This is the season for preparing. Parties, presents, houses, and clothing are being readied for gatherings which celebrate, well, many things. Surely the birth of Jesus would be central. There are other human experiences which foster the “holiday spirit”. Family gatherings, special meals, musical presentations, and plays all need preparation and in themselves prepare us to receive, believe, enjoy, and be enlivened by God’s becoming one of us on earth.
We begin our new Liturgical Year this weekend, not preparing only for Christmas, but for our individual and communal living the New Life God offers us with Christ’s birth.
With each of the next four Sunday’s Daily Reflections, there will be included some timely hints for our enjoying Advent and not celebrating Christmas too quickly. That wonderful day will come soon enough, (unless you are under twelve years old).
FIRST ADVENT-WEEK HINTS
Contrary to popular expectations, Advent decorations are more helpful than Christmas decorations. What might these be? Unlit candles placed in windows are a good Advent symbol. One lit Advent candle gives its little illumination during these first seven days. An empty cup or bowl placed near the Advent Wreath speaks of longing. One small sweet at the end of the evening meal can speak of the fuller joy that is coming. A good joke or word puzzle can be shared, but not the punch line or solution is spoken until the next meal. We need to grow in our sense of reaching for and not demandingly having it.
Something new is being announced! About seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah has a vision of a new place for the presence of the Holy and one God. In our First Reading we hear an oracle about the holy mountain which will rise above all others and to which all nations will come to visit and learn the instructions and the ways of the Lord.
The new presence of the Lord in the new house will bring a new light into the world and by this light there will be no need for preparing for wars. If all the nations continue walking up the hill towards the light, towards the temple of Jerusalem, then they will walk together and live together within that light.
The mountain, the temple, and the city are center to the lives of all the nations. God is taking up residence in a new way and inviting the nations to a new way of living from that center. Warring needs distance and God has come to gather the peoples together to prevent the absolute necessity of relating with others at “arms” length.
The chapter from Matthew’s Gospel from which our reading is taken begins with Jesus’ speaking of the downfall of the Jerusalem temple. The apostles ask Jesus when this will happen. The temple does come down at the hands of the Romans around the year seventy. It does seem that Jesus has prophetic sight, or he knew which way the political winds were going to blow. This is not the real issue here. Jesus is asking for his apostles to stay alert rather than their being prepared by certain knowledge. The rearranging has to do with the apostles’ needing to be more people of faith in Jesus as the personal presence of the covanenting God. If they and the early church for which Matthew is writing can trust Jesus as they trusted the permanence of the temple, then the exact time of the “final” coming will not remain important.
Jesus uses the community’s awareness of Noah and what was going on during the times leading up to the flood. The people then were living with their disorders and remained unaware of the call to them until it was too late. This is quite a dramatic historical picture for Matthew’s readers. Jesus did come, after all, through the pages of the Gospels, to get the attention of the reader.
This first Sunday of the Liturgical Year presents us with readings which ask us to make some “teaching-room” in our lives. Here at our University I have the opportunity to sit in on many meetings with students and faculty. I enjoy one particular experience which never fails to occur. The presenter, speaker or instructor, will state a time, date and or place for an up-coming event. Without fail, within five minutes, more than a few times questions will be asked about what time, what day, where and even what exactly will be happening. I am assuming that the room is occupied with intelligent folks, but intelligence does not equal being alert, attentive and listening. Allow me to state once more that in any group over ten persons, such questions will most certainly arise and so do my mouth and cheeks in a big compassionate smile.
The Apostles are such a group and Jesus is stating clearly and with graphics that something new is at hand, but because it is so new it can be missed easily. What is new is also less secure. We do learn the new on the basis of the old, but the old is so comfortable and the new shoes can be quite uncomfortable. What is old is the temple. What is old is God’s history of lovingly caring for the Jewish nation. What is old is the familiarity with that history.
Jesus is asking for a more personal, individual response more than
a collective national relationship. Instead of relying on a tribal
history, each follower of Jesus is called to learn about trusting
their personal futures. In the past there was the need for swords
and spears; in the future there must be no more training for personal
and family, and racial, and national wars. The past is history,
the future is mystery. In the past there was the solidity of the
temple; in the future there will be the learning time to trust the
solidity of each person’s relationship with Jesus.
“To you, my God, I lift my soul, I trust in you; let me never come to shame.” Ps. 25, 1
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