Coming Soon: Jesus!
First Sunday of Advent 2022
From the Latin: Ad “to” Venire “come”
Coming. Approaching. Arriving.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we continue to wake from the grogginess
of over-stuffed bellies, alerted, however, to what feels like the end times,
thanks to Black Friday: the shopocalypse.
Indeed, all the nations shall stream to it, where they will turn “plastic”
into bright promises, then to be wrapped, as they await the day.
The children “better watch out” for Santa will come in the night.
And, my goodness, their goodness, he will,
the bright promises will be exchanged
and the magical harmony for which we all so yearn will come.
This is the Christmas story being told during the holiday sales at Target.
And it can make for a lot of noise.
So sadly interchangeable have become
symbols of the Incarnation with symbols of secular Christmas
that it can be hard to discern the true reason for the season:
the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, come to us.
Thank goodness, thank God we have this gospel, the perfect foil, antidote,
opening in us a compelling, hopeful Advent space.
No candy canes or mistletoe!
Not even, in the realm of faith, Mary and her cooing newborn child.
Instead, the anticipated “threat” of Jesus kidnapping someone at work
and then “breaking” in and “stealing” stuff.
We indeed turn toward the Second Coming of Christ, which the Church
suggests ought to have a much greater place on our holiday landscape:
try a few Second Coming ornaments on your tree this year!
Why the Second Coming?
Well, the Second Coming brings to completion,
and thus makes complete sense of, the First Coming.
Why did God become human? To take loving hold of us.
Why will God become human come again?
To take complete, definitive loving hold of us.
The two “Comings” are inseparable.
The First beckons the Second and so, on this first Sunday of Advent,
we cut to the chase.
Now, the challenging, tricky thing is that
we know little about the Second Coming, except that it will happen.
And, thus, in the midst of exhortations to wakefulness and readiness,
we find highlighted un-knowing.
This un-knowing is a blessing in disguise for us who think we need to know and humbles the know-it-all in us.
Admittedly unsettling, for we use our knowing--
and the accompanying certainty that we are right--
as a sort of loss-prevention program,
to protect ourselves from the unknown and the unexpected.
Maybe, Jesus is revealing, however, that being awake and ready
have little to do with knowing and such certainty.
Maybe, Jesus is revealing that being “snatched” and being “robbed”
are good things.
God become human, in Whom we live and move and have our being,
wants to save us from ourselves and our unhelpful, limiting certainties.
The “holy kidnapper-thief” wants to “steal” from us
that which can keep us from perfect communion with Him.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor and theologian
executed by the Nazis on April 8, 1945, says that
the celebration of Advent is really only possible when we know ourselves
to be poor and imperfect and look forward to something greater to come.
In this season of poorly bridled levels of consumption,
in which our credit card debts rise and our waistbands expand,
this is all good good news.
Thus, perhaps, instead of a list of things that we want Santa to bring,
a list of things that we want Christ to take: our preoccupation with stuff,
our self-centered fear, our resentments, our festivity excesses,
our indifference or our know-it-all-edness.
We look to the Second Coming, for we are made for the fullness of love.
Jesus is the reality of our lives.
His definitive Coming, His perfect, purifying embrace is thus central.
This gospel, then, inspires hope.
We know, in faith, that the Second Coming, will be really good.
We do not know, as this gospel tells us, when it will take place.
This un-knowing, however, frees us
to focus not on the event, but on the person of Jesus, the Christ,
which is how to be awake and ready.
Saint Teresa of Avila, Spanish reformer of the monastic life (d. 1582), says,
It is not so essential to think much as to love much.
Our degree of wakefulness and readiness for the Second Coming of Christ (and His daily coming) correspond to our degree of love.
Only love can meet Love.
Christ pours forth, in us, such divine love, for in the end,
only God can prepare us for God.
And so, during Advent, let us, as we do prepare for holiday celebrations,
acknowledge that a distracting saccharine emotionalism often clings to us,
as though eights maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, roasting chestnuts, candy canes and mistletoe will save us from the darkness of our lives.
These things are not bad, but they cannot and will not save us.
Jesus, Who comes and will come in glory, i.e. with the fulness of love, saves us.
