|The First Sunday of Advent
Psalms 25:4-5, 8-10, 14
First Thessalonians 3:12--4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
In many parts of the United States, during these past two weeks, there is the mystifying, and contradictory, arrival of Santa Claus at the end of a long parade. He takes up his residence in a shopping mall or department store until he comes again on Christmas Eve night. He comes, but perhaps not in his fullness? Perhaps he appears only to be the real Santa? Maybe there really isn’t a Santa, so why believe in anything!
It is “Coming-again time.” Jesus has come already so what is all this about His coming again? Today’s readings are not full of much “ho ho,” especially the Gospel. We hear the words of Jeremiah predicting a day when a descendent of David will arise as a person of justice. As well, on that day, the city of Jerusalem shall stand secure and will have a name, which will indicate that she stands for the justice of God.
Today’s second reading is an urgent prayer that this early Christian community grows more and more in true love for each other. We listen to Paul’s request that however they are conducting their lives in response to Paul’s instruction, they should do even more of it. There is in Paul’s tone, an earnestness which has the same flavor as my dear mother’s almost warning us that Santa was coming “so we’d better be good.”
The Gospel is an all-out terrifying experience of frightening signs and terrible destructions, and “parental guidance” is suggested. Instead of “ho ho” we might hear “ah ha.”
The Santa Parade of the early years of my life reflected a certain Milwaukee modesty. Two electric street cars were hooked together and decorated with appropriate symbols and Santa himself sitting way back at the end, waving and ho-ho-ing all around. What was extremely frightening was the loud blasting music, which emanated from the frighteningly bright electric Christmas tree at the front of the floating vision of happiness. It was loud, glaring, shoutingly exciting and then it was gone and we walked home in the dark, cold and disappointed that Christmas hadn’t come, just the promise and how good is that!
“Power and great glory” is to accompany the coming of Jesus, but there is all this fear of the noise and brightness of the glory. There is definitely the sense of something ending here and yet something is at hand. Jesus is calling attention in a very dramatic manner to the passing away of the world which does not know Him and is also calming His listeners when He says, “stand erect and raise your head because your redemption is at hand.” Fear then, is appropriate for those who “become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.”
There is no “end-of-the-world” spirit in today’s readings. Rather, we are invited to listen to our fears of not being in the right place for His coming. As I stood on the curb waiting for Santa’s coming, I would often have the feeling that we were all standing on the wrong street and we were all going to miss it all, because we were not “vigilant.” We were watching, but just maybe looking down the wrong set of tracks. How would we ever know?
It is Advent and God’s grace comes down all the streets and ways we walk ourselves. The fear that is appropriate to those who want His coming to be real, is the fear that comes from having to let go of knowing exactly how and where we are to stand “erect,” “before the son of man.”
While shiveringly watching towards the west from which Santa was to come, I would glance up at my dad’s face and I knew from experience that he was never faked out. I still worried that I, and we, were all mistaken. If fear would have taken over, I would have run to some other street that had tracks and waited all by myself and then probably run on and on looking for that which was coming. Jesus is coming and has come and will always come down our street and find us exactly where we are. For Advent then, we might make sure we are where we are. We might think that we are to be where we are supposed to be. Where is that? Where? We could go on running and running trying to find that “where.” We could give that up for Advent and be as empty as the manger, waiting for His fullness.
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