Homily: The World Is Waiting

   Our Advent theme for this year is “The World Awaits – Peace”. And our Gospel today with all those surprising “end times” texts makes this all very ‘real’.. Here we are, ready to sing Christmas carols, and our scriptures tell us about the world turning topsy-turvy when Jesus comes. How do we find our focus?

   Well, we need to see that this text is about time, and expectations and waiting.  And so is Advent. We are not only waiting to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus two thousand years ago. We are also waiting for his coming again in Glory. What we do while we wait is important, because He is also coming to us today, every time we let Him.

        “Be on guard” – I think in the world today we’re often told to be on guard – we’re to be on guard against terrorists, enemies like Iran, insidious health care programs, unexpected violence, catching the flu. They warn us not to be stingy, and to spend a lot for Christmas, because that will fix our troubled economy. And nations continue to claim the best way to be on guard is to settle their disputes by killing each other’s young (and any civilians who happen to get in the way.)

    Is this what Jesus means? We know that is just not true. In fact, he says just the opposite. He says we’re to be on guard against being weighed down with the “worries of this life” so that His coming doesn’t catch us unprepared. I think God often tries to enter into our lives and hearts but finds us not ready. This is what Jesus wants us to live as being ready for, so that he can truly create in us a still heart.       (Rev. Beth Quick)

    But we are called to do more than just be open to His Coming. One of the most exacting challenges from the Second Vatican  Council was its summons to read  the “signs of the times.”

    When we look to see these signs, the decisions of some of our leaders have left many of us frustrated. Our inability to change the system has turned some away from any kind of involvement.

   There is disappointment and sinfulness even within our Church. The beauty of the body of Christ has been marred by scandal, financial irresponsibility, abuse of innocent little ones and the rash comments and actions of those in positions of authority in the church. Its confusion and shame is there for all to see.

   If these are the signs of our times, how can we say that our redemption is at hand? How? Because these are not the only signs. In the face of all this dismay, we see heroism and patience and understanding; we see honesty and the unselfish service of others; we see genuine holiness and fidelity; we see the emergence of good Pope Francis. There are people in the world, in government, in the church, in our neighborhoods, our parish  and in our families who are committed to justice and to peace and to personal integrity.

   Their lives testify that the reign of God has indeed taken hold. Advent reminds us that we too can be transformed into it, and so it calls to us all: “Stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”   (Dianne Bergant)

   Another passage says: “this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” It’s more understandable if you think of it this way: so often in my life I am putting things off – procrastinating – not so much about day to day things, like getting the house straightened up, or getting the oil changed in my car, but about big things, like: I’ll start giving more to God and to worthwhile charities . . .when I have more money. I’ll work to understand better important issues like war and abortion and health care …. after I get more free time. I’ll speak out about what I really believe …. after I get more time to research my position.

   But God arrives unexpectedly. I just have to stop acting like I have something to wait for before I get to work the way God wants me to. The time is NOW.  (Rev Beth Quick; Bible Study of St Paul’s UMC, Oneida, NY)

                  The sign of the fig tree

   But there is a different, more personal way to approach focusing on things more here and now, as close at hand as the fig tree Jesus wants us to observe. You know, there’s a distress that accompanies any major change in our lives – getting sick and better again, losing a dearly loved one and having to go on, losing a job or moving to a new location.. At such times we may be shaken to our foundations; we are dismayed, frightened to death. We know that even good change brings a kind of stress and instability, and we humans prefer things to be calm, predictable, and comfortable.

   You see, there’s a kind of in-between time we experience in any transition. There is a point, or a period of time, that we spend in between one time or place and another time and place. In that in-between time, we have to live with things being not so clear or comfortable, and not being yet what they will be one day. That seems to be what Advent living is about.

   The Advent way of life does not necessarily require unusual behavior on our part, but it calls us to live the usual unusually well. It affects the everyday events of life; it directs the way we interact with people; it informs the attitudes that color our judgments and motivations. It is as ordinary as the birth of a child; it is as extraordinary as the revelation of a New World.  (Dianne Bergant)

   Jesus asks us to ‘observe the fig tree’. Too often our concerns are too abstract, things like judgment or salvation, or on dramatic things, like earthquakes and wars and plagues. But by directing our attention to a sprouting tree, Jesus lets us know that you don’t have to work so hard — that God is speaking to you in the most ordinary events of your lives.

   I have to wonder about the way we use the time we have (it’s really all we have, you know) while we are waiting for Jesus to return. Be alert, yes, but not so that you’ll know when to grab your survival gear and head for the basement, but so you will know: “Rejoice, for the Kingdom of God is near.”    (Kate Huey)

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