Let us express our yearning for Him, often, wherever,
and, as Saint Paul exhorts, in today’s second reading,
“put on the armor of light and live honorably as in the day,”
knowing that He comes to us in a special way in Communion
and in myriad other ways, unexpectedly, more than we realize...
A Throne in my Brokenness
Christ the King 2022
The Church invites us to gaze upon Christ as our King, at the threshold of Advent.
Advent focuses us on the two comings of Christ:
in humble awe and gratitude of the First
and with expectant longing towards the Second.
Why this particular emphasis on Christ as King?
Perhaps because Christ is King from his birth and in His return?
The kingship of Jesus is difficult to grasp.
When we think kingship, or kingdom,
we typically think power, and understandably so.
We think of the kingdoms that we see,
of great rulers exercising power from without to maintain order.
And so, we might be inclined, perhaps secretly, to wish that Jesus, King,
would, with one power-ful, sweeping move, end all dis-order, all injustice:
from Isis to the Mexican cartel to those cruel to animals to those who litter.
Slow as I can be (!), just to begin to grasp Jesus’ kingship,
I needed an unexpected experience dropped into my lap:
the community of L’Arche, in Belgium, before I entered seminary.
L'Arche, French for the Ark—as in Noah,
creates homes in which mentally-challenged people
live with so-called “abled” people, who come to help
and actually discover their own brokenness and become involved in mutual care.
Jean Vanier, who founded the movement in 1964, writes,
We discover more and more that those rejected by society because of their weakness and their apparent uselessness are in fact a presence of God. If we welcome them, they lead us progressively out of the world of competition and the need to do great things toward a world of communion of hearts, a life that is simple and joyful where we do small things with love.
Jesus reigns from within, leading us toward communion of hearts,
toward a life that is simple and joyful where we do small things with big love.
Any power in Jesus’ reign
(and there is power, for He is all-powerful)
is at the service of love.
Ah, the difference between power and authority…
In John’s gospel, chapter 18, verse 36, we hear Jesus say,
My kingdom is not from this world.
If my kingdom were from this world,
my followers would be fighting to keep me
from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.
Jesus’ kingdom is clearly not about power,
not political—as we tend to understand “political” nowadays.
Jesus impacts the body politic, the social sphere like none other,
but, notice: mocked and treated with derision, He does not save Himself.
Jesus does not engage His disciples in resistance or rebellion,
in fighting to keep Him from being handed over to the Jews.
Why? Well, the Kingdom must be more…
Now, you may be thinking, what about the “work of justice”?
Dr. Cornel West, formerly of Harvard, professor at Union Theological Seminary,
says that “justice is what love looks like in public”.
Well, what is justice? There are currently many notions circulating.
The Archbishop of Edinburgh, Scotland says that
“there still exists…an attitude towards justice
which can only be described as a ‘culture of vengeance’.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas (+1274) puts it very simply:
“the proper act of justice is nothing else than to render to each one his own.”
The Kingdom of God does not disregard such justice, such fairness.
But the Kingdom of God is more than life on earth being fair for all.
The Kingdom of God, therefore, cannot be reduced to the “work of justice.”
Why? Two reasons:
what may seem or even be unfair for sake of a greater good.
Unfairly suspended to the wood of the Cross, deliberately helpless,
Jesus introduces one of the criminals at his side into Paradise, the great good.
Jesus unjustly suffers and dies to love us into the mystery of God.
The Righteous One (Acts 22:14), crowned with thorns, is victorious.
As Saint Paul says (I Corinthians 13: 7), love endures all things.
The “work of justice”, carefully discerned, can be a way of welcoming it,
or better, can be an expression of the King reigning in our hearts.
For, in the end, as suggested, the Kingdom of God is Jesus, King, reigning in our hearts,
moving us then to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
In Luke 17, verse 20, we hear Jesus say, the kingdom of God is within you.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa
(+394, Father of the Church) tells us that
Blessedness does not lie in knowing something about God,
but rather in possessing God within oneself.
When you pray, Thy kingdom come, you give Jesus permission
to reign in your heart, in your tired, perhaps broken heart.
And when you think that nothing is happening, that you are worth less,
that you will not find the energy or the hope necessary to go forward,
know that the kingdom, the King is within you, loving you into the mystery of God.
