With this Sunday, my friends, we begin the holy season of Advent—a time traditionally, for waiting and quiet waiting at that—smack dab in the middle of lots of rushing—here and there, impatient for what comes next.
The Church is wise in giving us these four weeks, encouraging us to slow down, a bit at least, in all our preparations for the season of Christmas. The wisdom in slowing down is about preparing properly, setting the expected joy of Christmas aside for a time, so as to be fully aware of its true meaning—a season of love, pure and simple.
We might compare this time of Advent waiting to preparing for guests to come to our home—we diligently get everything ready; clean the house, plan and prepare special foods so that all is in readiness for the big day to welcome our guests. The same is true in preparing for Jesus to come as I have shared other years in the piece, “The Basement of my Heart.” Jesus is always there—with us, waiting for us to be in touch.
The readings for this 1st Sunday of Advent speak to being “on a journey”—Jesus coming to us, but just as important is, us going to Jesus—it is a two-way street! The more each of us tries to know our God, coming to see that we are mightily loved; we realize that we need, as in any human relationship, to respond to the love first bestowed on us by God.
This past week we were given a wonderful example of the kind of love our God has for us in the person of the late, Fred Rogers, as depicted by actor, Tom Hanks, in the new movie, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Some of you grew up watching, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and others, like myself, watched it with your kids.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was always a very peaceful “place” to go each day—to slow down, to listen, as Mister Rogers did so well, to each and every guest he had on his show, as well as, to learn many new things that he exposed us to. He helped his viewers often to deal with hard issues that life sometimes gives us, and to celebrate the good times.
One thing Mister Rogers’ viewers always knew was that he liked us, “just the way we are!” There is no better statement than this to describe the over-the-top love of God for each of us than the above statement, “I like you just the way you are!”—there is nothing special we have to do to make us likeable—WE JUST ARE!—in God’s eyes!
On our recent trip to Plains, Georgia, we had the great privilege of taking in one of former President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school classes. Part of his teaching was to encourage us, in our quest to better our world, knowing that we can’t fix everything, to, in the next month, do just one good thing for someone else—perhaps someone that we don’t know. The idea was that reaching out to another, perhaps someone that we don’t even like, is the first step toward being more at peace within ourselves and our world.
Many times, we think we don’t like someone, but the truth is, we don’t really know them. This is where listening comes in. Mister Rogers’ hallmark quality was his ability to listen to others and in order to truly listen to another; one has to slow the pace of life, down. Tom Hanks said in an interview that this was the hardest part about his playing, “Mister Rogers”—slowing down.
So, we might do that one good thing that President Carter suggested that could change our world and see the movie; It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, if we haven’t already. Do it, my friends, not only for yourself, but for others too, because seeing in will make you a better person in the world in which you live! And of course, the disclaimer is that this movie is for adults, not children.
Each year when Advent comes around, it is an invitation for us to check in with ourselves—discover what is most important in our lives and what perhaps, we can let go of. What is it that I am perhaps doing, that if I didn’t do, might make my life better? What, perhaps, would make my life better, if I tried to do it? Now, I am purposely not suggesting any one thing in either the positive or negative category, as I think each of us is aware of those things either needed or not needed in our lives.
The prophets of old, and Isaiah is no exception to this rule in today’s first reading, were challenging the people to cease their warring with each other and be people of peace—there will be a time, Isaiah says, when “one nation will not raise a sword against another.” This time presumably would be when the Messiah comes, yet we know that there was much war and conflict when Jesus lived.
I would think that part of the sadness of Jesus’ earthly life was his realization that “making war”—being in conflict with others, somehow, seemed the “easier,” if you will, option—to “making peace.”
And what of today—is this still true?” I was curious when thinking about war and peace, of how many nations are at war, in some form or fashion today. The Institute for Economic Peace, an international group that tracks this kind of thing, says that of 162 nations they have looked at in our world, only 11 are not involved in conflict of one kind or another!—only 11! Their measure for determining conflict in any place is if there are 25 or more deaths a year because of a particular conflict. If we can train for war, why not train for peace?
“Come, let us climb to the mountain of God,” the prophet says, and wisdom tells us that this is much more than a physical climb—it is about looking at ourselves and what part we play in bringing peace to our own individual lives. Sometimes this can be very daunting because the crowd often times chooses the easier option—that of “making war,” in big and little ways. It takes a good bit of strength to be the alternate voice, the one that perhaps speaks for justice.
This past week, I read of one of the original, “Philadelphia 11,” as they were called in 1974, making up the first women to be ordained within the Episcopal Church, who has now died. They, like the first Roman Catholic women ordained in 2002, went against the powers of their time to follow a call greater than the Church law that said this couldn’t happen. The powers-that-control within the Episcopal church, unlike the Roman Catholics, agreed, one year later in 1975, that, “yes,” women should be ordained. Yet, even to this day, Episcopalian women priests still struggle to get pastorates within the larger, more visible parishes.
And at this time of year, four weeks before the remembrance of our God’s greatest act of love, care and understanding of our human condition, our need to be whole, to be included—each and every one, in sending Jesus to be, one-with-us and show us the way; this same lack of vision is still the case within the Catholic church.
Has the prophets’ call that we should, “walk in the light of God” ceased to be of importance any more, or is all of this ritual each year, just something we do, but don’t really take seriously? A good question perhaps and as we ponder it, the prophets continue to call, “the night is far spent—the day draws near—put on the armor of light.” Paul pleads to the Roman converts of his time, and to us through the ages, “it is now the hour for you to be awake from your sleep.” Matthew, in today’s gospel, continues, “Stay awake,” and [be prepared.]
So my friends, how do we find our way, our direction in all of this? I have always found that going to the Scriptures and really hearing the messages contained there is a wonderful place to look, again and again and again, especially if following Jesus is our intent, each year, each Advent—that we begin once again today and in each season of our Church Year.
We can’t just read the words contained there, but must make them truly part of our lives. And that is why the examples of Fred Rogers, Jimmy Carter, the Philadelphia 11, the Danube 7 and many others who have done just that, are so compelling—we need to know that such goodness, courage and wisdom is possible and I believe that Advent is a great time to study peace, not war, truth, justice, and love and not their opposites. Now is the time my friends! Amen? Amen!