Jeremiah 33:14-16 • Psalm 25:1-10 • 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 • Luke 21:25-36
Okay here’s another Reader’s Digest Joke, or maybe a groaner: “A man is walking in a graveyard when he hears the Third Symphony played backward. When it’s over, the Second Symphony starts playing, also backward, and then the First. “What’s going on?” he asks a cemetery worker. “It’s Beethoven,” says the worker. “He’s … decomposing.” If you have better jokes, please send them to me!
I love the Advent candle-lighting prayers that Hilary had on file and that we used today. I’ve never seen these before, but I love their focus on engaging the poor and a world in need of healing, about sharing our stories of God’s transforming Spirit, and about how the God of surprising grace brings us fresh new life when we least expect it. Right in those few lines we have an awesome theology of Advent that goes way beyond waiting for Baby Jesus to return. Of course, it’s not Baby Jesus who is promised to return, but rather the second coming of the Universal Christ who is present in every age, inviting and challenging us to use the compassionate love and truth of his teachings to respond to human suffering in our times. Ideally, we address suffering by finding more ways to share our joy with others, thanks to our peace, security and adequate food, education and healthcare, etc. As Canadians we are SO fortunate and privileged! However, as Martin Luther King Jr said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and our Jeremiah reading confirms that God is righteousness or justice. Traditionally such passages are read as prophecies for the coming of Christ; and if so, we can remember and rejoice that Jesus said ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, or justice.’
A recent Matthew Fox book cites the 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas as saying that ‘Joy is the human’s noblest act’. How can joy be a noble act? Fox explains: “a just world is a balanced world and is therefore conducive to joy for the many, not just the few. … Working for justice in order to share the joy, renders joy more available to more people.” (p. 37). I love this idea that working for justice is ultimately about sharing joy and making it more available for more people – may our world return to a greater focus on the Common Good.
While the theme of the first Sunday of Advent is HOPE, it’s good to know what we’re hoping for – let’s not naively say that we just want Jesus to come back and … end the world. What about our grandchildren’s generation? I don’t believe that catastrophic human-made climate change is “God’s Plan”. Have you noticed how abused that concept of ‘God’s Plan’ has been lately? Like that Nova Scotia Baptist pastor who held a Covid-spreading event after which people died … and he responded that while that’s unfortunate, it’s all part of God’s plan. Imagine that – God plans to hurt and kill people through human ignorance and disregard for the wellbeing of others?! Actually, I cannot imagine that at all, can you? God’s will is always for the wellbeing of all God’s creatures.
Both our gospel and first reading today speak again about the coming of some kind of ‘end times’. People often want to know what are the signs that herald or forewarn us? When I was much younger, I would often feel rather impatient when I heard elderly people say something about how the world must be ending because people were not doing things the ‘right’ way anymore; or because nature was being unpredictable or seemingly temperamental. One of my mother’s repeated sayings in her later years would translate to “things never seen”. She’d watch the news and be shocked and feel that all these ‘things never before seen’ were indeed a portent of the end-times. I probably rudely rolled my eyes at this, but now as I get older I often think similar things … except that now climate scientists around the world are unfortunately agreeing that these things never before seen … are definitely not good.
Given all that, where can we find hope? You may recall Emily Dickinson’s famous lines on this: “Hope is the thing with feathers – that perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops at all.” The thing with feathers puts us in mind of the Holy Spirit and her angels who often surprisingly bring grace out of quite dire circumstances – like those we hear of in today’s gospel: end-time scenes of great distress on earth, sadly sounding a bit like recent storms in BC! Nonetheless there’s still time for humanity to turn to more life-sustaining ways of living. So let me end with the epistle lines that remind me of our wonderful Two Saints community: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we feel before God because of you? … And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.” Amen!