Seeing the Signs (1 Advent 2012)

First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:13-16; Psalm 25:1-10; ! Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21: 25-36
December 2, 2012

Yesterday morning I was walking the dog. The remaining green is only on the evergreens that we so value this time of year that we bring them into our homes as decorations for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ. But the other trees, those still sanding after Sandy, are bare. I looked at them stripped of all evidence of life, naked before the white wintry sky.

And I thought of the parable Jesus gives us in Luke’s 21st chapter on this first Sunday of the new season of Advent. He talks about the fig tree and all the trees; how we know that summer is coming and the growing season is near when we see them begin to bud and leaf up again. Jesus is saying that there are signs around us that we catch, and that we recognize their meaning. As I walked I saw the bare trees, without any sign (some of them) that a leaf had ever been on their branches, and I wondered what sign these give us, what meaning they carry?

They certainly tell us that the growing season for 2012 is past in our hemisphere. They tell us to bundle up, to prepare for winter, to get ready to bear with the cold and the darkness until the earth turns again toward the sun, and warmth returns.

Every year, on the first season of Advent, we are invited not to look back – to the manger at Bethlehem – that comes later in the season. Instead we are asked on this Sunday as the church’s new year begins to look ahead, to look further than we can even see, and to use the signs we recognize around us to help us see that bit further.

What are the signs we see today in our time and place? We need to take that question seriously, for within the answer we provide it is our sense of how (and whether) God is present with us in our living today. I came back from walking the dog yesterday to hear the news of a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker killing his girlfriend and then himself. I heard the news of continuing tension between Israel and Palestine, of ongoing civil war in Syria, and I saw families bringing Christmas trees home and putting up decorations that will be covered with lights to make a statement in the darkness of this time of year. I rose this morning to hear of an attack on American base in Afghanistan and to see the photo of a young New York City police officer with loving care placing boots he bought himself on the wounded feet of a homeless man in Times Square this past week. In the midst of all this, what does the Word tell us about where and who God is? What does the opening of Advent tell us about the deepest truth of who we are called to become and to be?

The ancient voice of Jeremiah lives and is fresh today as he speaks prophetically in God’s name and says, “Know that I will keep the promises that I have made, and that my promises are for your good and your salvation, whatever may happen. I am with you.” The voice of Paul the Apostle is filled with a bright and burning love. He is writing to the brand new church at Thessalonika. He had been living with them and teaching them the Gospel, calling them to faith in Jesus for probably less than a month when circumstances separated Paul from them for a period of time that they would have no way to measure or predict. The Apostle had only known them for a brief moment, but did you hear the love he expresses for that community, and the desire to see them again?

“Night and day we pray most most earnestly that we may see you face to face . . . . May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another, just as we abound in love for you!”

And Jesus, speaking of dreadful disasters to come of moon and sun and stars and sea and waves, yet encourages us in the next breath, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is near at hand!” Your redemption: your being made right with God, your completion and perfection as a person, your salvation. These blessings are coming near directly within the travails and troubles of the time.

What are the signs telling us?
That come what may, God is with us.
That whatever may happen, God loves us.
That no matter what, God’s desire is to save us and to embrace us closely.
And that we are of inestimable value in the eyes of the One who brought all things to be in creation.

What are we being told?
Pay attention as you live.
Respond to what you see happening around you.
Know that you will come into hard times.
Never falter.
Always live in hope. God can bring new possibility for blessing out of impossible hardship.

That last is a theme we will see repeated throughout this season of Advent. God is doing something new. It is more than we can imagine. It is more than all of our decorations and our shopping, our gift-giving and our singing could ever express. There is something big going on here. Pay attention!

Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest, icon of the 60’s and of anti-war and peace movements, now in his 90’s, is also a poet. His poem, “Advent,” says it all on this first Sunday as we begin to live this season worth living, this season of Advent hope:

“Advent,” by Daniel Berrigan

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss —
This is true: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction —
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever —
This is true: For unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of Peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world —
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth,
and lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted,
who are the prophets of the Church, before we can be peacemakers.
This is true: I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your young shall see visions,
and your old shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for the liberation of humanity, for justice, human dignity, and
peace are not meant for this earth and for this history —
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope.
Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.
Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage:
Jesus Christ — the Life of the world.

[Source: “Testimony: The Word Made Fresh,” by Daniel Berrigan. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004.]

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One thought on “Seeing the Signs (1 Advent 2012)

  1. Beautiful words and insights, as always; you have an amazing gift and I am so happy you are sharing it again. It was just what I needed to hear this week 🙂
    Hoping you are well and sending love your way!

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