St. Augustine of Hippo

Episcopal Church


Be On Guard... Be Alert At All Times”

December 2, 2018

The Reverend Nathanael Saint-Pierre

Another year, another Advent, another time to be awake and not be passive and indifferent about what is going on in the world and in our community. It is another opportunity to be on guard and alert.

Jesus taught his disciples to discern the signs of the time so that they would not be surprised. He used a parable to help them understand. He did not tell them that for them to panic. Discipleship is about preparedness and knowing how to read the signs of the time.

What then is the message of hope we can hold on to in the Good News (gospel) for today?

Although we can agree that this apocalyptic portion of the gospel of Luke is based on the one in Mark 13, Luke seems to go with it in a different direction. We know that the gospel of Mark is older than Luke’s. By the time the gospel of Luke was written, the followers of Jesus were going through different kinds of trial. Some were troubled, others were living in hiding. This Sunday, in our present time, we might rightly expect the church to present a story of a baby shower for the birth of an infant king that is to be born in twenty-three days. But instead, we have Jesus, grown up, almost at the end of his life, warning us to be on our toes, on our guard and be alert.

The world we are living in today is not easier than the time Luke or Mark were living in, or Daniel before Jesus’s time. It is a time of social and economic turbulence. Even Nature is angry and acting up. The violence we are living in all forms is life threatening. Many signs are present on the horizon to indicate how the trajectory we have chosen is wrong.

I receive almost every day, on WhatsApp or Facebook, images of what is happening in Haiti, and I am afraid for those I still have there. Don’t even ask me to go there now, because no one is safe; anyone can be killed in the riots that have become the new normal. Even the Episcopal Church of Haiti seems corrupt in the eyes of many, including me, and has lost its credibility. Thank God I am in the United States, I say, because I am not about to be killed, I am saf…er here. That is, until I am quickly reminded by my mirror that I am a Black man, driving every day, walking on the streets, traveling from state to state, and nowadays Blacks are not safe in America. What we thought was long gone and over is coming back to haunt us. Even when one Black is a good guy with a gun, he is the one who ends up dead, killed by the police who did not take the time to identify who is what. Black lives do not matter. One better be alert.

Every time I turn on the TV there is bad news: a journalist being killed, and no one wants to bear responsibility for his killing, not the prince who seems to have ordered his execution and dismemberment, not the president of America whose intelligence service found the prince being involved. The Middle East is like a powder keg that any slightest spark can blow up. Nations are at war against nations, we left one cold war to get into war against terrorism, to finally end up in a racially charged war, a dehumanizing war.

I hear news and watch videos of several houses consumed by fire in California. Fire that doesn’t spare Lady Gaga or Jane Doe’s house. We’ve seen tsunamis in Japan, volcanos in Hawaii, earthquakes in other parts of the world, many places that were so-called safe ground are threatened to flood because of human mismanagement of the environment. Some totally ignore the signs and consequences of global warming. We are the witnesses of a space probe landing on Mars, while thousands of people fleeing the violence of their country and seeking for a better life are being sprayed with teargas and kept from coming in because we don’t want them in. Who decides? The majority is silent. If we are not the ones in the margin, why should we care? Compassion is absent from our human discourses. The signs seem clear that the end is near. However, Christmas is coming, and we have questions: what is it we must prepare for? What should we be waiting for? What are we longing for?

We must prepare because we are not really in control. We must be waiting for God’s promise to be delivered. We must be longing for the kingdom of God to bring peace to the world that is upside down to be brought upside up. No matter the trouble all around, God is there, standing and watching over those who trust him and entrust themselves in him. The fear and panic will not resolve much, but constancy and faithfulness are the end result of our hope that God is in control. We need to be on our guard, but not go into hiding. To be alert is to be constantly monitoring the signs around us: positive or negative, and let God guide us through. Jesus doesn’t invite us to look indifferently at the signs, but to know how to adapt and remain faithful.

The duty of the Jesus Movement is to provide hope to those with their backs on the wall. If we don’t stand with them, we are Jesus No-Movement. If we ignore their cries, we are as fake news as those who use smear and terrorism to get God’s children to be fearful instead of faithful. No matter where the violence is happening: on the streets in Haiti or when a despotic leader (ecclesiastical or political) is acting with no compassion, I hope the Jesus Movement and especially, the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement to be the hope that nourishes those in the margins. The first Sunday of Advent is part of the cyclical church calendar, a repetitive reminder of God’s preferential option for the poor, the crippled and the needy. We remember on this day our baptismal covenant and how prayer is important in discerning what Jesus wants us to do.

When we see those signs, we must understand that hatred has taken control. It is time that we turn ourselves around to give love a chance, because only love can change the world’s trajectory. The Jesus Movement is, above all, a movement of mutual respect, mutual love and mutual care. Jesus told his disciples and us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1) Times like these are the times to believe in God and in Jesus who is the incarnate love.