|As I mentioned before
Mass, we celebrate today the beginning of Advent and also the beginning
of the new church year. This is the day when we start to remember and review,
once more, the whole cycle of our relationship with creation, with one
another and with God through the liturgical year of the church. If we listen
very deeply to the lessons, I think we will have a deeper understanding
of what Advent is and why we celebrate this season and also about the new
year that we begin today. Not the calendar year, not the new fiscal year,
or the new academic year but the new year of the church.
Advent, as probably most
of us know, is a time of waiting, a time of preparation, a time to get
But for what?
We might first think
that it’s to get ready for Christmas. That’s what our culture is preparing
for now. You see it everyplace you go in the advertisements and all of
the attention that is given to this holiday and holy day.
But Advent is much more
than just getting ready for Christmas. The birth of Jesus happened 2,000
years ago. Or perhaps, especially as we listen to the gospel, we might
think it’s a time to get ready for the end of the world. And, in a way,
Advent is that. It’s a time to be aware that the world in which in we live
will come to an end. Each of us will end our lives in death.
But neither of these
things is really what we’re waiting for. They enter into it, but what we
really are waiting for is the reign of God. The reign of God, the time
when all of creation, all of the peoples on the earth, everyone, will live
according to God’s way, will live subject to God’s will, will live in a
way that there will be justice and fullness of life for every person on
our planet. The reign of God is a time when there will be genuine peace.
We’re waiting for that
fullness of the reign of God to happen.
And that’s what Advent
is really about. That we prepare for the reign of God, that we prepare
ourselves even now to enter into the reign of God as we live each day of
And that’s why this new
year is so important, because the church’s year shows us that we have a
larger purpose than simply measuring time as it goes by as the calendar
year does; or simply being concerned about our wealth as we measure the
fiscal year; or even about our intellectual growth as we measure the academic
year. The church’s year reminds us that we have a relationship to God and
to all of creation. And the church year helps us to review the whole history
of God’s interaction with the human race.
From the very beginning,
God was very involved with the people on earth. We know that from our Hebrew
scriptures. In today’s first lesson, we have an example of how the chosen
people, with whom God had made a special covenant, experienced suffering,
turmoil and difficulty. In fact, they lived at a time when according to
the way Isaiah describes it, “Why have you made us stray from your ways,
why have you let our hearts become hard so that we do not fear you? Return
into our midst for the sake of your servants. Why have irreligious peoples
invaded your sanctuary, why have our enemies trampled it down? Oh, that
you would rend the heavens and come down, the mountains would quake at
The people pleaded for
God to come more fully into their lives because they lived in the midst
of such suffering, violence, and hate. They begged for God to come more
deeply into their midst, to rend the heavens, tear the heavens apart and
come be among them.
It would not be hard
for us, I think, to understand deeply their experience. We live in time
of history where we, too, are surrounded by violence, hatred, and killing.
We’re preparing for war. It’s almost inevitable that we will do this. But
we also experience terrorism and read about it.
In our own nation, we
experience killings every day, we have more violence in this country than
any other nation in the world.
And so we, too, like
those people of old, can cry out with sincerity, “Rend the heavens, oh
God, and come down into our midst.”
And the new liturgical
year helps us to remember that God in the past has always entered into
the midst of God’s people. In fact, in a very special way, as St. Mark
points out in his gospel.
Earlier in the gospel
passage that we read today, Mark describes the baptism of Jesus and he
uses those very words of Isaiah and says, “God rendered the heavens asunder
and came down on Jesus through the spirit.” And so God entered into our
world in that very special way in Jesus and that’s, too, what we review
during our church year; how Jesus came into our midst, how Jesus came to
proclaim the reign of God and to say that the reign of God is already happening;
it’s in your midst right now. All you need to do is be converted, change
your lives. The reign of God happens.
In our liturgical year,
we go through the life of Jesus and we come to understand how we are drawn
into that life of Jesus through our baptism and our confirmation. We re-celebrate
the life of Jesus every week when we gather for the Eucharist. The life,
the death, and the resurrection of Jesus are made present in our midst
even as we celebrate each Sunday.
And so the liturgical
year helps us to know how God comes into our midst, helps us to understand
that our lives have a time frame that’s bigger again than the calendar
year, or the fiscal year, or the academic year. It’s a time frame that
draws us into eternity itself, into the very presence of God as God comes
into our midst.
One of the most important
things that the liturgical year reminds us of is that we’re not simply
waiting for the end of the world, for the reign of God to come in its fullness.
