This is the time of year when I try to think about writing an
annual letter to my family and friends. I haven’t succeeded for the past three
years so most of them probably think I’ve disappeared from the face of the
earth. My excuse is there just hasn’t been time with all my parish duties. Yet my
brother, who was also a priest, managed to write a letter every year. Yet he often started or ended his letter
saying that the world was in such a terrible state that he wasn’t sure we’d all
be here by the next Christmas.
I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve been a priest for a
decade now, or whether it’s because of my advancing years but I find myself thinking more and more like
my brother. Are these the end times? It sure looks like it.
Advent has been described as a solemn dance, because it
reminds us to be prepared for the end of things as we know them, but also to
look forward to that time with joy and hope. The motto of the season is “be prepared.” We
are preparing for three things; in our outer lives we are preparing to
celebrate secular Christmas with lights, presents, cookies and parties; in our
spiritual lives, we are preparing for the birth of the Christ child once again
in our hearts and imaginations; and at the same time, we are preparing for
everything to be changed.
Last week we heard the parable of the sheep and the goats.
In that story, the king separates people depending on the way they have behaved
towards the victims, the outcasts of their society. I don’t think this was meant to be a stand
alone moralistic statement that in the end of time we will be judged, but a
corrective statement about the way God really sees things. It says that what is
important is not how religious we are, not how wealthy we are, not even how
well we care for our own families, but how we care for those who are different,
those who are unsuccessful, those on the margins.
In this morning’s Gospel we heard that the Son of Man will come in great
glory. Even though we see Jesus first and foremost as the son of God, he often called
himself the Son of Man. This comes from a dream of Daniel which was well known
in Jesus’ day. In his dream, Daniel saw four terrifying beasts come out of the
sea wreaking havoc, and then one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of
heaven. The four beasts are interpreted as representing empires who treat the
earth and its people as if they are expendable. But the one like a Son of Man
brings a different kingdom, a different reign. This is the reign where all
beings are treated with respect and love.
This is the reign which we enroll in when we make our
baptismal vows. This is the reign we are to work towards bringing on earth; the
time when all beings will be brought into reconciliation with God and will live
in peace. A time when we will no longer damage one another and our planet intentionally
or unintentionally; a time when we will not longer treat one another
inhumanely; a time when justice and peace will come to this universe.
And that is our hope. That is the joy in the solemn dance
that is Advent.
It is a solemn
because there is so much to be done. In the first reading from Isaiah, we hear
the prophet begging God to come again in power, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come
down,” he says. “Come and do something about this mess!” Looking at the
state of our world with the ever-speeding rate of climate change, the wars in
the Middle East and in parts of Africa and the borders of Europe, unsustainable
population growth, the devastation of the environment, and governments who can’t
govern, we too cry out to God “O that you would tear open the heavens and come
down and do something!”
But we have
learned that God does not live in the heavens and that God rarely intervenes
directly and dramatically in our corporate lives. Yet we have also seen many
amazing things in our lives; things that only the hand of God working through
humans could bring about. The tumbling of the Berlin wall is a prime example.
Who dared to imagine that one day it would come down, that Germany would be
reunited? For me, that continues to be a sign of hope even in times of
We are, each of
us, connected to one another in the Holy Spirit. If God is in and through all
things, then the very same God who touches us also touches those with Ebola,
also touches those fighting in Iraq and Syria, also touches those who have been
disappeared and those who are dispossessed. So when we send them love and peace
and hope, there is a divine delivery system. When we focus on filling ourselves
with God’s peace and sending this out as a blessing, it cannot fail to arrive
where it is needed.
There is much
pain and darkness and difficulty. It is easy for us to become immobilized,
paralyzed by the enormity of the work, the solemnity of the dance. It is easy for
us to feel guilty because we live in peace and prosperity. But we are told to
stay alert, not to allow ourselves to be numbed either by the easy reassurances
of consumerism or by the horrors of our inhumanity.
means working for the reign of God here and now. It means living simply and generously, living
our lives in an attitude of service and continuing with our spiritual practice
of cultivating and sharing peace and joy. We are the resurrection people. We
are the ones who bring hope. We are the ones who dance, not in denial of the
times of trial but even in the times of trial.
Our work this
Advent, and every day of the year, is to allow ourselves to heal from the pain
and trauma we have experienced so that we may be centers of peace and fountains
of joy; so that we may dance from our hearts. Our work is to bring that peace
and joy to those in need of it. The Son of Man who Daniel saw coming after the
beasts of Empire and showing a completely different way to live is the one we
follow. We too are called to demonstrate a completely different way to live, a
way of blessing for all beings.
And that is our
hope, that is our dance. Healing is possible. Healing is happening. The reign
of the Son of Man has started and we are part of it.
May our solemn
Advent dance be a blessing of peace to all creation.