HAPPY NEW YEAR! Welcome to the Year of Luke! This year we celebrate the full cycle (minus one day) of Advent! Just as a reminder of a piece of Catholic trivia .. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew … since the feast is on a Tuesday, the closest Sunday is before the feast.
The opening article in the most recent LCWR newsletter entitled: “What Do We Do While We’re Waiting?” reminded me of my 3-year-old niece who was patiently waiting through what her mom had told her was my private time with God. She had lasted through her first lectio experience with her books for 40 minutes. She sat just outside the doorway where I was, heaved a heavy sigh and said: “OK, what do I do now God; she’s still talking to You!”
Advent is all about waiting. But not waiting for someone else who is talking to God. Is it wonderful that we do not have to take turns – we don’t have to wait to be in touch! Advent is active waiting – that is what is at the heart of it. Even when we don’t know that we are waiting, we’re waiting. Even when we can’t find words for what we are waiting for, we’re waiting.
One of the ancient Advent prayers supplies us with a sentiment that Benedict echoes: “Give us grace that we may cast off the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light.” Many Advent hymns express the same theme. For example: “When the darkness closes in, courage fails and hopes grow dim, clear the shadows from our sight, set our troubled world aright, fill our eyes with radiant light. Come Lord Jesus, come!
We are waiting not just at Advent, but at all times for the advent of light, that ultimate light that is redemptive and terrifying at the same time. It is redemptive because it puts an end to the darkness, and that is also why it is terrifying because the light reveals all that was hidden in the darkness. For so long, actually for most of our lives, the darkness has been home. We’ve become comfortable in our incompleteness. Now to leave home is downright scary. Change my ways of interacting with God and God’s people? Whew! Allow my rough edges to be smoothed – mmmm, sounds irritating (no pun intended). We are gifted with Advent time to do personal “Isaiah work” of filling in every valley; leveling every mountain so the hills will become a plain, and the rough country will be made smooth. As the familiar banner asks: If not now, when?
Have you ever watched, or heard about the reality shows Restaurant Impossible or American Diner Revival. Depending on which show you’re watching there’s a well-known renovation contractor and/or a chef that comes to a failing restaurant or diner and helps turn it around. The premise is this:
Turning around a failing restaurant or diner is a daunting challenge under the best of circumstances. Attempting to do it in less than 36 hours, even with the help of the townsfolk, may be impossible. But they’re ready to take on the challenge. Can it be done?
From outdated décor to hip interior, from canned food to fresh ingredients, from surly employees to service-oriented staff, they attempt to overhaul the whole shebang with straight talk, great cooking skills, innovative, creative interior decorators and an excited team of mostly volunteers. But, most importantly, when the TV crew arrives, the expectation is that the local staff will be ready with their own litany of what is going well and what needs to change.
This chef is no Christ figure, but there is an analogy here between our Advent Scriptures and theme of this human example of a dramatic overhaul driven by someone who knows what he’s doing. The overhaul of the dilapidated restaurant and our personal overhaul is only possible if we’ll allow our premises to be placed under new management.
That turns our attention on the person who’s coming to town in the Advent scriptures. The Gospel from Luke connotes a double reference to the already and the not yet. Jesus berates the crowd for knowing how to interpret the weather, but not the present time. This is where we, too, may fall short. We listen to the weather reports and dress accordingly. We gather in supplies and hunker down for the onslaught of a hurricane. We see the waxing moon and wait patiently for the night of the full moon. Such waiting requires discernment and alertness to natural signs. Waiting for Jesus’ presence requires a deeper discernment and alertness to the signs of His appearance – the signs of the times. And, so we question: do our community Directional Goals reflect awareness of God in our midst – as well as in the signs of the times and what is to come
The hymn I referenced earlier reminds us how foolish we can be to overlook signs of the coming Christ: “Wise and foolish, still we wait. Is our Bridegroom at the gate? At his voice, our hearts have stirred, listening for his healing word, confident our cries are heard. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Advent offers us time to waken to the signs of the times – Jesus, in the voice of Luke, reminds us we must remain on high alert awaiting the coming of the kingdom – it will be dramatic but that there will be little advance warning: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed… the kingdom of God is among you! Remember: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s words will not pass away.” The last Gospel we heard as the liturgical year ended (this morning) and the first Gospel for the New Year impress upon us the same warning: Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy!