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The Mystery of Advent

November 26, 2022
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As we begin the new liturgical year, it is also the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is often seen as a time of preparation and anticipation. In his book, Seasons of Celebration: Meditations on the Cycle of Liturgical Feasts, Thomas Merton wrote the following about Advent based on the sermons and writings of St Bernard: …the Sacrament (of Advent) is the Presence of Christ in the World as Savior…Advent does not merely commemorate the Incarnation as a historical event, nor is it a mere devotional preparation for the Feast of Christmas, nor an anticipation of the Last Judgment. (p. 53) I believe that Merton is pointing us towards an understanding of Advent as a mystery to sit with rather than a puzzle to be solved. This is especially true as I consider the Gospel lesson for this Sunday.

In Matthew 24 Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and a whole host of tribulations that will occur. I know for me, by the time I make my way through the first thirty-five verses, my head is spinning over such gems as verse 28, Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Is there any hope to be found, Lord? After giving the wild description of the apocalyptic vision, It appears to me that Jesus seemed to pause and offer several reminders throughout the remaining verses. But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (verse 36) Jesus says in verse 42, Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming and in verse 44, Therefore you also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

I think about how many times I have heard people get lost in the weeds trying to “predict” when the end days will begin. To paraphrase what Jesus said about the scribes and Pharisees, people are often so busy straining out gnats that they swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:24) What do I mean by that? We get so lost in the woods of the minutia of the apocalyptic stories that we miss the main point of the message. The people in the time of Noah knew what was going on and chose to ignore Noah and his warnings to wake up and serve the Lord. Unlike the people in Noah’s day, the two women had no idea what was about to happen and neither did the homeowner. 

So, what is the message Jesus is offering in these stories? I believe that the clues are found in his trifold warning that nobody knows the day or the hour of his coming. He invites us to keep awake in verse 42 and to be ready in verse 44. Okay, Lord, so what do you want us to do as we watch and wait? It is at that time when the main message of Jesus comes into play. I can almost hear him saying instead of straining gnats, why don’t you listen to the Law… you know, love God with all that you are and love your neighbor as yourself… yes, that means every neighbor.

In the reading from Isaiah (chapter two: verses one through five) for the First Sunday of Advent, I believe we see another way of “filling the time” until the Lord’s return. Even though the people have been exiled and the temple has been destroyed, Isaiah offers hope to the exiles. Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. (verse 3b) How can they walk in the Lord’s paths? They can make a radical change in the way that they look at the world. They can join in the work of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. They can transform their lives and the world by not studying war anymore. Perhaps they can live into the charge given by another prophet (Micah) who invited the people to do justice, love kindness (mercy), and walk humbly with God.

As I circle back to Merton’s invitation sit with the mystery that is the sacrament of Advent, I realize that I really don’t have any answers to the apocalyptic questions. However, I do believe that God has given us something to ponder as well as giving us a way to live our lives. As we wait for the return of the Lord, why don’t we drop the tea leaves and live as Jesus and the prophets taught. Love God and all of our neighbors… seek ways to build bridges of understanding, love, and compassion… seek to follow the way of God that Micah revealed: do justice, love kindness (mercy), and walk humbly with God and I would add walk humbly with one another.

If we spend our time doing that work, we won’t be surprised when the Lord returns and I am pretty sure that the Lord will smile.

3 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Innovate~Educate~Collaborate and commented:
    A new Liturgical year and a time for reflection

  2. “If we spend our time doing that work, we won’t be surprised when the Lord returns and I am pretty sure that the Lord will smile.” So true. We can spend out lives speculating, or we can dig in and do what we already know to do, in loving God and neighbor. Thanks for your meditation.

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