It is probably no surprise to anyone in the world that, here in
the U.S., we are suffering from difficult economic times. Foreclosures
are happening all around us, employers are laying off employees
and closing down shop. Food costs continue to rise, and many families
do not know where their next meal is coming from. It is not easy
to be cheerful during these times – indeed, it almost seems
inappropriate to be cheerful, because that person you meet with
a smile may have just encountered some insurmountable hardship.
A smile could be misinterpreted as a smirk. Hope could be misconstrued
as naiveté or denial. It is nothing short of chaos.
Such is the mystery of Advent, where we wait in darkness for the
coming of the Light, preparing to welcome a powerful Savior swaddled
as a baby, journeying with kings and other wise people to pay homage
to an infant, and watching with shepherds for this world’s
most prized citizen yet to come. Advent, too, commemorates a chaotic
time in our Christian heritage.
Do you see the similarity? Both mark a time of uncertainty. Both
require us to redefine ourselves as Christians and as human beings.
So today’s readings ask us what kind of people we will redefine
ourselves to be.
In the first reading, Zephaniah prophesies that the Lord will “change
and purify the lips of the peoples,” removing from our midst
“the proud braggarts,” and leaving “a people humble
and lowly.” This reading is laced with “change talk;”
Zephaniah’s words tell us that things are going to change
drastically, and we will be forced to change with them.
Beyond the Advent message, this reading also asks us how we will
redefine ourselves through these difficult economic times and beyond.
Though economists may have their own prescriptions, what can we
determine to be the Christian ones? What is the Christian way of
dealing with these times?
Here are some suggestions that occur to me from today’s first
“. . . take refuge in the name of the Lord . . .” Where
has our attention been focused? In our possessions? Such are fleeting,
as we are witnessing each day. No one can repossess our relationship
“. . . do no wrong and speak no lies . . . ” Have we
been misbehaving towards our neighbors? Have we been greedy and
selfish? Instead of becoming more so, perhaps this is the time for
us to share what we do have with others, to get through this together.
“. . . have no deceitful tongue . . .” What have we
done in the name of business and commerce? Are we used to “taking
a little off of the top” in our business dealings with others?
Do we try to push off “lemons” on others? During these
times, more than any others, what seems like “just business”
may be “just enough” to push someone else over the edge.
“. . . pasture and couch your flocks . . .” Have we
been ignoring our families? Maybe now is the time to pull in a bit
and find some quality time for the family. True quality time –
conversations, walks in the park, board games – is inexpensive
and more than just a pastime. And don’t forget that we can
define “family” in any number of ways. We have extended
families, and even people in the community that can benefit from
I pray that each of us, as we go about redefining ourselves this
Advent (and beyond), can become the holy remnant of “a people
humble and lowly.”