judgment that awaits (ten bridesmaids, talent, sheep and goats).
In between comes this weird text that features barren fig trees, people snatched from their plowing, and a thief casing out your house, figuring out the best time to break in.
We could probably make a snow globe with a barren fig tree in it, with the scene from the field or mill, or one that has a little Thomas Kincaid type cottage and a thief trying to break in. These might make nice holiday decorations. Or not.
This text expresses our common human fear of abandonment, our fear of being "left behind." It tells us that we need to be keeping watch so we don't miss the Son of Man's return and get "left behind," abandoned.
What snow globe scenes of abandonment are on the shelves of your memory?
Sad Snow Globe Scenes
A friend moving away, the moving truck pulling up in front of his house.
A relationship ending because the one we love "wants to see other people."
Kids going off to college.
Young adult children moving to another state with the grandchildren.
Parents divorcing; loved ones dying; isolation in prison or another institution, where, for the third visitors' day in a row, no one comes to call.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.