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 certainly 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.
I think it’s pretty easy to see why this is so needed. I was just saying yesterday that I like to watch the news in the morning, but lately it doesn’t take too long before I have to turn it off. The bad news can be oppressive sometimes. And we could even look to our own lives. As we come to the end of the year, maybe this was a year filled with blessing or maybe it’s one we won’t miss. Most likely, it was a little bit of both. Perhaps this last year might 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.
But it’s hard to wait for the fulfillment of that hope, isn’t it? If we can’t wait for Thanksgiving to be open before we go Christmas shopping, it’s hard to wait to see what God is doing in our lives. There’s a scene in the movie “Christmas Vacation” that I thought of when I was getting this homily ready. Clark Griswold is in his boss’s office, bringing him a Christmas gift. There’s an awkward silence and then the boss tells Clark that he’s very busy. He picks up the phone and says, presumably to his secretary, “Get me somebody. Anybody. And get me somebody while I’m waiting!” None of us likes to wait.
So we have to find the grace in the waiting. Maybe that’s why I love Advent so much. I’m so generally impatient, that Advent has me slow down and re-create that space so that it can be filled with our Lord’s most merciful presence. 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? Today’s 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.
Then 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 cast aside our Thanksgiving dinners to get an early jump on Black Friday, and battle it out with a few thousand 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 true justice and real peace, to give of ourselves so that those in need might have Christmas too, 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.
While we are waiting, we also need to share that hopeful message with others. There’s too many empty seats in our pews on a regular basis: people have left the faith for all sorts of reasons, and we have become too used to that being the way it is. That needs to change. So if you know people who are not with us for any reason, I want you to invite them to come back this Advent. I know that’s a super-scary thing to do, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you hear a great story, or even a funny joke, you want to share it with people that matter to you, right? Well, here in Church we have the greatest story ever, the best news ever. And so maybe we can share just one little tidbit with someone. Something you heard in the readings or the homily that got you thinking, or maybe tell them about the way someone welcomed you when you got here. Because we don’t want to be the only ones excited about the birth of salvation in our world. We want everyone to be here with us.
To help you with that, we are giving you a little book on the way out today called “Why Stay Away?” The little book addresses all the common questions people have about the Mass, everything from why we do what we do to why can’t we just pray at home or in a forest or someplace. After you read it, I am encouraging you to give it to someone who needs to hear the message. Please don’t bring it back to the church or let it sit on a bookshelf: use it to invite someone to join us. What a wonderful Christmas gift you’ll be giving them!
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, if we spend our time encouraging others with the hope we have in Jesus, 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.