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Monday, December 2, 2013

O Come Emmanuel! It's Advent, A Time of Hope and Challenge

   I imagine that most Catholics, if asked, "What is Advent?" would reply, "It is the time when we prepare for Christmas."  This answer, of course, is correct, but it is only half of the answer, half of the explanation of what Advent is about.

  Actually as we begin this season the Church focuses our attention not on Christmas, but on the Second Coming of Christ.  In other words, as we prepare to celebrate the First coming we get ready for the next.  How are we to go about that preparation?

   Unfortunately talk of the Second coming conjures up images of "the end of the world" and many of the recent movies showing the earth being destroyed in a myriad of ways.  Thinking in this way unfortunately evokes fear and leads us to shy away from this topic.  I close look at Scripture and the prayers of the liturgy offer us another way of looking at the end times.  After the Our Father at Mass we say a beautiful prayer that states that "We await the blessed hope and the coming of Our Savior, Jesus Christ."  No fear in that statement.  The Scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent this year talk of "spears being turned into pruning hook.s and nations not waging war again." (from the prophet Isaiah). Other Scriptures speak of the heavenly banquet which is foreshadowed in the Eucharist.  Far from instilling fear these images offer us hope, a hope that while the world may be now in turmoil, the coming of Christ will usher in a Messianic era of peace, joy and justice.

   All of the above could be so much pie in the sky if we did not see the challenge implied in this belief. We are not called to wait for Jesus' coming in the way that we wait for a bus, biding time and getting frustrated and bored.  No, we are called to an active waiting, a waiting that is prayerful, but also a waiting that strives to pen ourselves NOW to God's kingdom by working for peace, for justice, for equality for all people, by working to responsibly use the gifts of creation that are given to us.  When we do this the Kingdom of God is already among us now, even if it is not yet here in its fullness.

   We are all aware and so delighted with the message that Pope Francis is giving the Church, a message of serving the poor, of overcoming animosities, of dialogue between peoples.  That is truly the work of Advent.

  How far we are from this message when we celebrate a day of Thanksgiving and then prepare to celebrate the Lord's birth with a Black Friday of greed and often violence.  There is no sin, of course, in seeking a bargain, to save money, but don't we need to take a look at how we do it.

   As we sing "O come, O come, Emmanuel" over the next few weeks let us strive to bring the world closer to the fullness of God's Kingdom. Let us have an Advent of prayer and Christian action rather than one of consumerism and greed.

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