Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Advent

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 / Luke 3:1-6

Travel can be stressful at the best of times. During the holiday season, with so many expectations, both what we expect from others and what others are expecting from us, not to mention what we expect from ourselves, preparing for that travel can strain even the most patient among us. Couple this with the throng of other people, equally victims of stress, who are also trying to get somewhere for Christmas, and, for those of us going to or passing through more northern climes, the unpredictable behavior of winter weather — posing questions from the most trivial, such as what kinds of clothes to pack, to the more urgent, such as how to spend a night on a the floor of an airport terminal — and one sees why many people consider forgoing late December travel entirely.

Still, while they may consider it, most people in fact make the trip. They do so with an almost absolute assurance that, for all of their planning and all of their best schemes to avoid mishaps, something will arise contrary to our expectations. Knowing this, and knowing the stress, and knowing through it all that a little more planning on their part just might have made things easier, they go with hope of a joyous celebration of the birth of the Lord with friends, family, and those whom they love.

Our journey to Christ's appearing at the end of days is not much different, or at least it should not be. We who have been called by God to bear witness to the saving work of the Word made flesh and born in a cave in Bethlehem are held to rather high expectations. Here now it is required among the dispensers of the mysteries of God that a man be found faithful. Even so, as St Paul reminds us, just how faithful we have managed to be, or even how faithful we are right now, is not clear even to the just and the elect. There will be in Christ's coming so much glory and wonder, beyond any of our expectations, and there is now in what we imagine to be our faithful witness something of betrayal, that even St Paul himself could say, For I am not conscious to myself of anything: yet I am not hereby justified. Even so, even knowing that his witness to the Lord may well be wide of the mark, Paul urges both himself and us to go forward and, as did John the Baptist, he exhorts us to prepare the way of the Lord: make straight His paths.

Our task as we bear witness to him who was born in Bethlehem is not to have said everything perfectly, to have filled valleys, levelled mountains, and straightened crooked paths so perfectly such that none could mistake the coming of the Lord. Such a task is beyond us. It is rather the Lord himself in his glorious appearing who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then every man shall have praise from God. In fact, it is because we know that in seeing him, in greeting him upon his return, having made the best witness we know, repenting of those faults both known and hidden in darkness, that we will be able to greet him in joy. Like the holiday traveller who longs to endure what has passed well beyond his control for the sake of those he longs to see, our Advent travel sends us on a journey to greet the one whose coming is certain, who will not delay, and in whom all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Let us not ask, then, how well we have kept our Advent. Let us go forward, rather, into the winter's darkness, and without worrying to justify or accuse ourselves, let us rush forward to greet in the dew from above the Righteous one of God!

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