Advent begins with us looking at the eventual end of the world. The passage in today’s Gospel account is taken from St. Mark’s (13:33-37) report of Jesus speaking to His disciples about the end of the world, telling them (and us) to be watchful and alert because we do now know when the Last Day will dawn. No one does.
Advent, I say, begins with us looking at the end of the world. Advent ends with a beginning, the beginning of the kingdom of God that has been established here on earth by the One whom God has sent to us as our Messiah, Christ Jesus, the Son of God whose nativity we are about to celebrate.
It is right that we should be anxious and concerned about the judgment of God on the Day of Judgment. But we should not be held in the grip of fear. Why? Because God’s judgment is that we are worth saving. God’s judgment comes to us in His grace and mercy, His grace and mercy given us in His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us that God sent His only Son not to condemn the world but to save it. God’s judgment comes to us in His only-begotten Son whom He has sent among us to bridge the chasm between us and God and thus to give us the power of salvation, a power that can be ours if only we respond to God’s love for us. God’s ultimate judgment is His mercy.
Advent is a time of expectancy along with our waiting in hope. Advent is forward looking. It’s different from Lent, which is a time of reflection and examination. During this Advent season, we have our own sets of expectations, longing for a better world. While it is true that the reign of God has, in Jesus Christ, been established among us, it is likewise true that we humans have not responded, as we should. We long for peace. We cry out for justice. Security remains illusive. Dishonesty, corruption and greed still beset us. We lament the fact that the world in which we must live is in the condition that it is.
In today’s first reading we hear Isaiah’s lament. In it we hear echoed our own lamentations.
You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.
Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.
Lamentations are a part of our Old Testament heritage. There is an entire Old Testament book devoted to them – the Book of Lamentations. It was written in the time when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Hebrews had been carried off in captivity to Babylon. Their prayers there in Babylon were laments. Laments are prayers.
We, too, cry out to God, wanting to know where He has been when calamities, injustices, and injuries have come upon us. We cry out to God and lament the fact that unscrupulous chiselers and oppressors hold their sway over us. Where was God when the tsunami took so many lives over in Japan? Where was God when Hurricane Katrina devastated us? Where is God’s wrath and justice when the poor continue to be oppressed by the rich and powerful in so many parts of our world?
And why shouldn’t we complain? To whom else should we turn when the world around us continues in its self-destructive path? All around us people ravish, over-consume, use up nature’s precious resources as if they owned them, while at the same time people slaughter babies in the name of freedom of choice, kill the dying in the name of mercy, and exercise God’s powers over human life as if they were God himself. No one seems to listen to our cries. Who, then, better than God, can care for the afflicted, the marginalized, and the oppressed little ones in our world? We have a right to expect Him to exercise justice when our own system of justice seems to have been bought out by the rich and famous, or held in the control of powerful lobbying political action committees.
Advent is a time to see the world for what it is, to acknowledge the mess things are in, to recognize our own failings, failings caused by our own indifference and apathy. We’re too distracted, lost in iPhone chatter, twittering and tweeting away¸ awash in e-mails. Advent can be a gift that allows to take time out to clearly see that we need a savior and in our hearts to listen to His voice within us. We need God to come among us and set us back on the right path for living on this planet among each other, as He intended we should. And, of course, Christmas is the celebration of the fact that God has done just that. In Christmas He has given us His presence, His power, and His love.
We have so many questions we put to God. We have all of these lamentations and cries for Him to act. But did you notice that Jesus has a question for us? He has an expectation of us. He asks: Where is your faith? Do you in fact have any faith? And, He asked, when He comes again in glory on the Last Day, will He find any faith on earth?
Again and again we hear about all we must do for the poor, the oppressed and those less fortunate than we are. It is right that we should be constantly reminded of our Christian duties in following Christ’s example in caring for the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. But what about the one duty upon which all of our social services are based, namely our duty to honor God, to believe in His love, and to live in faith, to pray and give Him worship?
Faith gives us the power of hope. If we see hopelessness we see faithlessness. Faith empowers us to act – to engage our surrounding world because we hope for better things. If there is one quality that stood out in the late Pope John Paul II it was that. He was a living embodiment of courage and hope, those powers that flowed forth from his deep faith.
Despair is always just outside our doors waiting to creep into our hearts and souls. Doubt, depression, disillusionment, defeat and despair are the chief weapons of the devil. They lead to denial of God and eventually to spiritual death. And Lucifer, who lives in an eternal hell of despair, wants us to give him company.
Love lives in hope. Love thrives on expectations. Love waits. Love is patient and kind; it is never self-centered, never puffed up about all that it does. Love is never conceited. It does not focus on other people’s sins. It is always patient, kind, and generously believes in the good intentions of others. Love is filled with forbearance, it is willing to suffer, and is able to set aside the demands and expectations we place on others. Love lives in the hope of what can be.
We need a Lover with a love that is more powerful than our own. We need a power that is greater than all of our powers massed and combined together. Jesus Christ comes to us with that power. Christ Jesus, in His birth, life, death and resurrection, is God’s total gift to us of His power. It is all ours, if we have faith.
“But,” Jesus asks us, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find any faith on earth?”
Advent is God’s gift to us – the gift of time in which we can reflect upon and answer His question. God’s answer comes to us. When He arrives, will He find faith?