Luke 21: 22 – 28 + 34 – 36
My brothers and sisters, are we ready? Are we ready for the end of all things? Are we ready to let go of all we hold dear? Are we ready to see the sun darkened, the stars to fall, the very powers of the heavens to be shaken? Are we ready for the world as we know it to have one last convulsion and to shrivel up like a dried leaf and to be no more? Did we really mean what we have just proclaimed: “The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ?”
How can we truly mean that? How can we say ‘yes’ to something so utterly devastating? How can we say ‘yes’ to loved ones wrenched away from us? How can we say ‘yes’ to the diminishment so many in our violent world have experienced in this past year? I think especially of the senseless killings of our brothers and sisters in Las Vegas, Nevada and Sutherland, Texas along with those who continue to suffer and die in Myanmar, in Syria and the entire Middle East.
What does this same Gospel we have heard say? “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Isn’t this what Advent is all about? Isn’t this the special flavor, the special character of the Advent season? Unlike Lent, Advent is not a penitential season. Surely it has about it the call to conversion, a conversion we are invited to embrace 24/7/365. But primarily, Advent is the season of Joyful Hope. It is the season of Expectation. It is the season of Waiting. A season of focussing on the things that matter in life. It is the season of death and birth. A season of facing the reality of time, of diminishment — but within the Gospel reality of redemption. It is the season to take to heart and make our own the words of Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”
For HOPE is the last word of the Gospel – even the Gospel of the destruction of all things. But it is a hope utterly purified of all dross. It is a hope, as Pope Francis has reminded us, that is based “not on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust, the One for whom ‘nothing is impossible’”. And this purified hope is the direct result of forgiveness, the most visible sign of the Father’s love. As Francis has so strongly preached: “Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness”. This has a very important consequence: “For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional…. We cannot risk opposing the full freedom of the love with which God enters into the life of every person”. Now those are powerful words and point directly to the Hope that is placed before us today.
It shows us that our Hope does not flow from some pie in the sky theology, but from the forgiveness given to each one of us through the horrible desolation which Jesus endured on the cross. Our Hope comes to us when we, too, lose all things and can say with Saint Paul: “When I am weak, then am I strong”. What amazing words, how hard to comprehend. Indeed, they are not the result of our works, but the result of Amazing Grace. They point to the reality Pope Francis talks about so often, that it is the personal experience of mercy which is the best way to the hope which conquers all things. “Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord…. Indeed I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter with God is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin.” That caress on our sin which brings us to Joyful Hope is what the Advent liturgy is all about.
My brothers and sisters, soon we will hear once again the evocative words of Blessed Guerric, that this Advent hope of ours is one of “suspended expectation”, a hope which calls us to wait in darkness, to find in the stillness the dancing which makes us sing out:
“Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. There it is we are; there it is we wait for you.”
Let us not draw back, my brothers and sisters. Let us pray to stand and raise up our heads — even as some of us find diminishment ever present. For our Hope does not disappoint, because our Advent liturgy proclaims in the words of Jesus that our redemption truly is at hand.
Just as we close each day by singing to Mary as our life, our sweetness and our hope, let me conclude these remarks by turning to her. Mary is first of all the Virgin of Advent, the one who has learned to listen and wait in silence and stillness for the heartbeat of her Son and her Lord. She is the Cause of our Joy because she is the one who has waited in joyful hope for the redemption of our world. Let us use these days of Advent, my brothers and sisters, to grow closer to Mary. Let us learn from her heart ever attentive to the Word of God, how we, too, may surrender to the grace which has come, is coming, and will ever come to those who wait in suspended expectation. With Mary let us cry out: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!