1ST SUNDAY ADVENT C 2012
“My friends, what we have heard is now clear. Daily the world is oppressed by new and growing evils. You see how few of you remain from a countless people; yet daily afflictions still oppress us, sudden disasters crush us, new and unforeseen misfortunes afflict us.
In youth the body is vigorous, the chest remains strong and healthy, the neck is straight, the arms muscular; in later years the body is bent, the neck scrawny and withered, the chest oppressed by difficult breathing, strength is failing, and speech is interrupted by wheezing.
So too the world was strong in its early years, as in its youth: lusty in begetting offspring for the human race, green in its physical health, teeming with a wealth of resources. Now it is weighed down by its old age, and as troubles increase it is oppressed as if by the proximity of its demise.
The day before yesterday, my friends, you heard that an old orchard was uprooted by a sudden hurricane, that homes were destroyed and churches knocked from their foundations. How many persons who were safe and unharmed in the evening, thinking of what they would do the next day, suddenly died that night, caught in a trap of destruction?” Is this Wendy Mesley with last nights
Four weeks ago in the more eastern parts of The United States, days of weather-warnings preceded Hurricane Sandy. Days before its arrival, life changed. Schools, businesses, whole cities shut down, even Wall Street! Rain, snow, winds and high ocean waves electrified the coast-landers into fight and flight. Some doubted and tried to live through it all. Some didn’t believe it would be as bad as predicted.
Jeremiah had made similar predictions of calamities befalling Israel, but he attributed it to their infidelities towards God’s Law. An image of new life springing from the old is used by Jeremiah to predict recovery and God’s eternal fidelity. A “shoot” or “branch” will bud from the old stalk of David. The new will complete the old. The future will be as safe and righteous as in former times. This “shoot” will be a man whose ways will be those of King David and who will bring about peace with justice. Those who longed for past times of prosperity and integrity, who now sit in exile and darkness, hear this with increased longing and hope.
Jesus has some warnings himself which sound worse than the ones for Hurricane Sandy. The city of Jerusalemis central to the religious sense of the people. Jesus is speaking to His disciples about the total collapse of the city which has been the symbol of God’s eternal fidelity. Amid all this turbulence Jesus encourages His disciples to stand firm because he is the “shoot of David” who will reestablish order and redeem His people.
It is attractive to spend time interpreting natural and astronomical signs of the coming of the end. Even Gregory the Great seemed to dabble in that, but Jesus is always inviting us to be attentive to our own personal distractions, disorders and thereby watch or be alert to the ways the Son of Man comes to bring back our own sense of integrity.
This Gospel is not really about the end of the world; it is about the completion of the kingdom. The Second Coming is not a deadline; it is an invitation and incentive to live in a certain way in the present time. The Gospel calls us to be vigilant not about a future event but about a present way of living shaped by the Jesus before whom we stand. Our destiny is to share in the Son of Man’s “great glory.”
Our hearts get drowsy and lazy, tired out by the anxieties of daily life. Maybe we distract ourselves from our troubles by working very hard, or becoming fascinated with drink, or sex, or gambling, or email, or golf, or surfing the web, or face-book or pride, or, or, ... Whatever it is for you, the very clear message of Advent is, “Rest for a while.” Open the door just a crack to let God in.
We are to be vigilant at all times and pray for strength. Vigilance does not mean that we sit back and watch the cosmic horizon for signs, or that we withdraw from reality and pray to keep ourselves unsullied by the world. On the contrary, our annual remembrance of the Incarnation celebrates God’s desire to become immersed in the human experience. To do justice to this great gift, we must immerse ourselves in every aspect of the human condition. There we will find Christ.
Dorothy Day’s faith enabled her to see anew. She recognized and welcomed Christ in the needy, the hungry, the homeless and the forgotten. Jesus’ words about serving his needs in God’s poor ones were seared into her soul. As Brennan Hill has said, Day was “one of those rare figures … who can shine a new light on gospel teachings and actually live according to Jesus’ word and example”
We hold her out as unique, and so she was. But rather than simply admire Day, we are to emulate her example. Day was convinced that prayer was more than words. She was certain that prayer can be the witness of one’s life, the work one does, the friendships one cultivates and the love one gives and receives. Through her prayer, she was able to recognize and serve Christ in his many comings among us.
When she died, just after Thanksgiving in 1980, those in whom she had seen and served Jesus were gathered at the church for her funeral. Beggars, day laborers, bag ladies, addicts, eccentrics, priests and nuns came together to pay their respects. Day’s biographer William Miller shared his experience of that day: “At the church door, Cardinal Terence Cook met the body to bless it. Just then, a demented person pushed through the crowd and, bending low, peered intently into the coffin. No one interfered because, as even the funeral directors understood, it was in such as this man that Dorothy had seen the face of God”
As we celebrate the comings of Jesus, the example of this good Christian woman and the spirit of the Advent season invite us to take stock of ourselves. At this very time her cause for beatification is being proposed by American bishops. She is the very one who said “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
These twenty-three days we are invited to be faithfully, and not fearfully, watchful.
Let us pray with the graces which Advent offers. Grace specifically in deep awareness of our emptiness, our longing and ultimate desires. “Come Lord Jesus” Maranatha! Advent is anticipation. Advent is promise and prayer. “May the Lord increase you and make you overflow with love. May he strengthen your hearts.”