I hope you don’t mind but between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, I thought we’d try to squeeze in the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Liturgical Year.
In the secular world, we’re in the “Holiday Season”, a time for spending as much money as possible, even money we don’t have, to prove our love to family and friends. Many of you may have gotten up at 2 AM yesterday (Friday) to secure the best bargains. That’s OK, as long as we don’t forget what the season is really all about.
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin root advinere which means arrival. We’re waiting for the arrival of the Savior. But it’s not like waiting for a train, or waiting it to quit raining. It’s much deeper than that.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a local boy who’s made good has a book of Advent Reflections cleverly titled Advent Reflections. He says “The older I get, the more I’m convinced that life is all about advent.”
He gives some examples:
“She awaits word from her physician on the results of the biopsy of the “growth” taken from her body, fearful “it” has come back…..That’s Advent.
“They sit helpless next to their two-year-old’s bed, wondering if and when the child will regain consciousness after his fall down the basement steps….They’re in Advent.
“He wonders if he can make it through the evening. He wants a drink so bad. It’s been three months since his last one, three moths of sobriety, one step at a time, and he can sense himself falling….He’s in Advent.”
Advent is about waiting, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Our short four week Advent season reminds of of the waiting that the Jewish people did, for the arrival of the Messiah. To really appreciate Advent you have to put yourself in the place of the Hebrews all those centuries ago. The Scriptures, what we call today the Old Testament, had promised them a Messiah and they’d bee waiting for such a long time. The world they lived in was a mess. They didn’t just want a Messiah, they desperately needed one.
Countries were constantly at war. There was hatred that extended back hundreds of years and there didn’t seem to any chance that it would ever end. Some religious leaders justified constant war by claiming they were fighting in the name of God. Warring tribes wouldn’t even talk to one another about peace. Young men were going off to fight and die in foreign lands.
Crime was everywhere. People were being killed in the streets of the towns and villages. Even public transportation was dangerous. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan. Business travelers were being attacked, robbed, and left for dead. You couldn’t travel from one town to another without taking your life in your hands.
Prostitution was common along with every type of deviant behavior. The public officials generally looked the other way, often patronizing the prostitutes themselves. Even when they were caught in the act, their colleagues looked the other way.
The government was corrupt. Greedy politicians enriched themselves by taking money from those who could least afford it. There was no concern for the people. Their rights were being trampled on by all levels of government.
Disease was everywhere. Incurable diseases like leprosy were rampant. “Healthy” people shunned the sick, not wanting to risk their own health to help others. New diseases seemed to pop up out of nowhere.
The economy was in a mess. The poor were everywhere. You couldn’t go to an entertainment of sporting event without running the gauntlet of the poor begging for a little money. “Will work for food” some of the signs said. Taxes were out of control. The poor paid too much while the rich might not pay any taxes at all. And so much of the money went to enrich those in power and their friends. They spent money like there was no tomorrow, thinking that taxpayers would always be there to foot the bill. The middle class was shrinking with no end in sight.
What passed for entertainment was often hard core. Definitely not anything you’d want your kids to see. Sports often left competitors seriously injured, even killed, to satifsy the blood-thirsty fans. “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die.” isn’t just a modern phrase. It’s a combination of two verses from the Old Testament, one from Eccliastes and one from the prophet Isiah.
There’s no question. To really appreciate how badly those people needed a Messiah, you’d have to live in a world like that.
Hopefully you get my drift. We DO live in a world like that. As badly as the Jewish people needed a Messiah twenty centuries ago, we need Him even more today. Jesus points out to the disciples in today’s Gospel that the people of Noah’s time were in the same boat (boat, get it?). Right up to the time when the rains were falling and the waters were rising. They ate and drank right up until the waters washed them away.
He warns us that things will be no different when He comes again. We might keep the burglar out of the house if we know when he’s coming. But if we don’t know when he’s coming, we can always wait and put in that alarm system later. Not a good plan.
“So too, you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
And so, we wait. As Archbishop Dolan pointed out, Advent-type waiting takes many forms. But there’s one common denominator. The woman waiting for her test results, the parents waiting for news on their child, and the alcoholic all have one thing in common. HOPE. They don’t just wait. They wait in hope. That’s what Advent is all about.
Officially Advent is about waiting for Christmas. But it’s a lot more than that. “We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Of course we’re looking forward to the celebration of the nativity. Otherwise Advent could be in August when there’s nothing else going on. Or we could have Advent in February when it’s cold and dark and we can’t play outside. But that’s too close to Lent.
No, Advent comes before Christmas so we can reflect on His first coming as a symbol of His second coming. Sometimes in life we wait for things that never come. But Advent always ends with the joyful celebration of Christmas. It’s one time that we know our hopes will be fulfilled. It gives us the courage to hope again; to hope for other things.
You know, basically the world never changes. Wars go on. Crime goes on. Poverty goes on. The Jews thought the coming of the Messiah would change things, but it really didn’t. Jesus didn’t come to make this life better. He came to make us better so that we could enjoy eternal life. What changed is that you and I know we can rise above this. We can live holy lives knowing that our short time on earth is just a warm-up for the wondrous things that God has waiting for us. That’s our joy and that’s our hope.
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