1st Sunday of Advent. 2015

A good driver should always be vigilant, and totally aware and alert to their surroundings when they are behind the wheel. Their primary focus should be on the road ahead . Acar swerving, a soccer ball bounding across the road, or a kid following after it.
Or perhaps a deer ready to dart out, or a railroad crossing gate lowering. But what’s behind is also important. Drivers also use several mirrors to look backward.
The good driver is also expected to avoid distractions. It used to be simple. The only distraction I had to contend with when I was growing up was the radio. Or 8 track. But now there are cell phones, texting, playing with the GPS or eating a big mac, or a donut and coffee.
We have just entered the Liturgical season of Advent and like the driving analogy, we will be looking both forward and backward in time.

And as with the analogy, we are encouraged to be vigilant, to be serious and sober, aware of our surroundings and we are encouraged to take some time to ponder some great concerns.

And we recognize, just like in the car, there many distractions associated with the season. Maybe you took part in one already. Black Friday was not officially in the Advent season, but it is certainly an indication of what lies ahead in the days to come.

Our look back in time is typically an opportunity to experience the warm fuzzy feelings associated with the season. Our first reading today from Jeremiah in the the OT is an example. A prediction, a prophesy of a great event to come. “In those days, I will raise up for David, a just shoot. He will do what is right and just in the land.”
To help us reflect, we use songs appropriate to the season. And certain props. The colors have changed to purple, and the decor here in the church will continue to evolve throughout the next four weeks to give us some sense of the movement of time within the Christmas story.

Readings like the gospel we just read, however, shake us back into reality. We live in the here and now. And because of the situation in our world, it would seem that the readings will have more significance now than ever before. At least since WW II when I’m sure the Advent and Christmas readings were quite meaningful to people worldwide as they endured that terrible time.

Today’s reading from Luke talks about the signs of the times associated with the second coming.

Let’s review some of them. Signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars. I’m personally not aware of any. There was the great miracle of the sun that occurred at Fatima, but that was 100 years ago. I’m not sure that qualifies as a sign of the end.
A few weeks ago there was talk from certain quarters about “The Blood Moon”. This is nothing more than a normal special effect associated with lunar eclipses. They are part of a prophecy from the Old Testament prophet Joel and some were saying that the most recent eclipse was a sign that something was imminent. Well, nothing happened.

I talked about that book called The Harbinger a few months ago. Rabbi Jonathon Cahn the author, seemed to think that something was about to happen. Well again, nothing happened.

There were others who made all kinds of predictions. But again, nothing happened.
Then, the gospel said that nations will be in dismay, perplexed at the roaring of the waves. I think we could agree with that. Tsunamis, storms of all sorts, hurricanes and tornadoes. Record bad weather everywhere we look.
And it says that people would die of fright at the things they see happening. ( our translation says die from fright while all the others say faint from fright. But I could see in a worst-case scenario where people could have a heart attack.
But that might be a sign we can relate to. I can see this happening. The people in Paris for instance, I’m sure, are very anxious these days.

There are more unusual statements in today’s Gospel reading. The first one says that when we see these signs, we – should stand erect, and raise our head up. Why? Because it’s a sign that our redemption is at hand. God has come to save us.
This is important ! Many people see God as an angry God, punishing our behavior. But he is not an avenger, He’s a savior. He said it himself, in John’s gospel. “I have not come to condemn the world, but to save it.”

The other unusual thing that gets said in today’s gospel is an encouragement to pray, so that we might have the strength to escape these tribulations. It seems to me this needs a little interpretation. It’s potentially misleading. There are some Christians who believe in The Rapture. And I could see where this passage might encourage people to think along those lines. Remember “The Rapture”? It’s that new and novel idea that “true believers” will be literally pulled out of this world before the tribulation happens. The best-selling Left Behind books and movies of a few years ago, spoke about this phenomenon. This is not, however, the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Another scripture passage elsewhere presents a more accurate picture. “He who endures to the end, shall be saved”. The word “endure” certainly implies that we’re all in this until the very end. In other words, it will be a test of our faith to remain faithful till the end.
So I think what today’s gospel passage says is simply pray to have the strength to endure the tribulation, not really to escape it. And the strength that we pray for is simply to maintain our peace and hope, (and should I even say, Joy?) in the midst of these trials.

And how long till the end? Well we are unsure. Jesus said, “Nobody knows the day or the hour, except the Father”.

But I do think that many are getting frustrated and perhaps even disenchanted at… the delay. When the modern day prophets tell us that the time is at hand, and nothing happens, I think many people are inclined to throw up their hands and say enough already, and maybe even fall away from the faith.
For those who may be thinking like that, St. Peter gave us some advice here. Even he wrote about “the delay” that people complained about way back in his time, at the very beginning.
He said it was not really a delay, as many see it, but merely God’s showing patience with the world, holding back his justice, in favor of mercy, so that more might be saved.

I think that God’s merciful plan may include many of the trials and tribulations that the world is experiencing now. It will be a time of Justice for some, but a time of purification for the rest. And that includes us here,
I think this way is unfortunately the only way possible to get our distracted world back to its knees and recognize Jesus again, as our. And we prodigal children, had better repent and return home to him, lest we lose our salvation.
What will it take for this to happen? Well, can we return to the driving analogy at the beginning? Those distractions that can interfere with one’s driving?
As your shepherd, and on behalf of the Church, I encourage you to take some time to set aside your distractions this Advent Season. Take some time to pray for that strength to endure. Read your bible. These Advent readings are rich with inspiration, and hope, hope for a happy ending.

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