As people around the nation struggle to make sense of the violence in the world, a friar who preaches both in person and online describes the importance of looking ahead toward God’s promises of peace, justice and healing.
Advent is almost over and Christmas is soon to be upon us. Advent wreaths are giving way to Christmas trees, so as we come to the end of this beautiful season, we can ask, “What is this season all about?” I like to think of it as a three-dimensional season, crossing three time zones. Now that we are at the end, we can ask “where have we come from in the last three weeks?”
Interestingly enough, the first dimension of Advent is the future. At the beginning, we looked to the end times. On the First Sunday, we were presented with apocalyptic literature with its frightening images of earthquakes and wars. In spite of these scary scenarios, we need to understand that this genre of biblical literature, found especially in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, but also in parts of the Gospel, was meant to give hope to people who were suffering and oppressed. Is it any wonder that along with the Exodus story the African-American slaves found this literature appealing?
Today for ourselves, who often become discouraged by the situation in the world — the war, the violence, the injustice, we are reminded that, in the end, God’s promises of peace, justice, healing and happiness will be realized. At the beginning of Advent, we were reminded that Christ will come again. In the liturgy, after the Our Father, we pray that we await this coming as “the blessed hope and the coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ.” I liked the older translation even better which had us waiting “in joyful hope.” In either case, we do not await in fear and gloom.
Our waiting, however, should be an active waiting. While there is not complete victory over the ills of this world until the Lord comes again, this phase of Advent should spur us on to engage in the works of justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
The Past and the Present
The second dimension is the past. We are presented with the figure of John the Baptist and are invited to “prepare the way of the Lord” along with him. Beginning on Dec. 17, Advent really turned to the past as we prayed the O Antiphons and read Scriptures that proclaim God’s preparation of the world, right from the beginning and through the history of Israel for the coming of the Messiah King. This looking into the past not only helps us to prepare for Christmas, it also assures us that God is still providing for us and is leading us forward throughout our present history.
This leads us to the third dimension, the present. Advent is not complete if we think only of the great feast of the birth of Our Lord as a celebration of a past event that took place in Bethlehem a long time ago. It is, above all, a time to welcome Christ into our life now, to let him be born in us.
I tune in occasionally to the Busted Halo program on Sirius XM radio and follow them on Facebook as well. They have some nice two-minute clips on various Church seasons and feasts. The Advent clip tells us that Lenten penance is about overcoming our sins while the work of Advent is to prepare the house to welcome a special guest. Hopefully, we are preparing ourselves to welcome that guest now, allowing Christ to be born in us today. St. Francis understood this well when he created the live nativity scene at Greccio.
Br. Bill Short, OFM, in a talk that he delivered on an educational CD that I heard recently, points out that while there were various animals at the Greccio scene, there was no baby. Francis wanted people to see their own hearts, their own lives, as the manger.
The image of little baby Jesus is a nice one, indeed an important one, but we cannot imprison him in Bethlehem. He desires to be born in us now, not only on Dec. 25, but on each day of our lives.
— Fr. John is co-director of the HNP Ministry of the Word. He frequently updates his blog, The Wandering Friar, with his reflections.