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  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

The First Sunday of Advent - Also celebrating St. Andrews Day

Journalist and novelist Andrew Greely, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2007, named two truths of life: The first was expressed by Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

“Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The alternative was expressed by Jesuit Pierre Teihard de Chardin: “There is something afoot in the universe, something that looks like gestation and birth.”

Greeley continues to say that there is either purpose and goodness in our world, or our existence is absurd. To assert the existence of God, he says, is to express hope. To deny that there is an overwhelming Presence at the root of things to come is to deny hope.

He acknowledges the strong argument that if there were a good and just God, there would not be such terrible evil in the world. But Greeley then suggests that the argument for hope is equally as strong. “Why,” he asks, “do love, dedication, generosity, loyalty, beauty, and affection persist if there is no underlying principle of good?”

He concludes by appealing to the poetic and narrative dimension of the human personality, that aspect of humanity that is re-enacted every year when the days get shorter and the nights grow longer. “Our story of hope,” he writes, “a story of gestation and birth, is a better story than the pessimistic story of those who do not believe.” That time of year has come again.

We are approaching the shortest days, that climax in the winter solstice when there are only nine hours of daylight, yet we know that it will get darker before it gets lighter and we know that the sun will come back and the days will grow longer again. Yes, it will come, but it will not be rushed. So, we are instructed by the scripture to wait without losing hope.

The question we might ask, “How do we do that?” How do we wait without losing hope when the so-called “Good News” in the Gospel today seems to be a portent of destruction and suffering and terror?” Christians have been tempted to use this passage and others like it to forecast the end times and the horrors that may accompany them.

Hundreds of books have been written to identify the exact year and day when the world will come to an end and have suggested that any number of catastrophic events are the unfolding of these biblical texts. When we use the Gospel like a set of tarot cards making predictions about the future, we abandon its sacred purpose as God’s Word of grace to all humanity.

Why this kind of message at a time of the year when the cultural norm is to be festive, to celebrate but the reality is that December tends to be the most stressful, difficult, financially burdensome, grief-ridden month of the entire year. Ever try to shop on Black Friday? Or get into a shopping line anytime from now until Christmas? People are anything but still and calm.

In many cases, December seems to make a lot of people more ornery, less tolerant, more in a rush, and more anxious than all the other months combined! People are financially strapped and feeling the anxiety and expectations upon them to serve up Christmas cheer, gifts, and all of the trappings of a sufficient, commercialized Christmas experience.

They feel time-crunched with shopping, preparations, and too many responsibilities, while keeping up the ones they’ve had all year round. They feel pulled in several different directions. They grieve those they’ve lost. In fact, more people suffer from depression and anxiety at the holidays than any other time.

Here in the church, we who are the faith community celebrating one hundred years of mission and ministry in Milford and beyond, instead of instilling fear, the Gospel for us can mean renewal, change, the dream of a fresh start—like a new sprouting fig tree.

The Gospel we hear today is not meant to raise our fears about the destruction of our world but to get us to pay attention to the way things are—and to acknowledge how they would be if we were living into the dream of God. It’s a Gospel that shouts at us: “Keep awake! Watch! Things have got to change if God’s reign is going to bring peace and goodness and compassion into our midst. And you must be a part of that transformation.”

In all of this, our patron St. Andrew can be a model for us. Just look at his response to the call to be part of the exciting ministry to which Jesus invited him.

He didn’t know where this would go, how it would all unfold, what he could contribute to the work of building God’s Kingdom. I can imagine that he was all at once anxious, curious, and yet hopeful. As we should be.

What will the next 100 years be for this faith community? None of us here today will see that. What we can do is approach the future as St. Andrew did: somewhat anxious, curious and yet hopeful because we’re watching for Christ—not just at the end of time or in the manger of past time, but for what he is doing in the ordinary moments of our life as the church here and now.

Advent time. Time to stop the world’s crazy cultural norms enough to see it as God sees it—disordered yet loveable, in a hurry but capable of delay, upset and oft-times angry, but capable of amazing acts of kindness and love.

So, yes, do keep awake! Be alert! There is purpose and goodness in our world still. Humanity is still hopeful. This is a sacred place where love, dedication, generosity, loyalty, beauty, and affection persist. Something new, something vital, something promising is always coming and we are always expecting. Our story is one of hope, a story of gestation and birth. God is not done with us yet.

Thanks be to God.

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