Advent readings send us a confusing message. The readings at the beginning of Advent are about the second coming of Christ at the end of time. The readings at the end of Advent are about the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem.
The readings about Jesus’ birth present their own problem. We cannot pretend that Jesus has not already come. That would be:
- A suspension in belief in the incarnation,
- A suspension in belief in the life and ministry of Jesus,
- A suspension in belief in what brings us together in this place today.
Many years ago, there was a debate in Damascus between Jewish and Christian scholars as to whether a new covenant had occurred. The Jewish scholars pointed to the words of the first reading, saying that the swords have not been turned into plows, that the spears have not been turned into pruning hooks. Violence remains. The Jewish scholars remained convinced that the messiah did not come.
When we look at the world situation today: ethnic rivalries, the violence in our cities, the disparity between the rich and the poor, the homelessness that becomes “the top story” on the latest news, we can sympathize with that argument of the Jewish scholars.
It is true that much of the violence is at the hands of non-Christians, but it seems that many so-called Christians let the words of scripture fall on deaf ears. The first reading tells us: let’s get moving; the second reading tells us to wake up; the third reading advises us to stay awake - to turn off that spiritual snooze alarm that delays the inevitable reality of our lives. Remember when Jesus woke peter, James, and john in the garden of gethsemane’ he asked: “why are you sleeping?” Remember the sleeping maid-servants without oil for their lamps. Jesus made a teaching point of complaining about sleeping on the job.
Today’s readings look to the preparation for meeting Jesus. In spite of some recent, wonderful weather, those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are behind us. Many go “on the nod” in the summer, to be awakened in the chill of autumn to the reality of school, new beginnings in various organizations, and in our spiritual lives. Advent provides not a rude, but a pointed awakening.
We may not be able to change world violence, but we can wake up to our personal violence: the violence indifference, of violence brought on by not speaking to someone, the violence of holding a grudge, and not forgiving someone.
The city of Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. A recent book tells of archeologists’ unearthing people who were buried alive in the volcanic ash. I think an important spiritual lesson can be learned from this event. The people who were carrying heavier possessions were slowed by them and were found closer to Vesuvius overrun by the lava. The less they carried, the less they were in jeopardy.
Jesus spoke pointedly about people who carry grudges or bear unforgiving anger toward another. Their spiritual growth is slowed or even ceases.
If we listen to his words about having too many of this worlds good, we wake up and realize our need to drop extra baggage and live more simply.
If we wake up to his words about carrying grudges and dwelling on past injuries we can consciously work to drop them, so that we may get on with our spiritual progress.
Here, at the beginning of advent, our readings sound a wake-up call about our meeting Jesus at the end. We need to take the opportunity to see what we are carrying that holds us back, slows us from becoming the person Jesus calls us to become and enjoying the peace that only he can bring.