1st Sunday of Advent - Learning to Hope

We turn to God with anxious eyes this Advent. Advent asks some very basic questions: do we still trust that God is in charge, is faithful to us and will finally draw us into a loving and lasting embrace? The answer to these questions is a reminder to us that we are indeed the people in whom God has invested much. For God has taken flesh among us; Jesus is our sign that God will not give up on us. He is the moment in the cycle of our downward spiral that allows God’s mercy to step in.

thepotterBut Advent doesn’t begin with cheery anticipation of the birth of Christ. Nor does the beginning to the new church year start with typical new year’s celebrations. Instead, we are called to sobriety and discernment, rare commodities in the mall scenes, as Jesus’ warning sounds in our ears, “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake!" No, this gospel isn’t from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, instead chapter 13 is near the conclusion; it’s part of the farewell discourse and a chapter away from Jesus’ arrest.

In our First Reading, Isaiah asks: “Why do you let us wander, O Lord from your ways and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” He answers his own question by proclaiming: “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him... You are our Father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands."

And while this recalls the past actions of God, it does so not for the sake of nostalgia, but to help us look to the future with hope. We don't just extend our present condition into the future; the way things are now doesn't control how they will be. Present circumstances may offer no evidence of future fulfillment; but during Advent we learn to hope.

Today’s gospel is a stark and sober one, leaving little doubt that the master is returning to the house to assert his authority. We are not awaiting the birth of a little baby, but the coming of Jesus, the master, who unexpectedly breaks into our routine in the middle of the night when we may be dozing off, or fully asleep - and our usual routine is shattered when God enters our world.

Lest we are ever tempted to think otherwise, Advent reminds us that, while God has kissed the earth with his presence, much remains broken, unfulfilled and in darkness. We see plenty of evidence around us of the dark night. If we have learned anything during this year of 2020, it is that we need not be told how late, how long and how dark our wait has turned out to be. We need help. Not just to protect us from the night so we can huddle together in mutual support and encouragement. We need courage to keep the light of hope, love and service to neighbor aglow in us so we can face down the spirit of despair and continue to work in the night to be a beacon of hope to others.

How long is the night? Very long. How dark is it? Very dark.

Yet Isaiah's words ring true: "No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you, doing such deeds for those who wait for him." We are indeed children of the Light.

We are told to 'be alert, stay awake." Our staying awake and being attentive to the world around us can alert us to the already-arrived and still-coming of Christ. Most importantly, these days provide us with the reassurance that God comes now, in the people and events that shape our lives.

Understanding this, we will discover - even in this age - moments when the darkness withdraws and the true light shows itself; when the hungry are fed; wrongs righted; peace breaks out where war has raged; forgiveness allows a new beginning; death is faced down by serene faith; fractured families reconciled and even a scandal-shattered church shows signs of healing and re-commitment to being faithful servants with eyes fixed on present needs and with anticipation of the Lord's return.

Come, Lord Jesus - Be Our Light, Our Joy And Our Peace!