Today, the cycle of the Church’s year begins again – but …
The Church’s new year celebrations do not begin with a party and fireworks …
Instead, the Church’s new year begins with a prolonged period of anticipation and preparation.
This low-key, contemplative start to the new liturgical year often goes unnoticed … It is so easy for us all to become overwhelmed by the hurrying and the worrying that is now an integral part of most people’s run up to Christmas … Angels and Santas are everywhere, draped in cascades of red and green … Just walk around any shopping centre and you will see that the great Christmas orgy of excess has begun … In fact, it began in September!!!!
So often, people talk about Christmas as a time of peace and goodwill … echoing the words of the angels to the shepherds some two thousand years ago.
But … in reality … our Christmas ‘cheer’ is too often underpinned with feelings of anxiety and guilt …
Too often, we allow feelings of seasonal nostalgia to leave us with the pangs of a deep spiritual hunger …
Too often, we miss out on the fact that while the season of Advent might seem to be an irrelevant intrusion into our busyness, it is, in fact, a time of careful preparation … spiritual preparation.
Yes, the Church does seem to be out of sync with the secular world … but that incongruity serves to remind us of who and what we really are … disciples of Jesus Christ.
And … as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are not called to blend in with the secular mayhem that is already building to its annual climax.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called, instead, to be transformed by the astounding good news that lies at the heart of our faith … the good news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born in Bethlehem in order that he might share fully in the human condition, and bring redemption for us all. But … our celebration of that good news will come in almost four weeks’ time.
We are all familiar with the question: Would you like the good news or the bad news first?
To understand the relevance of that question, we need to put today’s gospel reading in context … It comes just before the Passion narrative … just before the gospel account of Jesus’ Agony, arrest, trial and execution.
We should also understand that these words were written 50-60 years after the Passion … 50-60 years which saw the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem … and … all the political catastrophes of 1st century Palestine.
Alongside that historical fact, we need to remember that things in this world were not, and are not, the way God intended them to be … The sooner we find ourselves in a place where we can admit that, the sooner we will be able to move into the fullness of God’s promise to humanity.
So … as Luke was writing his gospel … fallen humanity found itself in the midst of great calamity.
Through the words of his gospel, Luke describes the tragedy of life in the 1st century through the eyes of Jesus … he gives us a God’s-eye view of the reality of the human condition.
Luke’s words in our Advent Sunday gospel reading are written to those living with the kind of darkness and danger and despair that still exists in what we call The Holy Land … as well as in other contemporary strife-torn regions of the world.
Luke is imagining Jesus saying:
Bad things happen.
In fact, bad things happen to good people.
In an unfinished world, a world of sin, a world of free-will and selfish living and power politics, bad things happen to good people.
Earthquakes happen …
wars and famine happen,
but … those bad things are never the final word in the matter.
Today, Jesus tells us that Christians do not escape the great tribulations, the political and economic and personal traumas of daily life … Christians experience them … just like everyone else.
But … there is a difference for those who profess a faith in Jesus Christ … For Christians … no matter what may happen … God is still the one in charge!
God created the beginnings of human history …
God is embedded in human history …
God is marching in front of human history.
Again and again in Scripture,
God uses the darkness to kindle new light …
God transforms the tomb of death into the womb of new life …
God empowers us to live in hope and joy … even if the world around may seem relentlessly dark!
And … our strength to live through the dark times comes from our willingness to turn to Jesus, and to live in the hope that he gives us.
Such Christian hope cannot be bought, wrapped up and put under a Christmas tree.
The hope that we have is the hope that God’s promise of coming again is the birthright of God’s whole, weary, wonderful world …
Rather than hiding in secular sentimentality, we are called to open our eyes and recognize that God is giving us time to prepare for the true joy that is to come.
As we journey through the season of Advent, God is giving us the opportunity and the time to view the harsh reality of this world through his eyes … as we wait for the inexpressible joy of his coming among us.
God is inviting us to be ready to join the ‘real’ party, and to be ready to share that joy with all around us.
May the joy of the Advent journey of anticipation and preparation be ours as we go on in renewed faith and hope.