Homily: Longing

It’s hard to believe that the season of Advent is already back again. Advent is the season of expectation. It is a time of waiting, of anticipating, of groping to understand how God could be coming into our midst. Our parish Advent theme this year is: ‘Jesus is Coming; Justice Walks before Him’.Our focus this first week is ‘Be alert and watchful’.

Since this is a time of expectations, we might explore further what our own expectations are. Expectations are tricky things. We go through times of expecting far too little, or nothing at all. At times, we become deadened to hope, because the world and its sadness seem to continue plodding along the same old road.

And true enough, Advent comes this year as we listen to a drumbeat of reports that diminish our hopes and lower our expectations of peace: reports of strife between and within nations, including our own.

We are enveloped by a profound sense of how far we are from being a society marked by justice for all; reports of persistent and worsening poverty and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few; threats to our environment and a sense of helplessness about fixing it, of anxiety provoked by winter storms and the ever-present threat of terrorism that gnaws at our sense of well-being as individuals and communities.

Advent finds us, then, still longing, as we are in every year, for peace in the world: even as as we are forced to accept the limitations of our expensive and sophisticated weapons to bring peace. Advent arrives this year as the events in Ferguson, Missouri makes us brace for what will follow, not just immediately but in the long-term. Advent arrives this year in the middle of discouraging political discourse and continued exasperation with the processes of governing or not governing, in the middle of the frustration of our attempts to solve our own problems (for example, stories of children exposed to violence and drugs; the challenges faced by our schools in serving the most vulnerable among us: a steady drumbeat, yes, and yet, God will neither submit to our demented definitions of what is good, nor let us and the rest of the world plod our weary way to hell. Nevertheless, we worship a God who cares enough to hold us accountable.

No matter how bad things are, we are reminded that we belong to God, and that all the earth belongs to God, and we believe that God breaks into this reality regularly. Sometimes, this inbreaking is dramatic and publicly celebrated: one thinks of the fall of apartheid in South Africa, for example, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the dramatic progress in the acceptance without bias of those with different sexual orientation in our own nation.

Sometimes it’s felt in private consolations and reconciliations, a relationship restored by

Forgiveness, or a return to health. The coming of Advent, jolts the church out of Ordinary Time with the invasive news that it’s time to think about fresh possibilities for deliverance and human wholeness. Advent calls us to a time of self-examination as well as hope. Our country has changed over the past years from one that wanted to be good to one that wants to feel good. Perhaps the radical transformation that God will work may bring us back to wanting to be good.

We want Christmas to feel the way we think we remember it did long ago. Hope is mixed with longing for the past. We are filled with yearning for restoration to a life we once knew, be it the life of our families, relationships, churches, or even nation.

But while we may look back, God always looks ahead. And, at some deep level, we know that. We know that things will never be good in exactly the same way they used to be good, but that God will always be good. And so we enter this season in what can be called a spirit of yearnings for that which would be too good to be true: some signs of a new and unique expression of God’s intention to save a world gone wrong.

Of course, Advent is also about the nearness of God, our hope to experience God, right here, down here, on earth, God regularly breaks into reality. As we begin a new year in the church, we look ahead with hope and expectation, knowing that God is near in every difficulty and heartache, and yet also far ahead of us, calling us forward into the bright new day of justice, healing, and peace for which our hearts long.

What is the thing that is “too good to be true” for which you pray, and yearn, this Advent? (Kathryn Matthews Huey)

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