Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy New Year!

For those of us who come from the tradition of liturgical worship, Sunday 30NOV08 is the First Sunday of Advent, and therefore the first Sunday of the new liturgical year.

Happy New Year!

Advent always amuses me, since every year during Advent we wait for something that's already happened, at least seemingly. The four Sundays of Advent lead up to our commemoration of the birth of Jesus in a barn long ago (and for me this year, not so far away). And yet the season is not just about looking backwards in time to an event which has been noted now for a couple of millennia, but also an anticipation of the return of the Christ in glory at the end of time.

In my liturgical tradition, we recognize Jesus as Emmanuel -- Immanu El, the "with-us God" -- as described in the Gospel of Matthew. Christmas Eve we'll read from the text which names him thus, from the beginning of that Gospel (Mt. 1:23). At the end of that same Gospel Jesus says, "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt. 28:20).

With us. Always. None will be left behind, deserted by him.

So as we wait for Christ's return, it's important to remember that admonition at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Perhaps, rather than focusing just on the rather antiseptic and anemic images of Pattarino figurines in a Christmas creche, or on some off-in-the-future return of Christ in triumph, we might want to attempt to recognize how Christ is trying to be born anew in us and in and through those around us, since he is the "with-us God."

With us, right now.

No creche. No angels blowing trumpets at the end times. But right now.

For me, even right here in Iraq, of all places.

The Gospel reading today (Mk 13:33-37) sets the tone for our observance of Advent: Watch! Be alert! Don't be sleeping! The implication is: Jesus could show up at any time. Not just at the end of time, but right here, right now.

I wonder how many thousands upon thousands of times I've missed recognizing him because I was not watchful or alert or even open to discerning his presence in a given situation.

In Jesus we can have a "with-us God" who is revealed in the persons and situations which would otherwise seem impossibly antithetical to the presence of the Divine. Mother Teresa once said, in response to a question about why she would spend her life with destitute slum-dwellers -- many of whom weren't even Christians! -- replied: "The dying, the crippled, the mentally ill, the unwanted, the unloved -- they are Jesus in disguise. The poor people are God's greatest gift to me. I have an opportunity to be 24 hours a day with Jesus." (quoted in V. K. Supramanian, The Great Ones, p. 187)

She "got it" what this being Emmanuel thing meant about Jesus. She looked for him around her, and found him in the most unlikely persons in the most unlikely places.

I wonder how different the "War on Christmas" would seem if we didn't focus on who can or can't put up what decorations, or whether people *have* to say "Merry Christmas" or must avoid it altogether, but rather attempted to identify the Christ already in our midst -- cold, hungry, without documents, without work, in the cubicle next to us at work, in the pew in front of us at church, in the chow hall or latrine here in Iraq, on the TV, in the persons of our spouse or children, or alone in a darkened room trying to save money by keeping the lights off.

If Mother Teresa could see Jesus so clearly in the gutters of Calcutta, what's to prevent us, this Advent, from recognizing him as already come to us in the persons we encounter in our daily life?

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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1 comment:

Mary Coady said...

Wow! You nailed it, Tim. It was as though you were here preaching among us.

Thank you. I'll take a deep breath, since your post left me out-of-breath, and prayerfully remember this wonderful mini-homily. Thanks for all your wisdom, guidance and smarts.


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