We have every reason to hope and not be discouraged,
for, as the prophet Daniel (7:14) says,
His kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
Best Friends For Ever and Ever
All Saints Day
Today we celebrate All the Saints,
as our first reading says, those who
receive and possess the kingdom for ever and ever.
and, as our second reading says,
who enjoy the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance,
Brother and Sisters, officially recognized by the Church for their holiness,
i.e., their overflowing love and their wisdom.
This beautiful church building (restoration needed!) represents some of them.
Our mural, drawn into the Ascension of the Lord,
the Queen of Saints, Mary, in the center,
with whom stands, left to right,
Saints Thomas of Canterbury, Agnes, Athanasius,
Alban, Margaret of Scotland, Vincent.
(You can read about them in your bulletin…!)
In our clerestory, above us,
seventy-seven saints (the number of perfection, by the way, which Jesus gives when asked about forgiveness, i.e., the exercise of overflowing love).
At the end of our worship, we will call upon them in a Litany of Saints.
We are indeed preceded, surrounded, accompanied and loved
by those fully transfigured by the Holy One.
“I believe in the Communion of Saints.” Thank you, Apostles’ Creed.
This celebration, as you may know, dates to the early Church.
The first Christians celebrated the anniversaries of martyrs,
i.e., those who gave everything for and to their Lord, sure saints.
And the list of holy ones grew, and Christians continued to honor them,
recognizing that grace is not a shroud over darkness but transformative.
In the 300s, St. John Chrysostom spoke of a feast day for “all the saints”.
In the 600s, the Pantheon in Rome was consecrated to Mary and the martyrs.
In the 700s, a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter
was consecrated to all the saints and the anniversary set for November 1.
In the 800s, that local celebration was extended to the entire Church.
And, ever since, we have been celebrating the Lord’s wonders in the saints.
This may sound abstract, irrelevant, even boring: pious persons on pedestals?
We struggle to grasp how Jesus might work through others
—especially if they’re dead.
“I believe in the Communion of Saints.”
These are friends, who are alive, BFFs, best friends for ever--and ever!
And, as I’ve said before, in the divine realm, three’s company.
The Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, about this holy company, says:
It is quite a thing, really. That we be connected to so many, to so much faith, so many stories, so much divine love. Especially in this day and age of alienation and trying to find community and belonging in smaller and smaller ways. I may think that the basis of me being connected to other people is in having political beliefs or denominational affiliation or neighborhood or musical taste or Facebook groups in common. But none of this is what connects me to the Body of Christ. What connects me to the Body of Christ is not my piety or good works or even theological beliefs. It’s God, a God who gathers up all of His children into the Church eternal.
Today’s gospel, the beatitudes, reveals the lives and hearts of the saints and,
in the form of a promise, reveals God’s desire that we be saints,
transformed in love and closer to Him and one another than we can imagine.
The beatitudes are not a pep-talk for the downtrodden
nor a list of conditions for blessing.
They reveal Jesus lavishly blessing the world around him,
reaching into the fragility of our lives to give healing grace.
And nothing in us is an obstacle to this gift—except willful refusal.
Jesus is among us, in us, proclaiming beatitude, sharing God’s happiness,
even if we are not expecting it or looking for it.
Blessed are you who are unsure and doubt, for you will be surprised.
Blessed are you who feel overwhelmed and unable to engage anything new,
or have the impression that you have nothing to offer,
for you will find light and freshness.
Blessed are you for whom death is not an abstraction,
who weep after all this time the death of your beloved,
who can’t fall apart because you have to keep it together for everyone else, who feel lonely, fragile, who struggle with anger,
for you will find rest for your souls.
Blessed are all you kids,
especially every kid who just wants to feel safe but does not,
for you are loved and safe in Jesus’ arms.
Blessed are you whom no one else seems to notice,
who struggle to make eye contact with a world that only loves the winners,
for you are the apple of His eye.
This sacred beatitude meal is for us,
for which the only condition is hunger, willingness.
The Eucharist, Communion: the broken and risen body of Christ given.
In celebrating all the saints, we really and ultimately celebrate Him,
the Holy One Who makes us holy by giving us new life, His life,
setting us free from whatever seems to keep us from loving:
backache, headache, stomach-ache, heartache,
Who, with all the saints,
brings us out of error into truth, sin into righteousness, death into life.