Sunday, November 30, 2014

Homily: Advent 1B - St John's Convent - November 30, 2014

Homily: Advent 1B St. John’s Convent, November 30, 2014
  Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD

 Isaiah 64:1-9  /  Psalm 801 Corinthians 1:3-9   /  Mark 13:24-37

In the name of God, to the Glory of God, for the love of God.  Amen.

Advent is the season of the church year when we wait for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah.  It is a liturgical way of expressing the deep human longing for God. Even those who don’t know or believe in God long for whatever gives meaning to life.  They long to be free of anxiety, of family strife, of the pressure of competition in the work place or school.  They long for peace and fulfilment.

And don’t we all?  The passage from Isaiah gives expression to our deep longing for the end of terror and sadness.  The prophet sounds as if he could be talking about our own time:
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
There is such poignancy in those verses – such grief, and yet such hope.  God is the potter, and we are the clay.  We trust that God will not abandon the work of the divine hand, from the stunning splendour of the cosmos to the delicate beauty of human life – my life, and your life.

We can so easily get discouraged because we don’t see results.  But everything good comes from waiting, and Advent is a time of waiting.  It takes seeds time to germinate, babies nine months to mature so they can safely be born, years for the first flush of infatuation to deepen into true love.  Even a good baked potato takes enough time in the oven to soften, to develop flavour and texture. And we too need time as we learn to trust in the work God is doing in us and among us.

Advent is like a womb, or an oven, or rich soil where this can happen.  It is a sacrament of waiting, and that is the beauty of the liturgical year.  We get to start over again, become pregnant again, wait for that child again – the God-child who wants to be born again and again in us.

And in our world.  The readings this morning seem gloomy and frightening.  And that is because the only way to let the God seed in us come to maturity is to let go of what we are deeply attached to and that we allow to take the place of God in our lives – like our need to control our own lives, to protect ourselves from other people, to acquire more and more stuff, to fill our rooms and homes and offices with things that we think we need.  It takes time to recognize that God wants to be born in us, and then it takes time for God to woo us away from our attachments and addictions.  It takes even more time for God to be born in our world, where all the same destructive tendencies are acted out on a global scale in the form of addictions to power and control, to violence and anger, to self-protection and fear.

Jesus was only too aware of this human suffering, too aware of where his own life was leading.  The thirteenth chapter of Mark’s gospel draws heavily on the imagery in Daniel and other Old Testament and apocryphal books that described visions of the end times.  People took the imagery of cosmic destruction literally, and there was good reason.  Forty years after Jesus’ death Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the entire city of Pompeii under molten lava and ash.  Earthquakes devastated the Greek peninsula. There was war and famine and so much terror that the Roman historian Tacitus said that the gods seemed to be bringing vengeance rather than salvation to the Roman Empire – not unlike the mood of the reading from Isaiah, but without the hope

And so using this imagery, Jesus says to pay attention to the signs. Just as the fig tree tells you that summer is near, so cosmic events will be a sign of the second coming.  Just as the landlord going on a trip provides for someone to take care of his house, so we too are enjoined to be prepared, to be ready.

Two thousand years later we still wait.  We see warning signs in environmental destruction, climate change, cosmic disturbances.  But even more we see the signs in attitudes of our culture that are quieter and more subtle and insidious.  What images would Jesus use if he were here today?  I fantasize that he might say something like this:
From the economy learn this lesson: when you see people standing in line from midnight till 6 am to get the bargains on Black Friday, then you know the end is near.  When you see ads promising a Black December, with bargains promised right through Boxing Day, know that the end is near. When you see people sleeping on the streets in one of the richest cities in the world, you know the end is near.  When you see celebrities and politicians brought down for drug use and sexual assault you know the end is near.
I think Black Friday is a far more prophetic term than we might at first think.  I read somewhere that the phrase was coined in Philadelphia back in the 1980s because of the chaos that the shopping frenzy caused in the city on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The term later came to have a more positive interpretation because it was the day when merchants got their books in the black after eleven months of being in the red.  But to me Black Friday is an appropriate sign that our culture has succumbed to the belief that all our problems can be solved by money and material things.  It is a black time in human history when we should believe such things.

We can’t be saved by money or things or power or public acclaim.  We can only be saved by accepting our baptismal challenge to help bring about the reign of God in the way Jesus models – to heal the sick, visit those in prison, serve the poor, help the hungry and homeless, bring hope to the despairing, and pray for those overcome by the addictions of our society.

And above all to keep alert, to watch for the signs of hope. Tend the God seed in you.  Stay awake, Jesus says – not because I am going to destroy you if you are in the middle of a shopping frenzy when I come again, but because you might not recognize me.  Stay awake so that when I show up in your life – as that quiet inner voice, or that friend who consoles, or that new opportunity – you won’t miss me.

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake”!
- Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD