Sunday, December 2, 2018

Be alert

Happy New Year!  This first Sunday of the Season of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year.  Like the secular celebration of New Year’s Day, this moment allows us to look back over the year that has passed, to stand still for a moment, and then to turn our attention to the year ahead.  The scripture passages we have just heard also point to the past, the present and the future.

Human beings exist on a linear plane.  We can easily look backward in time: we could rather easily point out the date of our birth, the date (and sometimes the time) when other significant events took place.  We could map out our entire existence to the present day.  Our story of faith is no different: the words of the prophet Jeremiah resound across the centuries to remind us that God’s people have been longing for His arrival for many centuries.  When human efforts seemed to be insufficient, the words of the prophet rang out: The days are surely coming ... when I will fulfill the promise ... when a branch will spring up ... when Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety (Jer 33:14-16).

These words of hope helped our ancestors in faith to look forward with renewed promise.  In our day, we too need to trust that similar words of hope are being spoken for our sake.  To continue the metaphor of the map, if we took the time, we might even be able to continue the timeline to include some of our hopes and dreams for the future, all the way to the point where our earthly existence will one day come to an end.  Looking to the future is not as easy as looking back at the past.  There is always an element of the unknown and although we may be excited about the possibilities that the future may hold, there is always an element of uncertainty about that which has not yet come to pass.

As Jesus looked into the future, he knew that his disciples would be uneasy: There will be signs, he said, distress among nations.  People will faint from fear and foreboding (Lk 21:25-26) but unlike those who have no faith, we have been entrusted with the great gift of hope, for Jesus has gone before us to pave the way, so we can stand up and raise our heads (cf Lk 21:28).

The secular world is based on living for the present moment.  Everything is based on tangible proofs of success.  According to this way of thinking, those who have more things are better off, but this was not the life that Jesus preached.  The treasure that we have inherited from him is the gift of hope, which cannot be measured by any amount of physical possessions.  The true gift of hope is the secret to this first Sunday of Advent because it is the gift of hope that helps us to look into the future and not be afraid.  Continuing the image of the map, hope allows us to look beyond the point of physical death.  Hope allows us to look through the doorway that leads from this world into the realm of heaven.

With the assurance of heaven as our inheritance, we can make Saint Paul’s words our own: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love ... and may he strengthen your hearts in holiness so that you may be blameless before God (1 Thes 3:12-13).

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