Happy New Year!
I know, as I say that, that we are still more than a month away from the end of the year. But I also know that you know that I’m speaking of the new year of the Church. Our Church Year begins anew on the First Sunday of Advent, that season that prepares us for Christmas, the coming of our Lord as one of us. This time of year, we remember on the new year that God renewed the covenant with us, his people, his creation, and that in this new covenant, he is creating the world anew.
And that might just be alright with us, I think. For many people, a year gone past can have brought more than enough of the “anxieties of daily life” that our Lord speaks of in today’s Gospel. Maybe, for many of us, we’re more than happy to usher the current year of grace out the door, and look for more grace in the year to come.
I think it’s pretty easy to see why this is so needed. 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 over before we go Christmas shopping, it’s going to be 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 going 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.
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.