Fr. Charles Irvin
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7; I Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
Advent begins with us looking toward the end of the world. The passage in today’s Gospel account is taken from St. Mark’s report of Jesus speaking to His disciples about the end of the world, telling them (and us) to be watchful and alert because we do now know when the Last Day will dawn. No one knows, and no one will ever know until it is suddenly and unexpectedly upon us.
Advent is a time of expectancy along with our waiting in hope. Advent is 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 that it is.
We tend to think that the end of our world is a long way off. We also tend to think that we will have lots of warning and plenty of time to prepare for the end. But that sort of thinking is dangerously shallow. We have only to note that the world many lived in at the beginning of this past year came swiftly to an end. This is why in today’s Gospel account we hear Jesus warning us: You must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
It is starkly clear to us today that for many people there are many ways in which the world ends. Someone’s world collapses when their spouse suddenly walks out on them, when their doctor informs them that they have cancer or some other fatal disease, when their child is struck down in a horrible accident, when their company goes bankrupt, when their stockbroker calls and tells them the bad news about their retirement portfolio, when their bank forecloses on their mortgaged home, or when their customers can no longer buy their product. Many, many Americans are experiencing losses now that people in other countries of the world have already experienced in previous years. For many around us it is the end of the world has they have known it.
Until very recently we have tended to think that that we are secure from collapse or that we will have plenty of warnings about impending major losses and we have, to our regret, discovered how dangerously shallow our thinking has been. Only twelve weeks has elapsed since the Lehman Brothers collapse occurred… just twelve weeks! How swiftly came the collapse of our financial industry, and now our economy. Who would have expected it?
As for playing the blame game – it’s useless to do so. There is plenty of blame to go around. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, all have played their parts in the collapse of our once secure world here in the United States.
I bring all of this before us today because I need to point out that what has happened in our material world can find its parallel in our spiritual world. Perhaps some will tell us that God is dramatically at work in bringing judgment down upon us. As I see it, however, God really doesn’t have to bother Himself much about that. We bring about our own destruction, our own damnations, our own condemnations in the very things that we construct that are not in His plan or of His making. All of the enormous, raging destructiveness and pain in our world is man made, not God made. The works of our hands that are apart from His plan and apart from His order contain within them the seeds of their own destruction. “Apart from me,” He told us, “you can do nothing.”
It is in the attitudes and in the goals of Jesus that we find the vision that will allow us, with full security and confidence, to stand ready for the judgment of God upon us. Far from being discouraged, the thoughtful Christian can see in current events a new epoch dawning upon our world, an epoch filled with the promise and vision of peace. To be sure we are surrounded by and immersed in pain; but any baby being born passes through a birth channel filled with much blood and pain.
We ought not delude ourselves and think that we can change our lives in one spectacular and momentous decision. If we think that we can lead our lives indulging ourselves in materialist comfort and sensual pleasure, and then at the end of our lives make a spectacular deathbed conversion in order to die and go to heaven, we are living in a lie. We become, bit by bit and in a thousand little decisions, what we really desire. Deathbed conversions are the stuff of low-grade movies and cheap novels. God will judge us on the basis of what we have become, something that has been shaped by all of our little decisions, formed by the lives we have built over the span of our lifetimes here on earth.
TV reality shows (as they call them) and soaps are broadcast to us as being “real life” episodes; they claim to depict ordinary human lives as they are really lived. Well, we all know that is myth… a lie. Would anyone make even the slightest claim that the lives presented on afternoon television are wholesome? That they are great lives, or even good lives? That they would make the lives of those around them a little bit better and enriching our humanity for having been lived? No, of course not.
And so, in all of the little things that happen in our lives, in all of the common and ordinary decisions that we make, let us always pay close attention to what we want because we might get it. In the perspective of Jesus and in His light we can see beyond all of the disasters that mankind has wrought, we can see through all of the false gods that people have made for themselves, and we can see beyond our personal and individual trials and sufferings … we can see, desire, and want to become all that God wants us to be. Furthermore, we can be confident that we shall become what we want, especially when it is what God wants.
Finally, having lived a life like that, we need not fear God’s judgment on our life. Instead we can eagerly look forward to His judgment, seek it, desire it, and want it. For it will be the same judgment that our Father made on the humanity that His Son returned to Him at the end of His life, ours being a part of the Son’s life, and the Son’s life lived in ours.
And so, at the beginning of this Advent 2008, we look ahead.