THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – A 2010

Isaiah 2:1-5

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:37-44

A year doesn’t take long.  Believe it or not, neither does a lifetime.  Both go by in what seems to be a moment.  It is the height of naiveté to think that there will always be a tomorrow in which to do the important things we ought to do today.  This is not meant to be depressing, to begin our reflections for this new Liturgical Year on a downer.  Just the opposite is the truth.  If we live in faith, then this is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad! This First Sunday of Advent challenges us to do it right this time, that is, if we didn’t quite do it that way in the last year.  That last year is over.  We cannot undo anything we did in it.  We can’t go back and do what we didn’t get around to doing, either.  This Sunday marks a new beginning, a new season in which to hope.

There are not many who would say that these are the best of times.  Each day’s news is filled with stories that attest to the opposite.  Huge numbers of people are unemployed and many of them have lost their homes in foreclosure.  Wars still rage and each day we hear of young service people of have lost their lives in the battlefields.  The victims of the Haitian earthquake these many months later still live in squalor and are now suffering the scourges of cholera.  Add to that list the daily stories of violence in our streets, the innocent ones being robbed and gunned down, and the tales of domestic violence and it would be easy to conclude that these are the worst of times.  They would be, if we did not have faith.

In the gospel that is proclaimed this Sunday, we will hear Jesus urge us to stay awake! That might sound ominous.  Given the parable that he tells about how differently the owner of the house would have acted had he known when the thief was coming, we could interpret the reading that way.  But the reality is that the Lord is telling us that we ought to live life in the here and now prepared.  We don’t want to miss the important event that is happening.

Our history is replete with tales of those who did not pay attention to the signs.  Usually the reason they didn’t notice what was happening around them was because they were preoccupied with themselves.  The Lord speaks of the days of Noah, the one who was open to God, and who was surrounded by a people so taken up with eating and drinking that they ignored the signs of the impending flood.  How different the story would have read had they too heeded the signs and prepared for the onslaught.  What will be our excuse?  The signs are all about us.  Some will notice and act on them.

So, what are we supposed to be about during this Advent Season?  It is a very busy time of the year for many of us.  The frenetic schedule that many people keep exacerbates the anxiety they feel as they hear how few shopping days remain until Christmas.  And this year there will be heightened anxiousness felt by those who have been out of work and have very little money to spend on Christmas gifts.  It is insidious the way advertisers link the proof of love with the purchase of expensive items.  Do you love enough to give the very best?

How the world spends the weeks before Christmas is not necessarily the way we ought to spend these days.  We are moving toward the Feast of Christmas.  The litany of terrible things going on can weigh us down and depress us.  Even the days themselves get shorter and shorter.  Darkness threatens to envelop us.  These December days can prompt us to despair.  What if the sun doesn’t return this year?  Ridiculous, you say.  Then we ought not act as though it won’t.

Christmas celebrates the Incarnation, the Word of God taking on the flesh and blood of humankind.  The chasm that separated to two realms has been bridged and the human and divine have come together in Christ never to be severed again.  This is the day for us to put on Christ, to yield to the reality of faith and live what we believe.  We believe that when we were baptized, we put on Christ and became identified with Christ.  We ought to believe that that identity is so complete that God loves us with the same love God loves Christ.  We ought to.

Take a moment to live under the Word.  What is this gospel saying to you?  What is the challenge the Spirit invites you to meet?  So many of us are preoccupied with our selves.  I would hate to use the word egomaniacal, but that might not be far from the truth.  Even when we are locked in the mindset of how sinful we are, or how weak, or unproductive, untalented or unworthy, that amounts to being locked up in “I”.  If we start to live the reality of having put on Christ, then that “I” will be liberated and we will not be so closed in on self.  We will be free, then, to say Yes to God’s invitation to walk with God in love.  That means that we will be able to say yes to living in God in the here and now, where we are and among those with whom we share being.  Then we can begin to love.

It is true that that reality is something that has happened to us.  We were baptized.  The Holy Spirit was poured out on us and has come to live in our hearts.  But that is not enough.  Each of us must make the decision to live the reality, to say yes, Amen, let it be!

I am newly taken with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, having just read a magnificent biography of the great man who was executed in a Nazi prison camp one month before the Liberation.  Here is a quote that seems apt.  …God today adds his “yes” to your “Yes,” as he confirms your will with his will, and as he allows you, and approves of, your triumph and rejoicing and pride, he makes you at the same time instruments of his will and purpose both for yourselves and for others.  In his unfathomable condescension God does add his “yes” to yours; but by doing so, he creates out of your love something quite new.

To accept the implications of what we say we believe means that we will break down the walls that isolate and segregate us.  There is a reason why we have been called to love.  It is in love that we experience our union in Christ with God.  We gather every Sunday to celebrate Eucharist.  We can’t do that if we are locked in the isolation of self.  Fully, actively, and consciously entering into the celebration of Eucharist means actively loving those with whom we gather and recognizing them to be one with us and together being the reality that is the Body of Christ.

To accept the implications of what we say we believe means that we will be ambassadors of love to those who are most unloved.  God expects us to continue Christ’s work.  Or, better put, Christ’s work cannot go on unless his body, the people of God, does it.  We cannot close our eyes to what is going on out there, remain inactive, and say that we are living the faith.  We must love the way Christ loved.

In the gospel Jesus talked about the two men in the field, one taken, one left.  He talked about the two women grinding wheat to flour, one taken, one left.  In each case, the one taken was the one who stayed awake and recognized the moment and yielded to faith.

The Lord’s house, in the first reading, is on the highest peak so that all from afar can see it and make their way toward it.  If we as Church let the reality of the feast we will celebrate in a few short weeks transform us, if we begin to love in the reality, hope would be rekindled even in those on the brink of despair and they would say: Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain. And we just might see swords beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  There just might be a renewed hope for peace.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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