After reflecting on the words from the Gospel of Luke (21:25-28, 34-36), I would like to recall a familiar story, told also by president Reagan, of the kid who was very fond of ponies.
Early on Christmas morning, he walked to the barn and found it full of horse manure. Undaunted by all that manure, the kid rubbed his hands in expectation, then got a wheelbarrow and a shovel, and proceeded to get the horse manure out of the barn, one wheelbarrow at the time. Seeing him so determined and energetic, someone asked him: “Aren’t you getting tired of wheeling out all that manure?” “No way, sir! The way I see it, with all this horse manure, I know that there must be a pony hidden in here somewhere!”
To paraphrase the Gospel passage from this First Sunday of Advent:
The barn of this world is full of ominous signs: in the sun, the moon and the stars. There are many nations in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the elements. People are dying of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.
Our world is indeed crisscrossed by heart-wrenching tragedies, by devastating calamities, by deadly, age-long feuds, barbaric, unspeakable acts of violence and prolonged wars. At the same time, there are too many signs reminding us that the hope of a promising, better future, seem to be dwindling fast. Too many people and too often, are giving up the fight for goodness, for reconciliation, for cooperation, for unity of intent, for love.
On this first Sunday of the new liturgical year, the Church recalls for us the words of her Head, Christ, the risen Lord, the Son of Man. “When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads.”
Before the maladies of our world and of our spiritual hearts, all options are either inadequate or wrong save the one suggested by Jesus. Some people, almost automatically, fall back into cynicism; others feel justified by remaining disengaged, on the sideline; still others become paralyzed by the sheer size of what confronts them and the herculean task of trying to deal effectively with the evil facing them. There are those, of course, who rationalize their aloofness and indifference; those who are quick to blame anyone else but themselves; those who, driven by an impracticable ideology, refuse to face the urgency imposed by the situation at hand; and those who find fault with any proposed solution but do not propose any viable alternative.
Well, our Church is very clear about what she wants us to do: she urges us to raise our heads and stand secure before the Son of Man. She reminds us that the Lord our God has raised up for David a just shoot, so that she, the New Jerusalem, can stand secure because the Lord never fails to keep His promises.
A constant element present in Jesus’ teachings, especially in the most demanding ones, is that he never softens the difficulties, the struggle, the pain that are part and parcel of viable solutions. He is never squeamish or vague about the price, even shedding of blood that his disciples must be ready to pay, just as he paid himself.
To his passion corresponds their passion, to his cross, theirs, but also to his glory and triumph will correspond theirs, for sure. As each one of us faces the inevitable end of our personal world and the gradual termination of the much larger world of sorrow and strife around us and far away, we shall remember that: There is never a time in which forgiving will be easy or when bearing witness to the truth will not require courage and risk. There is never a time in which we could place ourselves first and still claim to be dedicated to loving those in need. There is never a time in which we could truly serve others while despising them and resenting their demands. There is never a time in which sacrificial self-giving will not require a very high personal cost. There is never a time in which we could profess to be disciples of Christ and refuse to carry our cross, in which a grain of wheat can bear much fruit without falling to the ground and dying. We gather together to once again proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.
The Letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 3:12-4:2) is more specific on this matter. We proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes with all his holy ones. In other words, we are, even physically, united to our God by eating His flesh and drinking His blood in Holy Communion, so that we may perform the daunting task of removing all hatred from the barn of this world until we find “the pony,” i.e. until love triumphs in our lives and all over the world.
What Paul recommended to the Thessalonians is what we ought to practice ourselves, every day, with renewed enthusiasm and resolve. The holy ones that are part of the Lord Jesus, are so because, while living on this earth, they refused to give in to their innate tendency to be self-centered and distant from others. They chose instead to spend their lives in loving service of others. For us, who are ourselves holy ones through God’s Grace, there is but one acceptable option to redress the wrongs and the pain of our world, and that option is the option of loving self-giving.
As such, we are called today and always, to pray for each other. Borrowing Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: May the Lord make us increase and abound in love for one another and for all. May He strengthen our hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.