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|First Sunday of Advent||
November 27, 2005
As we begin our reflection this morning I urge all of us to try to put ourselves into the situation of the chosen people when those words of the Prophet Isaiah were proclaimed. They had been in captivity for 70 years. Now suddenly they were free. God had sent Sirus, king and ruler of the Persians, to be their liberator so they could return back to their home, to their temple, to all that they loved so much. When they got back everything was in disarray. They had no food. The water supply was nonexistent. The buildings had been torn down. Their temple had been totally destroyed. The altar had been abominated, and they were very discouraged. They recognized, as we heard them cry out in this passage, it was because of their own failures, their own lack of trust in God, their sinfulness.
In that moment of almost complete despair they cry out, Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down. The mountains would quake at your presence and your enemies would tremble. Let them witness your stunning deeds. No one has ever heard or foreseen. No eye had ever seen a God besides you who can work wonders for those who trust in God. Their cry is for God to enter into their lives, into their world, to help to transform them and to transform the world around them.
I think its not difficult for us to see ourselves almost in the same way. We live in a world were, as Pope John Paul put it when he was reflecting on September 11, 2001, and what happened that day, Its a world were the moral order is shattered. A world where it seems that evil has the upper hand. And we see that in so many ways.
I got an e-mail this week from a good friend of mine who is an Iraqi person, who lives in Baghdad, and it was heart rending. Hes so discouraged. He says, You cant understand how terrible the situation is here in our beautiful city. Weve read enough in the news, I think, weve heard enough in the news to know that the situation there is unlivable. But we also think of other situations in our world where the moral order seems to be shattered. You know a few of us visited Haiti a couple of weeks ago and there too is a country where nothing works, where the people are in desperate poverty, where their human rights are violated with impunity all the time. Even in our own country things are not good. Our own city was named, 10 days ago or so, as the second most violent city in the United States. We have the tragedy of a young man from our parish, 17 years old, who was shot to death, buried a couple of weeks ago. The moral order surely seems to be shattered.
We like those people of old want to cry out to God, Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. The mountains would quake at your presence.
But this has happened. God rendered the heavens. God broke into human history two thousand years ago in Jesus.
So our cry has to be somewhat different. God is here among us ready to bring the reign of God into its fulfillment. What we have to do, I think, is what Jesus says to us in the Gospel -- watch, be alert, be awake so that you will encounter Jesus here in our midst. There are so many ways. Just think about what happens when we come together to celebrate a Eucharist as we do today. If were alert, if we watch, we will experience the presence of Jesus. First of all, in our assembly. Where two or three are gathered together in my name I am there in their midst. Jesus is here among us and if we awaken our faith life and share it with one another, well feel the energy, the presence, the love of Jesus in our very midst. Thats why we come together on a Sunday morning, so that we can strengthen one anothers faith, make each other aware of Jesus who lives among us. But we have to be alert. We have to watch. We have to be ready to experience Jesus coming to us in that way.
Or it comes to us in this word of God. Its a living word. God speaks to us. God is present in the word of God. Maybe too often we just sort of listen casually instead of listening with an alertness ready to hear: What is God saying to me? How does God become present to me in the word of God thats proclaimed every time we gather? Its a living word. Its God present to us if were alert, if we listen with watchfulness.
God is also present in a special way as we celebrate the Eucharist. In the leader of the celebration who is in our midst as a representative of Jesus, as he celebrated the last supper, we can be alert to Gods presence. Finally, we do what Jesus did at the last supper -- we take bread and wine, we bless it and we break it and we proclaim, This is Jesus. and it is! But, again, we have to be alert. We have to be ready to experience that coming of Jesus to us. If we are, then what St. Paul says to the Christians at Corinth will be true of us; For you have been fully enriched in him with words as well as with knowledge even as the testimony concerning Jesus was confirmed in you. You do not lack any spiritual gift and only await the glorious final coming of Jesus, our Lord. We have been blessed. God has rended the heavens and has come down. Jesus is in our midst, gives to us spiritual gifts. In his name we can carry on his work. We can transform that shattered moral order until the reign of God breaks forth ever more completely.
One of the things that we have to do, I think, is proclaimed to us in the word of God in another passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah where the prophet is challenging the people because they gathered for their worship services, their sacrifices and so on, but they didnt do it with fervor and intensity. And so God says, What do I care for your endless sacrifices? Im fed up with your burnt offerings. When you come before me and trample on my courts who asked you to visit me? Im fed up with your oblations. I grow sick with your incense, your feasts and with your holy assemblies. I can no longer bear [the load]. I hate your new moons and appointed feasts. When you stretch out your hands I will close my eyes. The more you pray, the more I refuse to listen, for your hands are covered with blood.
We live in a world where there is extreme injustice. We benefit from it in so many ways, and we fail to work to change it as we should with the gifts that Jesus had given to us. So God calls upon us: Remove from my sight the evil of your deeds. Put an end to your wickedness and learn to do good. And finally, Seek justice and keep in line the abusers. Give the orphans their rights and defend the widows. In other words reach out to the poor, make justice happen. If were alert to God and to Gods words and the coming of Jesus into our midst, our world can be changed!
That it the hope of this Advent season. Sometimes, I think, we are discouraged. We think it really cant happen. Ive had people tell me, Well, you cant really change the world. Human beings are always going to be evil and hateful and violent. Sometimes were tempted to give in to that instead of saying, No, we will be alert. We will wash our hands clean. We will work for justice for the widows and the orphans.
This past week I was given a creed developed by the Jesuit priest Fr. Dan Berrigan. He calls it his An Advent Credo, and it gives the lie to any of us that might be discouraged, who might not try to stay alert for the coming of Jesus into our lives. If we could listen to this and draw hope from it perhaps it will give us the energy we need to keep on working to change our world. He says:
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss --
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction --
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever --
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world --
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers --
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history --
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ -- the life of the world.
Watch and we will see that happen, and we will know Jesus in our midst.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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