The reign of God can come into the life of anyone of us at any moment.
Once we open ourselves to the coming of Jesus, Jesus will enter our lives
and then we can live according to that time frame of the reign of God.
And we can experience the very special blessings that come from living
within the reign of God and according to the reign of God. We will experience
peace and joy, even in the midst of suffering and death. If we enter into
it, even now, we will find a serenity and a calmness in our lives that
we would not have otherwise.
But to enter into the
reign of God means that we must follow the way that Jesus teaches. Blessed
are the poor. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are those who forgive.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the peacemakers.
If we’re going to enter into the reign of God, we must live according to
the teachings of Jesus, “You have heard it was said of old, ‘Love your
neighbor and hate your enemy.’ I say to you, “Love your enemy, do good
to the one who hurt you.”
Is it possible really
for any of us to live this way of Jesus?
It might seem beyond
us I think. How could you really forgive someone who acted hatefully toward
you, who did violence against you or someone you love? How can you really
move away from the culture of wealth in which we live, where everybody
aspires to get as much as possible of material wealth? Is it possible to
live the way of Jesus, to let the reign of God happen in my life? I tell
you it is. It is possible.
If we truly enter into
this new church year and if we really try to understand what it means that
Jesus comes into our world, that Jesus comes and proclaims the reign of
God and invites us to enter into it, if we follow the whole church, through
the coming of Jesus, his growing up, his public live, his preaching, his
calling together the community of disciples, his crucifixion and his resurrection,
if we follow this church year with faithfulness and with great fervor and
faith and prayer, we will find ourselves being drawn into the reign of
God and extraordinary things could happen in our lives.
Just this past week,
a friend of mine called up and this is somebody that I know has entered
into the reign of God and lives this way. You know what he wanted to do
or what he was asking me about? He’s published 12 books and so he has many
royalties coming in. And he’s concerned about the burden of wealth.
He wants to be poor, and so he is sending a check for $100,000. He doesn’t
want wealth. He wants that money to be used for services to the poor. Blessed
are the poor. He’s going to try to be simple in meeting his needs and live
with that kind of simplicity. I know that he will and already does experience
the blessings of the reign of God.
It can also happen, if
we truly do love our enemies and forgive them.
I just read an article
about an extraordinary woman, Mamie Till Mobley. You might remember, some
of us at least, back in 1955, Emmet Till (Mamie Mobley’s son), a young
black youngster from Chicago, had gone to visit relatives in Mississippi.
This was when there was extraordinary prejudice and hatred against black
people throughout our country, but especially perhaps in the South. He
was murdered, brutally, this 14 year old boy. It’s probably one of the
things that really kicked off the Civil Rights movement back in the ‘50s
But his mother, who is
still living, the story I read was about her. A book is being published
about the whole event and a movie. But she says this, “I have not
spent one minute hating. No,” she says, “I really have no idea what I would
have done if I had not believed in God and called on God for help. I know
when God’s presence filled my room and God told me that Emmet was not mine,
that Emmet was God’s and that I should have been thankful to have had him,
that he was down here to do a job and he had done it well. God sent Jesus
so that people might have a choice between eternal life and eternal damnation.
My son, Emmet, came so that people might have peace and freedom here on
And so she says about
her grief, “I can let it go, even though I cry sometimes.” But instead
of hating, she has counseled thousands of children in poor neighborhoods.
She says, “The Lord told me, ‘I’ve taken one, but I shall give you thousands
in these troubled times.’”
And so Mrs. Mobley lives
in peace in spite of the horrendous thing that happened in her life. She
has come to live in the reign of God.
Now that’s what can happen
to any of us. And, again, I urge us to enter fully into this new church
year, to enter into the season of Advent, which is a time of preparation
for the fullness of God’s reign. And we can make the reign of God begin
to happen in my life right now, if I enter deeply into the new seasons
of this year and go prayerfully through the whole life, death and resurrection
of Jesus and make it my own. Become a more full member of the community
of his disciples and commit myself to change, transform our world into
as close an image of the reign of God as possible. When each one of us
does this, when we celebrate the new year this way, when we celebrate Advent
this way, when we commit ourselves to enter into the reign of God by living
according to the way of Jesus, we will come to know the peace and the joy
that flows to anyone who enters into God’s reign of justice and peace.
In a moment, we will
witness Marie’s confirmation and so that’s a moment when each one of us
will commit ourselves once more to be a faithful follower of Jesus and
his way, to make the reign of God happen in our lives and to help bring
about the fullness of God’s reign in our world.
In the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.