Some of us here will travel on a pilgrimage to Ireland in May 2019. I hope what happened on an Air Lingus flight from Orlando to Dublin doesn't happen on our flight. An hour out of Orlando, a flight attendant announced in her Irish brogue: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, but there has been a terrible mix-up. We have 200 passengers, but we only received 100 meals. I truly apologize.” She continued, “Anyone kind enough to give up a meal will receive free unlimited drinks for the duration of our flight.” Her next announcement came two hours later. “We still have those 100 meals available.” It must have been a merry flight!
The Advent season is about waiting. We do plenty of waiting, don’t we? We wait “on line” at stores. Luckily there's “online shopping.” We wait in a doctor’s office. We wait at the airport. Yes, we do a lot of waiting.
So too did the ancient Hebrews. But theirs was a different kind of waiting. They often waited for the Messiah to rescue them--from their hardships in Ancient Egypt; from the follies of their kings; from their exile in Babylonia; and from their many foreign occupations.
But the Messiah, more often than not, seemed hidden from them.
In many ways, we are like those Hebrews; we often pray for God to rescue us from a crisis of one kind or another—for example, a shattered relationship, or a workplace crisis, a life-threatening illness, or a family addiction. We beg God to suddenly appear and make things right. Some would say that this is everyone’s story.
Yet, God sometimes seems silent. But is God silent? Our faith proclaims loudly that God is indeed among us. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Do not be afraid, Jesus proclaimed. I am with you always.
The word of God gives us Baruch, in the sixth century before Jesus. Those times were catastrophic for the Hebrews; everything they thought would endure forever suddenly disappeared. Yet, in the midst of this, Baruch spoke of hope: a splendid new Jerusalem, a faithful people who will reflect the glory of God in their daily lives and who will be forgiving, compassionate, generous, honest, joyful, peaceful, and loving. The word of God may be asking whether we embody these virtues in our daily lives.
Paul, in his letter to the Christian community at Philippi in Greece, prayed that we will possess true wisdom, the wisdom to distinguish what matters from what doesn’t, so that we will always do the right thing. Paul may be asking whether we pray for the wisdom to know what truly matters in life: our relationships with God and one another.
In the Gospel according to Luke, John the Baptizer appeared, proclaiming repentance: prepare our hearts for the Lord. Yes, ask God to help us to hear the word of God in our hearts and turn toward a God-centered, other-centered life.
Why? So that we may see clearly the way to walk, the truth to speak, and the life to live. The word of God may be asking whether we, like John the Baptizer, are preparing ourselves afresh to make Jesus, the Christ, a priority in our lives.
Now during Advent the bible focuses on three personalities: Isaiah, John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary. Each of these three, in their encounter with God, delivered a special message.
Isaiah spoke about a future Messiah, a liberator, a redeemer, a savior for us.
John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God; the lamb, who through his own death and resurrection created a future for us, where we will be transfigured more fully into the likeness of God.
The Virgin Mary is the living temple of God, the ark of the Hebrew covenant. Why? Because she carried within herself the Word made flesh, the Christ child, Emmanuel, God with us.
The word in Advent also references a fourth biblical personality, Joseph, who appears briefly and then disappears. Joseph had a dream in which the angel said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.”
In thinking about Joseph’s dream, I ponder what couples dream when they learn that they will be parents.
Their first dreams are usually for a safe birth, a healthy child. Then parents may dream that their son or daughter will excel: in sports, mastering the sciences, or distinguishing themselves in the arts, music, or literature. They may even dream that their child may one day be a star quarterback for the Buccaneers, an opera singer, or a political mover and shaker.
But along the way, dreams may change very quickly. Where they once dreamed about the Nobel Prize, Mom and Dad may settle for their child passing courses in biology or math or literature. Their dream of a World Series champion may be forgotten when they wait and hope that their child will recover from an illness or a serious accident. Their dream of a high-tech genius may all but disappear when they pray that their child will overcome an addiction of some sort.
Yes, as I think of Joseph’s dreams, I think of the dreams of many people. Disappointments, so-called bad luck or tragedy may change our own dreams, may even force us to get our priorities straight.
As Joseph learned, the most important things we can dream for children are these: that they always will know that we love them dearly, that we accept them unconditionally for who they are, that we are always ready to forgive them their so-called peccadilloes (as I hope they are ready to forgive ours), and that we are always praying that God will grace them in their lives.
Like Joseph, let us pray this Advent season for the grace to see God’s presence in all things; to do things as best we can; to value people as a gift from God even if they’re not quite the gift we hoped for; and to be a source of support to one another.
That mindset is but a manifestation of our faith in God. As I occasionally enjoy the stain-glass windows in our church, and value the light illuminating them, and contemplate Jesus as our way, our truth, our light, I think of a paraphrase from a tribute to President George Bush at his funeral:
...without faith, we are but a stained-glass window in the dark. But with the light of our faith in God, we illuminate the same splendid multi-colored stain-glass window into a “work of art” for all to see. May the light of our faith in God make our lives a “work of art” for all to see Jesus as our way, our truth and our life.