02 December 2007

Do nothing special for Advent

1st Sunday Advent (A): Isa 2.1-5; Rom 13.11-14; Matt 24.37-44
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the Incarnation

[NB. My opening comment on the podcast is a reference to the fact that our parish maintenance guy closed off more than half the seating space in the church in order to wax the floors with this foul-smelling, eye-watering chemical. ]

We should hear about patience and waiting this morning/evening. We should hear about taking our time, not rushing through, slowing down. We should probably hear about wakefulness and readiness and walking in the light. All good Advent themes found in abundance in our scripture readings for today. We could hear about the church’s New Year—new start, starting over, begin again in the new liturgical year. We could hear about how Advent is not Christmas and how the Big Bully Christmas must not be allowed to push her little sister Advent further and further back toward Thanksgiving. Too late for that! What else could we hear about on this First Sunday of Advent? Orgies, lust, drunkenness, swords, plowshares, spears, pruning hooks, war. Terrorism, plague, starvation, floods, wildfires, messianic suicide cults, war, again war. And certainly there are moments of joy. Without warnings or threats of furtive kidnappings, let’s look at what we know this First Sunday of Advent. Rather than wallow in the messes of our ignorance, let’s review what we know about our faith, what we have been told about our end, and what we have figured out given what we know.

Jesus tells his disciples that in Noah’s day, folks were eating and drinking and that “they did not know until the flood came…” And later he says, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” If the master of the house had known the thief was coming, he would have stayed away. They did not know. You do not know. If only he had known. Strangely, Paul writes to the Romans, “Brothers and sisters, You know the time…” You know! “It is the hour now for you to wake from sleep.” While Christ was with us, we did not know when he would return to us. Now that he has left us to be with his Father, we know when he will return. No? No. Paul and the Romans do not know the time of our Lord’s return. What they know is that the time is right for conversion and repentance. They knew then and we know now that time is now: “For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed…”

We know that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. We know that there is a hour of reckoning; a hour, a day of expectation and judgment. We know that we are not moving in an ever-widening circle but rather processing in a line together toward our conclusion, approaching in brighter and brighter light, in deepening clarity and seamless continuity, our End, The End—the hour we expect, look forward to, pray for. Our end is a time and a place when and where we will be carried away, flooded away with Christ and the ark of his cross. And we know, we know that we must stay awake, be prepared, always ready, humming with tension, pure in motive and drive. . .to…to…to do what? Paul says we must “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” All Jesus says is that we “must be prepared.” Why, Jesus? “For at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” An hour we do not expect! So much for Advent expectation! So, what are we doing then? We are doing nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary. We should be doing absolutely nothing that we would not be doing if this were July or October or some other boring liturgical month. The Lean Green Season is over. Break out the violet vestments! The Advent wreath, the O Antiphons, the too early Christmas hymns and Christmas trees. But if you are prepared, ready, sitting on the edge of true righteousness and apostolic fervor, do nothing special. Nothing special at all…

Nothing special?! It’s the First Sunday of Advent! The new church year! It is and we know that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. We know that the night is advanced and that the day is at hand. And we know that we must put off the works of darkness and don the armor of light. We know this. We know that we must turn from a dark hungry death in sin to a bright shining life in Christ. We know that feeding the appetites of the flesh, those temporary desires of the little gods of our bodies, we know that these are small things grown large—the momentary thrill, the surge of satisfaction that comes before the lack rises again and wants more. These are idols and altars that must come down. We know this. And what’s more: we know these truths everyday, all day, everyday not just Sunday the first day of Advent. And b/c we know these truths, we are ready, fully-prepared, wide-awake; we are locked sitting on loaded and all-set for the Holy Thief to break and enter and steal us away!

I said early on we could hear about waiting, anticipation, Advent longing this morning/evening. I said we could hear all about the church’s new year, the reboot of the liturgical year. Hear all of that AND hear the call to repentance. From the prophet Isaiah: “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in His paths.” Hear Paul’s cry to all believers: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep…put on the armor of light…put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” And hear Christ himself plea for our repentance; to turn, to return again and again. To come back and stay: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come…for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Does this make you nervous? Anxious? Good! It should. But don’t leave it there. Turn that nervousness, that anxiety into an electric joy. Turn it into a righteous hope. There is no meaner, darker spiritual buzzkill than despair, and if Advent is about anything at all, it is about HOPE.

Paul is not threatening the Romans. Jesus is not menacing his disciples. And neither of them is trying to put us on some sort of existential edge, a worrisome ledge. Rather, they are both teaching us to hope. Our Holy Father, Benedict, in his encyclical, Spe salvi, released just this weekend writes: “…the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life”(n. 2). How is your life new, different? New in what way? Different from what? From whom? Look around you, outside, at the world. Who are we out there? Who are we to those who will not hope? We are: Lab rats. Cannon fodder. Inconvenient products of conception. Rungs on ladders to power and wealth. Herds of genetic code and meat. We are idiot children, bought and sold. To those who hope, however, we are weapons against despair; tools for cultivating love; bodies for health and spirits for perfection. We are those who know that “the dark door of time” has been thrown open and it is Christ who waits to steal us away.

Pope Benedict concludes his letter on hope: “We need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope. God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety” (n. 31).

Let the first Sunday of Advent 2007 then be the first Sunday of a year, a lifetime of hoping against the hopeless fables of accidental life. This is not special work for Christians. But the everyday work of all those who will risk hoping against the dark.

1 comment:

  1. It looks like you've got an amazing blog here - thanks for what you are doing. I'm glad to see there are other voices blogging about Advent today. I've just posted mine as well,

    He is coming.