We’ve gathered here today on the precipice of something new. Do you feel it? Do you come here with a sense of hope and expectation? Are you on the edge of your seat? Well, if not, I hope you will be by the end of Advent. That’s what it’s all about. The readings for these four weeks will focus on hope and expectation and will give us a view of the salvation God is unfolding for his own people. It’s a message that I think we need now, more than ever.
And the newness is one that we celebrate in a real way in the Church. Today I wish you a very happy new year. And yes, I do own a calendar! This is the new year of the Church; it begins each year on the first Sunday of Advent. And each new year – each year of grace – gives us an opportunity to see once again the grace that God brings us; the hope he has in store for us; the promise he intends to fulfill among us; the salvation he wants for us.
And don’t we need that kind of hope today? These past years have been so hard for so many, and a lot of us come here with significantly less hope than we usually have. There have been economic woes, even right here in affluent DuPage County: families losing their homes and businesses, people finding themselves out of work at the worst possible time. Others come here in the midst of illness – either their own or that of a loved one. This last year might even have seen the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, or some other significant event. As we end another year, some of us might be doing that with some regret, looking back on patterns of sin or the plague of addiction. And so, for many of us, maybe even most of us, it doesn’t take too much imagination to know that there is a lot of room for renewed hope in our lives.
And then we can also worry about the Mayan calendar seeming to point to an end of the world later this month. That is not something that people of faith should take seriously since Jesus told us that nobody – not even the ancient Mayan calendar people – know when that time will come. But even more close to home, when our lives get as messy as they may have been these last days, it can often seem like the whole world is falling apart. We might very well relate to today’s Gospel reading which foretells “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.” Events of our lives may make it seem like the end is near, or at least that we wish it was near.
So what do we do while we are waiting? How do we live among the chaos? How do we keep on keepin’ on when every fiber of our being wants to pack it in and hope for it all to be over real soon? The Gospel warns us that people will die in fright when they see what is going to happen, but it cannot be so for people of faith. Even in the midst of life’s darkest moments, even when it seems like we can’t withstand one more bout of hopeless worry, we are still called to be a hopeful people. “Stand erect,” Jesus tells us, “and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” God is unfolding his promise among us and even though we still must suffer the sadness that life can sometimes bring us, we have hope for something greater from the one whose promises never go unfulfilled.
So what does a hopeful people do while we are waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises? How is it that we anticipate and look for the coming of our Savior in glory? Our consumerist society would have us get up at midnight on Black Friday (which I still contend is at least a mildly evil name) and battle it out with a few million of our closest friends for the latest gadget or bauble or toy. And to that kind of thinking, Jesus says, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” Getting caught up in the things of this world does us no good. It does not bring us closer to salvation or to our God, and all it does is increase our anxiety. Who needs that?
Instead, we people of faith are called to wait by being “vigilant at all times.” We are called to forgive those who have wronged us, to reach out to the poor and the vulnerable, to advocate for just laws, laws that protect religious freedom and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, to challenge world powers to pursue peace, and even to love those who drive us nuts sometimes. When we do that, we might just be surprised how often we see Jesus among us in our lives, in our families and schools and workplaces and communities. It might just seem like Jesus isn’t that far from returning after all, that God’s promises are absolutely unfolding before our eyes.
We are a people who like instant gratification and hate to wait for something good to come along. Maybe that’s why the Christmas shopping season starts about two weeks before Halloween. But if we would wait with faith and vigilance, if we would truly pursue the reign of God instead of just assuming it will be served up to us on a silver platter, we might not be so weary of waiting after all. That’s the call God gives us people of faith on this New Year’s day.
We’re gathered here on the precipice of something new, on the edge of our seats to see God’s hope unfold before us and among us. Do you feel it? Are you ready for it?