Breath of the Spirit Reflections: In the Cosmic Battle, Advent Offers Hope in Love
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How do we make sense of all of the chaos or darkness in the world around us? Or if “making sense” is too much to ask, how to we at least live well amid the cacophony? Today’s readings acknowledge the tribulations of the world – then and now – and offer two coping strategies, if you will. The first recalls that God has not abandoned us but is very much in our midst. The second stays focused and alert, looking for evidence of Love, and being distracted neither by the rumblings of discontent nor the comfort of good fortune. Advent’s hope thus lies in our perception of Love’s presence and in an unrelenting commitment to bring that presence more fully into being.
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November 28, 2021: First Sunday in Advent, Year C
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9,10, 14
I Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
In the Cosmic Battle, Advent Offers Hope in Love
A reflection by Jon Schum
With this first Sunday of Advent, Cycle C of the three-year Sunday lectionary commences, focusing on the Gospel of Luke. Most scholars agree that along with the Acts of the Apostles, also composed by Luke, the two works are a single literary undertaking: Luke-Acts. In a total of 52 chapters (occupying one-quarter of the New Testament), it is a continuous narrative that begins with the infancy stories of Jesus, carries us through Jesus’ public ministry, leading to the apostolic preaching and witness among the early faith communities.
About 600 years earlier, as depicted in today’s first reading, Jerusalem and its people are on the precipice of total defeat and destruction as the Babylonians prepare to invade. From prison, the prophet Jeremiah, who had often warned of such perilous times, proclaims a promise of divine restoration. The raising up of a “just shoot” would have stirred the hope of the people in a descendant of David who would see that justice was practiced in the land. Perhaps the peoples’ renaming of Jerusalem “Our God is our Justice” reflects a renewed commitment to living in right relationship with God and neighbor. This passage seems to echo the great oracle of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), the declaration that God will place a new law within the people and write it upon their hearts. In the face of utter collapse and defeat and despite its infidelity, God will not abandon the people of the covenant.
Today’s gospel account of Jesus detailing the end-times is in the context of a rather extended period of teaching in the Temple environs, following the entry of Jesus into the Holy City. Jesus describes the turmoil of expansive cosmic rumblings with fearful signs in the skies and the sea. If you read the entire 21st chapter of Luke you will hear predictions about wars and plagues, earthquakes and famines, persecutions and imprisonment, and the great tribulation itself, the destruction of Jerusalem.
As you may know, this type of religious expression is called apocalyptic. The entire Book of Revelation, for instance, is apocalyptic in nature, full of mysterious images and symbols which would have been decipherable by faithful believers. It is a kind of underground literature. While many today link the apocalyptic to “catastrophic,” literally, it means “lifting the veil” or “to uncover.” Apocalyptic writings were not primarily intended to instill terror, but to provide reassurance to religious communities under duress, assuring them of a share in the final victory won by Christ. Such cosmic energies and signs, far beyond human control, were convincing assurances of divine intervention in the world.
It was a belief of the first generation of Christians that Jesus would return in glory during their own lifetimes and the world as it was known, would come to an end. There was intense excitement and expectation in Jesus’ day that God was about to act definitively in history. Yet every generation reads these gospel passages about the end of time and wonders if it is to be the last. I grew up under the terrifying possibility of nuclear annihilation. We had air raid drills in school where we would crouch down on all fours and hold our hands behind our heads. Today school kids have active shooter drills.
As we look at the geopolitics of our world, we cannot help but be anxious. We know the litany of suffering and oppression. Dark powers and forces are on the rise both globally and domestically. Our mother, the earth, teeters under overuse and misuse. War, violence, and exploitation have resulted in environmental devastation, displacement, homelessness, and hunger. But it is unbridled human greed and recklessness, not cosmic powers, that have brought us to this point.
Jesus does not counsel us to be idle or to throw up our hands in bewilderment or resignation. “Be on guard,” Jesus advises. Stay alert at all times. Do not succumb to your worries and do not be distracted by life’s excesses, or as he bluntly puts it “be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence.” For Jeremiah the divine promise did not arrive as a neatly packaged discourse, but as a perception, a watchfulness, as a “fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones” (20:9). Jeremiah struggled with God and with his calling, agonized over the fate of Jerusalem, and lamented the indifference of the people and its leaders. Yet he was a messenger of hope and consolation. Prophetic witness calls us to confront directly the struggles and injustices along the way as well as to imagine what can be. Jesus embodies a new creation, faithful to the old creation, but transformative of it as well. Ultimately, God is engaged in our history, as the inspired advent stories of Luke, stories which startle us with hope and possibility, will remind us.
The author of First Thessalonians (among the earliest of New Testament writings) speaks to a community restless for Christ’s return, and prays that the Savior may “make you increase and abound in love of one another and for all…” A life deeply transformed by and through love bears witness to the Christ among us. “Love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mystical of cosmic forces,” suggests Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The second coming is already afoot.
Jon Schum and his husband Ron Lacro are longtime Dignity Boston members. Jon has served on its board and liturgy committee and is one of the chapter's ordained presiders. For many years he supervised and provided arts-based therapeutic programming for an elder services agency in Boston. He is currently a co-facilitator of the Aging with Dignity caucus.