Monday, December 04, 2006

Sermon, Advent Sunday. St. Peter's Eastern HIll

Let’s begin today with some questions: What was most important to you 24 hours ago, or two months ago, or on July 11th 2004? What will be next Wednesday at 2:00pm or next February or ten years from now? What or who will you love, hate, fear? What will hold your interest or bore you, what changes will happen in the world around you or in the intimate connections that are crucial to you right now? What changes, what remains the same? And where is there an insight or a vision that will speak to this swiftly passing world?

Those are Advent concerns and questions and relate to the reading from the Gospel that we just heard, which is a form of biblical writing called Apocalyptic Literature; visionary, poetic, image-laden accounts of the end-time (and we will hear more during this season). This sort of language, prophecy and prediction comes when the people of God go through tough times. When the temple is destroyed, when kidnappings occur, when terror reigns and the future seems so different from the past that it is almost beyond belief, when hope gets thin and you need a vision that makes room for beginning again, opening the door a little for some new hope when all the old options seem to be closing fast. The Advent lessons bring visions of enforced endings and perhaps tentative beginnings.

So, let me tell you about two visions I saw in the middle of the 1980s. Two television shows about the effects of a nuclear holocaust: one called The Endless Winter and the other called The Day After. Terrible visions: I remember the pictures of the light and the wind and the fire that would follow the dropping of the big bombs. And even if some of us were to survive that end-time, it would be to reap a miserable harvest in a silent world, because bees would not be there to pollinate the flowers and birds and animals would not know to turn away or close their eyes and would be blinded by that false light. So the spring following the holocaust would have fewer colors and little song after that infernal gray blossom fell from the sky.

I was taking classes in Berkeley, California then, where there’s a great bell-tower in the centre of the campus, and whenever I would hear the striking of the bells on the hour I would try to stop what I was doing and look at the possibility that it all might end right then. To look around while the bells were ringing, and people, animals, insects, trees and plants were moving together in the cool air and the soft light and think: "It could all be over, finished, end." And when the bells stopped ringing and the sounds of everyday came back I would look around and think; "There is a chance, we are not dead yet." And there is a chance that if we are not dead, then perhaps we are newborn, like children, full of new possibilities, full of graceful innocence and promise, full of beginning.

It is a strange place to base a code of conduct or an economy, in sight of the Last Things. But it is also a great place. For to live out the possibilities and the message of love, forgiveness and renewal, the way of beginning rightly in the face of all the endings, is to assent and assist in the birth of God’s grace, God’s very face in our daily and real world. It is to allow mystery and forgiveness and renewal of God's purpose, life and love, to begin once again. And it is to begin right where you are. No matter where you were yesterday, two years ago, wherever you may be three years from now, on the anniversary of your birthday or on the day you die. You are still right in the middle of your life. As the American baseball player Yogi Berra once said, Wherever you go, there you are! And there is the only place where we can learn to love, to let our love grow and ripen, and make our life and ministry matter.

It isn’t easy to live in a world lit up by birth and death. Most days we make our way somewhere down the middle between history and hope, doing what we can; cobbling together an identity from need and custom, meeting the marketplace and minimizing the pain; and though there can be a fleeting feeling that we’ve missed the sign for some important turn, we generally go our own way.

But an apocalypse or an Advent, the time and place where beginning and ending flash into consciousness, can be a kind of wakeup call, and a lens enabling us to see both farther into what might be and closer into what is. It clears our sight for a moment to reveal the present time as a world bigger then we know, more full of intent and information than we’ve supposed, more intimate than we could have hoped for.

And how do we prepare so that this new seed may come to grow? How do we receive this truth and live it out in the complex textures of our lives? It requires an ongoing openness, discipline and practiced ministry in three places: where we work, where we play, and where we fear.

These are the three axes on which we meet and bear and balance our highest hopes, our inner lives and our outward ministry: all in a universe saturated by the grace of a self-giving and all loving God. “Where we work” because that is often the best, although not easiest, place for practicing ministry; “Where we play” because that is so often where we participate in the joy of God’s creation; and “where we fear” because that is when we need to know that we are walking with the Lord in the middle of our life.

So “Wherever you go, there you are!”. It is one hope: of a world woven together by love: where we come to reach for Christ, and let Christ reach out to meet the world in our ministry. To get a grip on Christ so that we may learn to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. As members of that body, proceeding into the world God loves, day after day, year after year, time after time, in our work, in our play, in our fear. In being present as we can with faithful hearts to family, friends and strangers; in tasks, hobbies, jobs and joys, in the times of frustrations and puzzlement and promise, in agreements that must be honored, in situations that must be met. All these are places where we act out, serve out, flesh out, and live out the reconciling life of Jesus - in serving love of every kind - in the ministry of acceptance, love, and forgiveness in the middle of our lives.

And this is our hope. That in all beginnings, middles and endings, the love of God in Christ recalls and remembers our lives so that our daily liturgies are transformed into that one great Eucharistic celebration. That we shall come to move like Christ in all these places with the grace of the God who comes to meet us this Advent. Right here and right now, in the sight of the end-times, we find our end, our goal. In sight of the last things, we have faith that this insight, this action, this liturgy, will last.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

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