Holy Cross Monastery,
West Park, NY
Brother Joseph Brown, n/OHC
BCP – Advent 1 C - Sunday 03 December 2006
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13
Luke 21: 25-36
I was perusing the Internet for some insight into today’s readings and discovered that there are 1,753,566 hits for “Day of Judgment”. And since this is the start of the Holiday shopping season, I thought I would let you know that the Apocalypse is available at Wal-Mart for $19.95.
Today we mark the beginning of the liturgical year with the season of Advent-meaning "arrival."
This is a good time, then, to take stock of one's challenges and accomplishments, as well as how one has responded to the life of faith during the past year. It is a time to reflect on how one's faith was lived. Where did I fall short and what can I do about it? These are particularly challenging questions in light of the many events occurring in the world.
The apocalyptic language of today's readings seems to take on a heightened sense of prophecy given the frightening uncertainty stirred up by recent events. Terrorism, war, corporate corruption, the abandonment of peace as an option, and, for many, events of a more personal nature lead to the feeling that life today is neither safe nor secure. Yet, no matter where one finds oneself, one thing is certain: our hope is in the coming of the Word Made Flesh, Jesus the Christ. The readings for today speak of a future when, in the words of Luke, "you know that the kingdom of God is near." Here is /good news/ in a time of despondency.
Our first reading today is from the book of the prophet Zechariah. He was speaking to the people of Israel who had recently returned to their land. Zachariah believed that Israel stood at the eve of the messianic age and he encouraged the completion of the temple in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. Zechariah delivered a message of hope to a group of dispirited people who felt they were about to face more difficult times. It is at bleak times like these that hope-filled prophesies of salvation are proclaimed by God's messengers. And so it was with Zechariah.
In his Gospel, Luke writes of a time when nations are perplexed at the signs in nature. When men faint "with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken." The reading ends with the sprouting of the fig leaf as a sign of an upcoming summer-the season of growth and life and is in stark contrast to the dead of winter. In those times when life leaves us feeling hopeless, there can spring forth, like a fig leaf at the end of winter, new life.
In my own life, I experience times that are so devastating that it feels as if the sun and the moon, the very things we count on to be constant from day to day, and year to year begin to crumble and become dark. Fear and distress become my constant companions. I am tossed about by the waves of emotion. I feel as if all the powers of heaven were shaken, and that life has become so hopeless that only direct intervention from God could save it. The most devastating blow is that all I could “do” during these times was to trust in the faithfulness of God. But God, being God, would act in God’s time and in God’s place. All I could do was wait for the advent. Despair and hope go hand in hand, as do death and resurrection. Luke's gospel is one that includes the full despair of reality and the unflinching hope of faith. To quote John Colone “Faith is not a vaccine that prevents the disease of despair. Faith is the seed of new life, from which hope can grow out of a winter of anguish and desolation.”
Destruction-redemption, death-resurrection. Over time, I have learned to see the signs of an impending judgment day more clearly. When I am rocked by emotions, when I see the familiar supports no longer are working, when the rigidity of old ritual becomes brittle and is no longer capable of holding me up, I know (most of the time only in hindsight) that /_a_/ day of judgment is coming. I know my redemption is near. And I know that it will happen again and again and again.
But probably not in the way I expect. Israel was awaiting the warrior king, who would ascend to the throne of David and conquer the nations. He would be great in deeds of battle, ruling the nations with a rod of iron. The psalms we chant everyday are full of references to this great and terrible messiah who’s strength would break bars of iron and crush doors of bronze. Peoples would do him honor and service, and on the great day of his reign, blood would flow to avenge the righteous and destroy the wicked. This was what they expected and what they waited for it. They waited through the time of destruction. They waited through a second kingdom, and through exile to Babylon. And they waited. And God did act.
But the great warrior king was born in a cave amid animals, straw and filth. His kingdom was a backwaters patch of land called the Galilee. His mighty army was a band of uneducated, stubborn and uncouth day-laborers and tax-collectors. The people of his kingdom were the crippled, the blind, the hopeless and taboo. The only rod of iron he knew was the one used to strike him, the only bronze doors, those of Pilate’s palace when they closed behind him as he was led out to die. And somehow, in the bloody murder of a young man in Jerusalem, all was made right. God’s judgment came, but not is way that anyone would have expected. It came as vulnerability and compassion, perfect mercy and justice. Could God have acted more contrary to their expectation, to *_my_* expectation?
God’s intervention in my own life is never what I expect. My handbook of appropriate actions is too small. I can not see how the loss, grief and pain of a moment or of a season could be the in-breaking of God’s dominion. I feel only the darkness. But my faith, that sometimes tiny cinder of light, is there, waiting for the breathe of God to give it life. And all of this not for my own personal happiness, my own personal comfort, but to bring me to that most terrifying Kingdom of God’s love in my own heart.
A love that appreciates beauty, but does not have to own it. A love that cares more for the health and well-being of the other than the cost in time or effort. A kingdom love that showers the broken, the blind and even my enemies with a mercy that has no need of revenge or an evening up of accounts. A kingdom love that really believes that God’s love is so total and so expansive that there is enough for you and for me. A kingdom love that flows like living waters to the east and to the west, over all the earth. That knows no summer of uncontrolled passions or a winter of cold indifference. And on that day the Lord will be One, and we will be one with God.
This I believe is the message of the advent of God. This is God's call to us this Advent season. To hope against the darkness. To see in the chaos of the world and in the darkness of our own souls, that God is present and active. Dawn follows the night, summer follows winter and the smallest and dimmest of sparks can set the world ablaze.
In the name of Jesus Christ, who was and is and is yet to be. Amen.