Archive for December, 1996

Sunday Week 3 of Advent Year B

Since Peter McGrath’s not here today it safe to let you in on a secret. In cynical circles, Jesuits are not known for their liturgical awareness. In fact, there’s a joke. How do you tell a good Jesuit liturgy? —No one gets hurt.

Advent is a good example. In my house of 11 men, we bought our Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent, dressed it on the first Monday, and celebrated Christmas around it four days later. Meanwhile the poor Advent wreath with its one candle sat there, glowing dimly, totally overshadowed by this gaudy Tree with its miles of electric light.

Part of our early-Advent Christmas is a community gift-exchange. Usually we draw names from a hat and buy a little something for someone in particular but this year we went the anonymous route. Every one buys something and puts the gift under the tree. Then you all draw a number and the guy with number one gets to pick a present and open it. Then Number Two has a difficult choice: delve under the tree for some unknown gift or rip the Bing Crosby CD out of Number One’s hands. No contest! Number Three has to choose among Bing Crosby, three pairs of socks (from the Gap, of course), or whatever mysteries still lurk under the Tree. Are you following this? … Number Five was kicking himself for days because he took Number Four’s coffee mug and then found the gift he would have opened was a certificate for a half-hour massage!

Which brings me today’s message—be careful which gift you settle for because there’s something better coming down the pike.

The promise of the ultimate gift is shining in Isaiah: good news for the lowly, healing for the brokenhearted, liberty for captives. Oh, and for good measure, joy, salvation, justice, praise. It’s no wonder that Paul is telling the Christian community in Thessalonika, “Rejoice!”—the ultimate gift is coming.

But what’s all this fuss about John the Baptizer? He was with us last week proclaiming the coming end-times, the harbinger of the final harvest, offering a last chance to maybe be forgiven. He’s here again—and he seems to have an identity crisis, knowing only who he isn’t: are you Messiah? NO! are you Elijah? NO! are you the final prophet? NO! Then who is he? And why are the gospel writers so concerned to include him and at the same time to subordinate him to Jesus? … I guess because many people were confusing them and mixing their messages. So all the gospel writers are very careful to tell them apart and show who’s boss. That’s why John is good but Jesus is better. John is the open gift but Jesus is still under the tree.

John the Baptizer stands for us as the “almost answer.” In Advent we wait and wait for the answer to all our questions, the fulfilment of all our longings, the satisfaction of all our hopes. The Baptizer is the symbol of all the inadequate answers, the half fulfilments, and the sort-of- satisfactions, which we settle for because they are here now and can put an end to our waiting for the ultimate gift. All the gospel writers are crying out—voices in the wilderness—”Wait! Wait for the real gift, wait the best gift.” So what are our “almost answers,” what are we settling for in place of the best gift, what are we clinging to in case all that’s left under the Tree is a lump of coal?

John—the almost answer—comes with winnowing fan, and fire, ready for harvest and God’s judgement. In contrast, Jesus opens his ministry not with fall but with springtime, not with the scent of bonfires but with stories of seeds, and growth, and new shoots, and green possibilities.

While the Baptizer is in prison, Luke has him sending messengers to Jesus and asking “Are you the one, or must we wait for someone else?” And Jesus’ answer is beautiful: “look around you—the blind see, the lame walk, the outcasts find a home, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor—the poor—hear good news.” The ultimate gift has been given. Can we believe him just long enough to wait, just long enough not to settle for fire and judgement, just long enough for tenderness to grow among us like a child?

1 comment December 15th, 1996

Sunday Week 1 of Advent Year B

The first of December! No sooner are the turkeys all eaten than the Christmas trees are being sold. Why is it that December seems the shortest month? Once Thanksgiving hits and the dishes are all washed up you know that it’ll be no time at all before its January. However long November seems with its rain and its chills December rushes by. There’s so much to do. So much to think about. So many worries.

Well December is here, and our feet are on the starting block and the race is about to start. We are waiting for the starting pistol to fire so we can be off and running—parties, presents, family, shopping, making ends meet. What are you looking forward to this December? What are you rushing towards? And what are you hoping will soon be over?

Advent is here too … and Jesus is rushing somewhere too. He’s pretty worked up about the coming of the Kingdom. He’s afraid we’re not going to be ready for it. Listen to him: “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! Don’t be caught napping! Be on your guard!” The Church is wanting us to feel some of that urgent expectancy in Advent, wanting us to feel an ache in our guts, a longing in our hearts, a painful yearning in our lungs, for … something. What are we yearning for in Advent? Do we give a damn?

In Advent, if we do it properly—if we let it inhabit our bones—we will be caught between two moods. The first is there in Isaiah—to be calling with all our energy and breath on God to come back to us because he seems lost, seems to have gone, seems to have ceased to care. “Where are you God? Why have you left us alone? Why don’t you do the great things you once did? Why don’t we feel your presence and know you like we used to do?”

The other mood knows that what we pine for has already been given to us. “Thank God for all the gifts bestowed on us in Jesus. For our hope, our love, our friends, our community. Thank God that we have been called to join the family of Jesus.”

Advent is caught somewhere between these two moods. Between longing and fulfilment—between grief and gladness. December is like that too. Between panic and contentment, between longing for it all to happen and longing for it to all be over. Just living through December is a good way of living Advent! But what else can we do to make it real for us this year? Well in the words of Jesus: “Stay Awake!” Be aware of what you are feeling this month in the depths of yourself. All the gladness over the gifts you have been given, the riches of your life, the joy, the laughter. And all the longing for what is no longer here, the grieving for loss, the yearning for what only might be.

If we really feel—if we pine, if we rejoice—we will find ourselves doing the Advent thing—waiting, hoping, expecting. Waiting for a gift of God’s own giving. Hoping for a new life. Expecting a baby to be born in the dark of the year, a baby to bring light to our days.

Because we wait like this for one child to come among us—and because we know he already has—because of these things we can also welcome another child among us today, welcome ____________ to become one of us, a sister of Jesus Christ, and a sister and child of this community. Please pray for her and her family as we celebrate this sacrament now.

December 1st, 1996


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