Audio homily here:
We’re beginning the season of Advent, a season to get ready for the feast of Christmas and the birth of a Child. For four weeks we will light a candle reminding us of the Light to come. We will hear the Old Testament prophets who spoke of his coming, and John the Baptist and his mother Mary who welcomed him when he came.
But today’s readings seem to be getting us ready for the end of the world. And they are. How else can we read what Jesus says in Luke’s gospel?
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Sounds like a nightmare. And it is.
Now, a nightmare’s the last thing we want as we prepare for Christmas and the birth of a Child.
Why read scary things today that seem to echo today’s grim headlines about terrorism, planes shot down, people killed for no reason at all, climate change? We want normal lives. Like the people from the days of Noah whom Jesus describes, we’re looking for good, safe lives “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building” (Luke 17, 26-30) and seeing the birth of children. We’re looking for a peaceful world.
How shall we understand these readings that seem to describe, not only the reality of our world today, but a world in turmoil and falling apart? Is Jesus telling us, as we listen to them, that God is with us, not only when life is ordinary and good, but also when life holds wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and persecutions. God’s with us at all times, no matter what. God’s kingdom will come, no matter what. So don’t be afraid when you see signs like these, Jesus says. “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21,28)
Not a hair of our heads will be harmed; we will have the strength to endure whatever happens, we will have the wisdom to keep going, Jesus says.
At the same time, we’re told in the gospel not to live lives of denial or lives of escape. We can’t live unthinking lives, lives of “carousing and drunkenness.” Lives swallowed up by “the anxieties of daily life.“
In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells us to live each day as best we can and take up the cross we have to bear each day as best we can. He gives himself to us as an example. As a Child born in Bethlehem, he lived under threats of death and eventually faced death; he lived most of his days in ordinary Nazareth and brief days when he was recognized for powerful deeds. Live each day as it comes, he says, not swallowed up by “the anxieties of daily life,” trapped by small concerns. Live each day as you’re given it; God is there in the ordinary day.
We’re in Advent, getting reading for the birth of a Child, a powerful Child who holds in his hands our future and the future of our world. This same Child is with us each day. We welcome him as the Lord who lives with us each day. The Child we welcome at Christmas is also the Son of Man who will come on the clouds of heaven on the last day, bringing God’s kingdom and judging the living and the dead. He is our Savior and Lord.