Those who have been part of the parish for a while know that I love Advent and for the newer members, you will come to know this fact. Advent is a precious time given us by our Church Universal each year to step back, and take a look around, at our world, but mostly at ourselves. It is a time of expectant waiting as we prepare once again for the coming of our God, as one of us, in Jesus, the Christ, who came to be our brother and friend—one who would save us by showing us how to live and to love.
Of course, for his original coming we look to the past to remember, but Advent is also a time to invite Jesus’ coming into our lives now, in a special way—each and every day. And finally, Advent also calls us to the time when Jesus will come “on the clouds with great power and glory,” in the future. We can only imagine what that will be like!
I read this past week that contrary to what we usually hear, that Advent is a time of waiting for Jesus to come; we might think about it as a time to go to Jesus—to get our heads and hearts around what it was for God to break into our human existence. We have to step back and say, “Wow!”
Advent is also about reading the “signs of the times.” Jesus tells us as much in the Gospel today. But are we to “read the signs” literally? Are we to wonder and worry when we see cataclysmic changes in the heavens and on the earth, such as the raging fires in the West this past year, the fury of tornadoes in the middle section of the country recently? Exegetes tell us “no”–that Jesus surely intended for us to look within and not without for the answers so needed in our world today—answers to war, pain, hunger, and suffering of all kinds. Pope Francis is calling us to just such introspection and there are those in his own ranks, clerical types who are hoping his papacy will be a short one!
My good friend, Fr. Paul Nelson once, speaking on human nature said, and I paraphrase, when were we little, we didn’t know what people thought of us—when we became adults, we worried what people thought of us, in middle age, we grew to simply wondering what they thought, and in old age, we ceased to care. Advent, my friends, is a time to reflect on what God thinks and what we think of our place in the world and of the work each of us is called to do in that same world.
It is interesting that in the early days after Vatican II, Christians were encouraged to “read the signs of the times.” And many of us were very excited to do that because we were being instructed to not just be blasé Catholics who said, “Yes Father” without thinking, but to let the Word of God really take root in our hearts—to let that Word live in our lives, to question and to reflect on our personal lives, asking how our faith affected our day in and day out dealings with each other. It was in those days that we sang hymns like, “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” because such sentiment spoke of our intentions then. In those days we were trying to let our faith make a difference in our lives and that was a good and exciting change. Hopefully, that is still our intent.
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, Christians lived good and pious lives of devotion, but often times, we didn’t make the connection that what the Scriptures said to us on Sundays, we were somehow supposed to apply in our day to day lives to really make a difference—especially where justice was concerned. But the Council changed all that—with a language we could now understand, we heard the message more clearly and more regularly, that yes, we laity, the folks in the pews, were to be conscientious followers of Jesus of Nazareth and his message of justice and love for all, and that it could and should affect our lives at home, at work and in our neighborhoods. With Vatican II, we connected the dots, we became bold in the Spirit to challenge ourselves, each other, even our Church leaders, to be our best selves because it did truly matter that we lived out in all our worldly dealings what we said we believed on Sundays. It was an exciting time because we became empowered to be true Christians—true followers of Jesus!
And as we have watched history unfold, it is sadly the lack of doing just this; talking, asking the questions, connecting the dots, having our faith, our liturgies, our lives make sense in modern times that caused a whole generation to walk away from the Church, because it ceased to make sense in their lives. That is why it is so important that we don’t get stuck in the past, holding onto ideas while, they may have been comfortable because we had “always done it that way”—if they don’t help us to live fully the message of Jesus in this age, it is time to let them go.
John XXIII asked us to open some windows—to let some fresh air into our Church. This gentle man saw that rituals and practices long outdated, that lacked inclusivity of all the People of God, needed to go. Pope Francis is striving to get bishops and other hierarchical types to remember that our God came among us so as to dispel the mystery of who our God is and let us know that God is indeed, Emmanuel, God-with-us whom we prepare for during this holy season of Advent.
Advent is and always has been a time of challenge—a time to prepare for a guest so sublime, but yet so like us, that we probably wouldn’t notice him on the street, should he pass by. The way we would know him would be through his actions—Scripture tells us, on that first Easter morn—they knew him “in the breaking of the bread”–ultimately, they knew him through his love. I would think that is how others would know us—through our love.
When we can make the hard decisions as he did, based on justice for all; recognizing women for their God-given gifts and calls to ministry along with men, (Francis says this door is closed, which also means, it can be opened, as my husband reminds me!) when we can accept and receive all people at our communion tables, regardless of marital status or gender differences and expression, (Francis has basically said in regard to marriages between Catholics and Lutherans that they can listen to their consciences, which opens doors I would say to many other issues) when we more often choose peace over war as a way to live with global neighbors, (perhaps we should dig out Pacem in Terris—the encyclical on peace from that wonderful man of peace, John XXIII and learn again, its wisdom) when we begin to more often respect our beautiful earth and work to preserve it for future generations, (as Francis teaches in Laudato Si) when we pay individuals a just, living wage and so many other things we could name, then we will truly see Jesus coming on the clouds, in power and glory because the kindom he came to establish, based on the love of his Abba—his loving Parent—will have finally come to fruition.
My dear friends, when Jesus came that 1st time, over 2,000 years ago, he gave us all we needed to be free, happy and fulfilled—he saved us by showing us how to live and to love—that is what we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas—a gift of complete love—a total giving of self.
And each of us is challenged in different ways to follow our call to make a difference for justice and for mercy—beginning December 8th, we move into a Year of Mercy, actually, an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy running December 8-November 20, 2016, promulgated by Pope Francis. For many of you, it amounts to having made the decision to attend this parish, putting up with disdain perhaps, from acquaintances and relatives, working from the fringes to call our Church back onto the path of Jesus. We are in good company as this Sunday, Francis calls us “into the streets” to march for global climate action. There are marches across the country and world today. There is one in La Crosse and Rochester for any who may be interested in going. But whether you can go or not; we can all be aware that how we live does affect our world. Advent, my friends calls us to this kind of commitment if we want our Church to be reflective of our brother Jesus.
When we can each truly follow our commitment to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, as Paul describes so beautifully in today’s second reading, when we can “grow and overflow with love,” then we will let that shoot of justice grow up in us, we will become the mature Christians that Vatican II asked us to be instead of the milk-toast Catholics of former years who didn’t realize they had anything to say about their faith. When we are alive in the Spirit, we will be people who challenge when we see an injustice, even if the perpetrator is the bishop. No doubt many of you saw the ads calling forth those abused by priests to come forward. As sad as this is, it is the right thing that this issue be addressed now! Jesus asks this of each of us because he asked it of himself.
So, my friends, as we begin Advent today and move through this holy time; let us be open to the signs of the times, not cataclysmic changes in the heavens and the earth; even though our earth does depend on us noticing these changes and working to turn them around. Instead let us reflect upon cataclysmic, if need be, transformations within ourselves that would allow us to be, for our purposes here today, Gospel people, both when convenient and when inconvenient. May we each be blessed with strength to be all that we can be and truly prepare a fitting welcome for our brother, Jesus.