Stop. Look. Listen.

by the Rev. Dr. Jason L. Parkin

My Aunt Maxine died last year on December 7. As she was the last remaining member of my parents' generation on either side of our family-save my own Mom, thank God-I travelled to southcentral Iowa to attend Maxine's funeral and represent our part of the extended clan, as did my third brother, Jon, who drove out from St. Louis. As I was driving back from the interment in the cemetery in the tiny town of Garden Grove where most of my mother's family are buried, I visited the graveyard where almost all of my father's relatives are interred, a place with the wonderfully evocative name of Last Chance Cemetery. Pulling away from Last Chance, I approached a freight train rail line crossing rather obscured by a copse of woods. There were no railings or lights to warn of oncoming trains. Instead, a simple sign stood there with the simple warning: Stop. Look. Listen.

Stop. Look. Listen. That is as succinct and as appropriate a message for the season of Advent as I can imagine. For during this poignant season, God-through the voices of John the Baptist, the teenaged Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, through prophets and other messengers-urges us to take inventory of our lives, and to stop whatever is that is keeping us from God; to stop whatever is keeping us isolated from other people; to stop following roads that make us less than we were created and are called to be. God also summons us to look: to look for the arrival and the presence of the Coming One who has been promised, however and wherever he may come; to look for him in the midst of our daily lives and routines and rhythms. And God exhorts us in this Advent season, finally, to listen: to listen for the stirring of the Spirit inciting us to new growth and faith and mercy; to listen for the ways in which we can help God expand the kingdom and promote peace, justice, compassion, and love; to listen for the ways in which God is calling us forward into a different life and a richer, deeper way of being.

Stop. Look. Listen. This is the message of the entire Advent season: to be awake, to be alert, to be alive to the incoming Kingdom of God and the ways in which God is even now active among us. God has come, in Christ Jesus. God will come again. God is always with us. May Advent be a time of stopping, of looking, of listening for God's life and love in ever new forms and ways.