Fr. Charles Irvin
Advent is a time of expectancy along with waiting in hope. It’s forward looking. It’s different from Lent, which is a time of reflection and examination. During this Advent season, we have our own sets of expectations, longing for a better world. While it is true that the reign of God has, in Jesus Christ, been established among us, it is likewise true that we humans have not responded, as we should. We long for peace. We cry out for justice. Security remains illusive. Dishonesty, corruption and greed still beset us. We lament the fact that the world in which we must live is in the condition it is.
Lamentations are a part of our Old Testament heritage. There is an entire Old Testament book devoted to them – the Book of Lamentations. It was written in the time when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Hebrews had been carried off in captivity to Babylon. Their prayers were laments.
Even today we see television images of Arab and Jewish women crying out their laments with their heads and hands raised to the Almighty, calling for his intervention to make things right, to execute his divine judgment against those who had inflicted such terrible injuries upon them. Rather than a complaint at what God has not done, a lament is rather a plea for what God could do. It is not a cry of despair; it is a cry of hope.
Our children cry out in complaint, pouring out their laments to us when they feel they have been unfairly treated. In their laments they hope we will make things right for them. Without hope they wouldn’t lament. Only stoics don’t lament; stoics have abandoned hope.
We, too, cry out to God, wanting to know where he has been when calamities, injustices and injuries have come upon us. We cry out to God and lament the fact that unscrupulous chiselers and oppressors have held their sway over us. Where was God on September 11, 2001 we ask? Where is God’s wrath and justice when the poor continue to be oppressed by the rich and powerful in so many parts of our world?
And why shouldn’t we complain? To whom else should we turn when the world around us continues in its self-destructive path? All around us people ravish, over-consume, use up nature’s precious resources as if we owned them, while at the same time people slaughter babies, kill the dying, and exercise God’s powers over human life as if they were God himself. No one seems to listen to our cries. Who, then, better than God, can care for the afflicted, the marginalized and the oppressed little ones in our world? We have a right to expect him to exercise justice when our own systems of justice seem to have been bribed and bought out by political action committees.
Advent is a time to see the world for what it is, to acknowledge the mess things are in, to recognize our own failings generated by our own indifference and apathy. Advent is a time to see, to clearly see, that we need a savior. We need God to come among us and set us back on the right path for living on this planet among each other, as we should. And, of course, Christmas is the celebration that God has done just that.
In Luke’s gospel we hear Jesus telling us about the unscrupulous judge and the widow who kept banging on his door asking for justice against him in his indifference and lack of concern for her. The judge complained about her pestering and about her worrying persistence. “And the Lord said,” reports Luke, “you notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry out to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”
We have so many questions we put to God. We have all of these lamentations and cries for him to act. But did you notice that Jesus has a question for us? He has an expectation of us. He asks: Where is your faith? Do you in fact have any faith? And when he comes again in glory on the Last Day, will he find any faith on earth?
Again and again we hear about all we must do for the poor, the oppressed and those less fortunate than we are. It is right that we should be constantly reminded of our Christian duties in following Christ’s example in caring for the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. But what about the one duty upon which all of our social services are based, namely our duty to honor God, to believe in his love, and to live in faith, to pray and give him worship?
Faith gives us the power of hope. If we see hopelessness we see faithlessness. Faith empowers us to act – to engage our surrounding world because we hope for better things. If there is one quality that stands out in Pope John Paul II it is that. He is a living embodiment of courage and hope, those powers that flow forth from his deep faith.
Despair is always just outside our doors waiting to creep into our hearts and souls. Doubt, depression, disillusionment, defeat and despair are the chief weapons of the devil. They lead to denial of God and eventually to spiritual death. And Lucifer, who lives in an eternal hell of despair, wants us to give him company.
Love lives in hope. Love thrives on expectations. Love waits. Love is patient and kind; it is never self-centered, never puffed up about all that it does. Love is never conceited. It does not focus on other people’s sins. It is always patient, kind, and generously believes in the good intentions of others. Love is filled with forbearance, it is willing to suffer, and is able to set aside the demands and expectations we place on others. Love lives in hope of what could be.
We need a lover with a love that is more powerful than our own. We need a power that is greater than all of our powers massed and combined together. Jesus Christ comes to us with that power. Christ Jesus, in his birth, life, death and resurrection, is God’s total gift to us of his power. It is all ours, if we have faith.
“But,” Jesus asks us, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”
Advent is God’s gift to us – the gift of time in which we can reflect upon and answer his question. God’s answer comes to us. When he arrives, will he find faith?