Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Sunday of Advent

Romans 13:11-14 / Luke 21:25-33

It's very early in the morning, and we see someone in the street who strikes us as risible at best, pathetic more likely, shameful at worst. She is a woman who is still, or yet once again, in her evening gown, a man in his once neatly-pressed nighttime finery, now rumpled, uneven, untucked. Even should we laugh, we do so because such a person is not so much in the wrong place as at the wrong time. The night is passed and the day is at hand. The moments before the dawn are the time to rise, the time to prepare for a new day, the time to let whatever mischief might have tempted us in the hours of darkness be be left definitively in the past.

However, we might be tempted to think that it is we who believe in the Gospel who are the risible, the pathetic, or the shameful, behaving in a manner entirely out of step with the time. In the face of the material and technical success of modern science, do we not seem like the woman in heels, the man in his tuxedo at the dawning of the day, dressed in what may have once impressed, may indeed have once been appropriate to the moment, but now an embarrassment to ourselves and to those around us? Can we still speak of sin, of redemption, of Virgin Birth and Empty Tomb and not appear to have refused what the modern world can offer?

Likewise, and perhaps more tellingly, can we speak of God's love, of his victory over sin and death, while the faithful have their heads removed, systematically and mercilessly, uploaded to the internet for all to see, the world and the Church powerless to stop it? When news reports speak of not dozens, not hundreds, but over ten thousand persons bound in slavery in the United Kingdom alone, much less across the world, can we speak without seeming hopelessly, even dangerously naive, in proclaiming the Good News of our deliverance from slavery by the merciful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Yet, what God reminds us today in the Scriptures is that it is not we, but the world, that is out of step, dressed to the nines when it ought to be getting ready for a new day. Where the world would invite us to join in with its rioting and drunkenness, its chambering and impurities, its contention and envy, we insist on a more temperate life, we choose to walk honestly, as in the day. We do so not because we are killjoys, or not because we want to stand as countercultural symbols against the time. No, we do so because the night is passed and the day is at hand. We do so because to behave otherwise is to share in the ignorance of the world, a world which thinks the dawning of the light is not real, a world which prefers to keep its eyes closed rather than to see what time it really is, the time of the Lord's coming.

By the same truth, we are therefore, or should be, able to remain calm, even confident in the face of the distress of nations that otherwise finds men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. It is not that we are unmoved by the plight of the victims of hatred and injustice. Rather, we know that these disturbances, this confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves, does not herald a final collapse of all that it good and true. It is not an indication that the old counsels of meekness, peace, piety, and patience must yield to the cold, hard reality of a cruel and unfeeling world which only gets worse, not better. No, even while doing what we can, even urgently, to meet the troubles of the day, we can and must look up and lift up our heads, because our redemption is at hand. We know, even if the world in its confusion and fear does not, that we draw closer not to catastrophe, but to God's eucatastrophe, to the in one way unexpected yet nonetheless foretold overturning of things that leads not to a final defeat, but to a wonderful and irreversible redemption.

This is why Advent, for all its rightful penance, is always ready to burst out into rejoicing. We know what time it is. We know that the arrival of invincible and unassailable joy is right around the corner, and we know what it takes to share in that joy. Let us, then, put aside our evening finery. Let us cease trying to impress a world whose clock has long ago ceased to tell the right time. Let us rather get dressed for the new and everlasting day, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ.