Happy New Year! Before you question my sanity - please remember that each year the Church begins a new liturgical year – on the first Sunday of Advent – so – Happy New Year!
Advent is the time of year the Church sets aside to allow us to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ – yes, at Christmas – but more importantly for us – Christ’s coming at the end of our earthly lives – or at the end of time - which ever comes first.
So at ever Mass we pray that “we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
So besides striving to be free from sin and safe from all distress – no small tasks to work on — What else should we be doing as we wait?
This Advent the four of us preachers: myself, and Deacons Jim, Larry, and Mike – want to suggest that what we should be doing as we wait during these days of Advent — is to grow in hope, in peace, in joy, and in love.
Traditionally that is the meaning behind the four Advent candles – so just as the light increases week by week as we light these candles – so might hope, peace, joy, and love – increase in our hearts and lives, in our communities and world — as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. . .
So on this first Sunday of Advent, three stories of HOPE in our Scripture readings. But we will only look at two for sake of brevity.
In the Gospel, Jesus says, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
So what was it like in the days of Noah?? Not so good for the people who were supposed to be God’s chosen. . .
Great was the wickedness of the Israelites – and their hearts were set on evil. At the dawn of creation God expressed delight in what was created – and within a few generations was now expressing disappointment at what humankind had done with creation.
Rather than embracing their relationship with God, the Israelites were chasing after false gods and were in full rebellion against God.
It was as if the vast majority of the Israelites were sleeping – and therefore they failed to understand their impending doom. They were about to be swept away in God’s judgment without even comprehending how much they needed God.
Only one was alert and awake. Only one knew why the clouds were gathering in the sky. Only one was prepared for God’s coming in judgment – NOAH. NOAH remained faithful and NOAH had HOPE: remembering God the creator was in charge - and NOT the created.
Hope is a wonderful gift from God, a source of strength and courage in the face of life’s harshest trials.
When the flood waters rise - HOPE points to the clouds that will eventual part and let the sun shine again.
When we are overworked and exhausted, hope gives us fresh energy.
When we are discouraged, hope lifts our spirits.
When we are tempted to quit, hope keeps us going.
When we struggle with a crippling disease or a lingering illness, hope helps us persevere beyond the pain.
Put simply, when life hurts and dreams fade – nothing helps like hope.
There is the story from Isaiah, similar to the days of Noah – when people turn from God and go their own way – and then there is the 3rd story of St. Paul writing to the Romans.
Although Paul had not yet been to Rome – he knew there was division in the capital of the empire.
A few years before Paul wrote to them – the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome - which also included the Jewish-Christians as well.
So the Church in Rome then consisted only of Gentile Christians– that is non-Jewish Christians - who were not used to being in charge, or doing things their way- as Christianity was still seen as an off-shoot of Judaism.
So when the Jewish Christians were allowed to return a few years later – they encountered a very different Church - one where the once sacred Jewish ceremonies and rituals had given way to new ways of worshiping –
AND THIS CAUSED TENSIONS– which Paul wanted to address.
And then also Gentile and Jewish Chrsitians both were subject to the debauchery which surrounded them - which was just part and partial of the pagan Roman empire:
drunkenness, promiscuity, lust.
Paul hoped and prayed the Christians would stay alert and awake: – guarding against the darkness of the empire – and would choose to walk always in the light of Christ.
Paul wanted to encourage them – he wanted to be a good leader for them.
And one of the greatest gifts leaders can give to those around them is hope. Never underestimate its power.
Winston Churchill was once asked by a reporter what his country’s greatest weapon was against the Nazi regime. Without pausing for a moment he said: “It was what England’s greatest weapon has always been – hope.”
People will continue working, struggling and trying – if they have hope.
Hope lifts people’s morale, It improves their self-image. It re-energizes them. It raises their expectations.
It is the leader’s job – be that a pastor, a parent, a teacher, a boss – to hold hope high, to instill it in the people they lead.
Maintaining hope comes from seeing the potential in every situation and staying positive no matter what the circumstances.
So the first candle of Advent – signifies hope – something we all need and can grow in as we wait for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
For I guarantee everyone of us will be put in situations in life when the flood waters of life rise, when darkness comes upon us, when we are tempted to give into the easier ways of the world rather than standing confidently in the light of Christ – when we wonder how we are going to go on – how we are going to endure.
May God grant us all hope in those dark hours. And may we have the consolation of those who have gone before us who allowed their souls to be anchored by hope.
Pope Francis said that Christians are called to be women and men of hope – united by the certainty of a God who does not give up.
During these waiting days of Advent, when the days grow shorter and the coldness sets in – may we always nurture the gift of HOPE God gives us. And may we strive to share the gift of HOPE with our families and communities so as make our world a better place.
Moments in time...