Dec 1, 2012

1st Sunday of Advent - Pay Attention!

"Stand erect and raise your heads"
Jer 33: 14-16
1 Ths 3: 12 – 4:2
Lk 21: 25-28, 34-36

There is a story told of a young boy named Sam who was marking his tenth birthday.  As a special gift his parents said they would like to take Sam out to dinner. He could choose the place and could invite a friend to come with him. Sam loved Chinese food so they decided on his favorite restaurant.  As often is the case, Sam ordered enough for leftovers to take home.

After dinner Sam, his parents and friend walked toward their parked car when a homeless man approached and asked for some money.  Sam immediately offered the man his entire package of left overs.  When they entered the car, Sam’s friend said, “That was amazing!  You made God proud by doing that.” Sam said to his friend, “Maybe that was God.”

And then there is the report of a New York Police Officer who just this past week offered a pair of warm woolen socks and new boots to a shivering shoeless man lying on the street. 

Such random acts of kindness are often highlighted this time of year. They do touch our hearts and remind us of what may be missing in our own busy lives. These are transformative actions which have the potential to change us and those who receive such kindness. Yet, in light of other news they fade quickly. Why is that - because kindness, compassion, and generosity generally don’t sell? Is it because we rarely hear of such moments of empathy? I contend we just don’t pay attention; such goodness is all around us. We seem to be moved far more by the violent, the mysterious, the dark and sinister.  Have you looked at the recent movie previews at your local Multi-plex theatre?

This yearly time of Advent is for us a moment which challenges the construct of our lives. Our Gospel this First Sunday of Advent from Luke 21 warns of, “. . . signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves . . .” A Hollywood movie director may say, “Bring it on! There’s a box office hit in the making.” For the “. . . Son of Man coming in the cloud with power and great glory. . .” as Jesus continues with apocalyptic images, is sure to add to the special effects drama.

In the midst of this warning, which really is a wake up call for us, we also hear Our Lord say, “. . . But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand . . . “That hardly sounds like we should be cowering in fear and trembling before such a display of natural power. It is almost a resurrection image which faces darkness and overcomes it with the greater power of faith and hope. For the early Christians, in the mist of persecution, such an image reminded them that Christ will not abandon them but will “stand erect” with them and be their Savior. What does it say to us today? We too need to hear but so much works against us.

We Americans are generally not a patient people.  When we are challenged to wait and watch we become unsettled. Who wants slow speed internet?  Who wants to wait in line at the grocery store or the fast food drive in lane? Isn’t this fast food? What's holding up this traffic? Move it along. Who enjoys waiting for a late guest to arrive? We live by sound bites and text messages. Taking time to pray, reflect, and wait patiently on the Lord’s grace in our lives may be just too much to endure.  God’s time is not our time and his view of things is not ours. “Stand erect” and wait for the Lord.

Secondly, we live in the future more than the present. Our recent Presidential race found one candidate using the slogan “Forward.” Forget about your lives as they are now and just think about the future possibilities. Anticipation makes us nervous but at least it gets our minds off the present.  I don’t have time for the homeless or hungry man who sits right before me now. Advent?  I need to send Christmas cards and put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving then take it down the day after Christmas.  

And third, we want to control everything. The burger slogan, “have it your way” and the song lyric “I’ll do it my way” are more than just sound bites. I think they reflect a central part of our modern day culture. We know the answers, the solutions, and the reasons why, and if we don’t, we eventually will, so who needs God? Religion just gets in the way and slows progress. Yet, our scriptures for this Advent season anticipate the future but remind us that we are not in control of our lives as much as we feel we are.

Jeremiah speaks, “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made . . . “This is a great promise of salvation to come, a gift from God in sending his Son in our midst which we recall at Christmas time. It is the promise of new life to come beyond our own puny human plans.  More, the Gospel reminds us that we have little control over many forces such as nature and the mind of God for the present and future.

But, it is our “righteous deeds” as we hear in the Collect of our Mass this Sunday, perhaps those random acts of kindness, which we do carry with us.  We have the good baggage of our lives that we collect over the years if only we be patient, pay attention to the moment we are in, and let God be Lord of our lives. Imagine a Christmas season and a new year if only we slow down and take the time to pay attention.

Christmas is coming for sure in less than four weeks but can we really wait and ponder?
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, 
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.

(Collect of 1st Advent)