THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – December 2, 2012

 

The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 33:14-16

St. Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

The holy Gospel according to Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

 

What preoccupies your thoughts as we begin this new liturgical year?  Do the events reported in the nightly news challenge your faith?  Even as there is promise that some wars will ebb, others continue as new arenas of contention arise.  Death tolls mount and there is talk of sending more troops into battle.  Then there is the state of the economy and the number of unemployed.

Or, perhaps you are preoccupied with things more personal, the state of your health, or difficulties in your primary relationship.  You might be mourning a loss.

As you sit under the Word this Sunday, what is the message you long to hear?

I asked a friend that question the other day.  The answer I got?  Just tell me it’s going to get better, that my troubles will end.  My friend had just gone through a divorce.  I reminded him of what I remind you now” The word gospel means good news.  This liturgical year on most Sundays we will hear the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ as it comes to us from Luke.  Each time we stand for the proclamation, we will stand to let the Good News wash over us and inspire our assent, our ongoing conversion, our continuing transformation into the Body of Christ, i.e., the Church that is the People of God.  In that context and strengthened by faith, even difficult scriptures become good news because of the hope they inspire.

As we enter into this Season of Advent, it is important to remember that there are two comings the season proclaims: the birth of Christ and Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time.  The renewal of the first strengthens our hope for the second.  What is important for us as we journey through Advent is acknowledge the longing.  We long for the rebirth of Christ in our lives and we long for Christ’s return in glory when all that is promised will be fulfilled.  We yearn for peace.  We pray to be delivered from the depths of mourning and find reason to hope again.   The Word proclaimed promises fulfillment in Christ and the healing of all our wounds.  So enter into the silence.  Sit with the Word.  Let your heart be open.  Listen.

We ought to be able to hear the reading from the Prophet Jeremiah.  The times in which it was written were desperate.  Four centuries after the era of King David, Jerusalem was in shambles and the Jews are enslaved in the Babylonian Captivity.  The darkness of despair enshrouds the people.  Some of them, including some of their leaders have taken up the ways of the Babylonians and their god Baal.  Will the terrible times never end?  Has God forgotten the promises that they would live free in their own kingdom?  Will Jerusalem ever be restored?

There is no wanting of prophets of doom in our own times.  Have you noticed how popular apocalyptic stories are these days?  Have you noticed the warnings that the end of everything will happen on the 21st of this month?  That’s when the Mayan calendar runs out, as do the predictions of Nostradamus.  What more evidence do you need?  Why shouldn’t we despair?

Jeremiah says to the troubled and nearly broken people and to us: The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the House of Israel and to Judah.  Remember that the Lord had promised that David’s reign would last forever.  It’s hard to cling to that message during enslavement.  What physical evidence could the people seize upon to support their trust in that promise?  I will raise up for David a just shoot…in those days Judah shall be safe.  The prophecy serves to strengthen the people so that they can be faithful to the One who chose them to be a people peculiarly God’s own and to believe that God will never abandon them.  Where is God now?

We see the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus as the Just Shoot rising up from the stump of David’s family tree, the Messiah, the one who is sent to bring Good News, the One who is our hope and our salvation.  Even as Jeremiah’s prophecy reverberates in our consciousness, we hear the Gospel.

Jesus speaks to us from those final days before his passion, those final days before his disciples will witness the greatest test to their faith in him.  Jesus warns that the apocalyptic times will be filled with dreadful signs in the heavens and disastrous natural events on earth.  These will terrify even the strongest.  People will die of fright before the roaring wind and rushing waves.  There is no mention of earthquakes, but they might happen, too.  The challenge for disciples, those who walk with Jesus and believe in him, is to be different from the rest of people and stand tall in the face of all this turmoil, suffering, and even death, as we recognize in those dreadful signs that our redemption is at hand.  Did you hear Jesus say that that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth?  Remember that this is Gospel, Good News.  Why?  Because even in the face of the worst that can happen, Jesus is our hope and our deliverance.  We will not be defeated nor lost forever.

In these times that are so difficult for so many, we must hear Paul’s words first addressed to the church at Thessalonica.  May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.  In other words, Paul is urging them and us to live what we have become through Baptism, Christ’s other self.  We are challenged to do what Jesus did.  That will be the great sign that encourages and strengthens.  It is all about love; love that binds the community together and reaches out even to those who are not part of the community.  Imitate Christ.  Be a people whose lives give evidence to the fact that we believe, that our hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ, that like him, we are willing to pour out our lives in service so that even the least will feel the embrace of God’s love that comes to us through Jesus.

Now do you see why the Eucharist must be at the center of our faith lives?  Does it make sense that our lives must revolve around the Sunday celebration of Eucharist and is the source and summit of all we do?  We come together at the Table of the Word to be transformed by the proclamation.  Wearied by the labors of the past week, we gather at the Table of the Eucharist to be transformed by rite we celebrate in renewing Christ’s dying and rising.  The Assembly is transformed into the Body of Christ and, having shared in the meal, is sent out for another week to be that presence in the market place.  Just as the Bread was broken and the Cup poured out in order for us to share the Meal, so must we be broken and poured out until all are fed.

Perhaps this Advent it is important for us to make the operative challenge for us to be in the word all.  There is no shortage of those sewing the seeds of judgmentalism, fundamentalism, and division.  Even in the church, there are those telling others they are unworthy to approach the Table.  The judgment is made that they are sinners and therefore condemned to hell.  Are we forgetting that we are all sinners and that our forgiveness is in, with, and through Christ?  Jesus did warn that what we sow we would reap.  What does that say about sowing the seeds of judgment and condemnation?

These are dark days.  The Advent Season for us in the Northern Hemisphere happens as the daylight hours become fewer.  Maybe this year we should focus on the darkness and imagine what our lives would be like without our faith, what it would be like to be still in our sins.  And when the darkness threatens to envelop us, then remember the Light whose coming we will celebrate this Christmas.  Jesus is our hope as he comes with a love that is universal and unconditional.  His table fellowship proclaimed that message.  So should ours.

Sincerely,

Didymus   

 

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