Today’s the start of this year’s Advent cycle, leading up to another Christmas.
With my culture’s annual focus on flying reindeer, decorated trees, and overflow crowds in Bethlehem, this verse from today’s Gospel reading might sound odd:
We know when Jesus came, and where. That happened about two thousand years ago, near the east end of the Mediterranean.
Advent is the season when we look back at our Lord’s first arrival. That’s important.
A few verses later, after a night of torture and humiliation, under a sign that reads “This is the King of the Jews,” the Christ, the Anointed One, the long-awaited Messiah, dies:
“Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last.”
You know the rest, from Luke 23:50–56: Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body, shrouded it, and laid it in a fresh tomb. Women who came with Jesus from Galilee made sure they know where the tomb was and how to get back to it.
Then they prepared spices and perfumed oils. That was all they had time for before resting on the Sabbath.
This is where it gets interesting.
“While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
“They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
“He is not here, but he has been raised. 2 Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
Nobody believed them, of course.
Some took more convincing than others. I’ve talked about “doubting” Thomas before. (October 28, 2016)
Their last meeting was on a mountaintop, and doubts persisted:
“10 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
“11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
“Go, therefore, 12 and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,
“All that I have commanded you” gets outlined in Matthew 5–7. It boils down to loving God, and my neighbor; and seeing everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:43–44, 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–31; Luke 10:25–27, 29–37)
“While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
“They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.’ ”
That reminds me of a now-cliche scene from old movies — the commander gives an inspiring speech, makes a dramatic exit, and the sergeant says something like ‘alright! You got your orders: Move out!’
If Jesus was anybody else, we’d have stopped expecting his return long ago.
Our Lord’s return has been “imminent” for about two millennia now. Jesus said we should “be prepared,” since we wouldn’t know when that will be; and still don’t. (Matthew 24:44; Catechism, 673, 840, 1040, 2772)
There’s more to being prepared than watching and waiting.
Part of our job is spreading the best news humanity’s ever had.
I’ve accepted the offer.
That’s why I try to live as if God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and what our Lord taught; matter. Faith, believing in God, is fine; but pointless unless my actions and words show it. (James 2:17–19; Catechism, 1814–1816)
Being part of the family includes accepting my part of a job that’s not even close to being finished. Thanks to a bad decision we made when humanity began — I’ve talked about that before3 — we’ve been treating each other badly.
Building a better world starts within each of us, within me, with an ongoing “inner conversion.” (Catechism, 1888)
We all have “the same nature and the same origin,” but we’re not identical. We’re not supposed to be. We’re learning — slowly — that generosity, kindness, and sharing, make sense. So does planning for future generations. (Catechism, 1928–1942, 2415, 2419–2442)
The job will take time, lots of time, since it involves radical ideas like peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty.
But I think it’s worth the effort. I also think that we have no time to waste.
“…We must overcome our fear of the future. But we will not be able to overcome it completely unless we do so together. The ‘answer’ to that fear is neither coercion nor repression, nor the imposition of one social ‘model’ on the entire world. The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”
(“To the United Nations Organization,”4 Pope St. John Paul II (October 5, 1995))
“God wants you to be in the world, but so different from the world that you will change it. Get cracking.”
(Mother Angelica, EWTN)
More about humanity, love, and the long view:
- “Mercy: Still Practicing”
(November 20, 2016)
- “Authority, Superstition, Progress”
(October 30, 2016)
- “Faith That Matters”
(October 2, 2016)
- “‘Wait For It’”
(October 2, 2016)
- “Amos and Social Justice”
(September 25, 2016)
1 Details of Christ’s Parousia is one of a great many things we know almost nothing about. That’s fine by me. God’s God, I’m not, and I have my hands full, dealing with my own tasks. More about the Parousia and related matters:
3 The Catholic view of original sin is that this world is basically good, and so are we. The first of us gave our own desires higher priority than God’s. That was a very bad decision, and we’ve been living with its consequences ever since. (Genesis 1:1–31; Catechism, 386–389, 396–401)
I’ve talked about this before:
- “Caritas in veritate”
Pope Benedict XVI (June 29, 2009)
- “Dialogue between cultures for a civilization of love and peace”
Pope St. John Paul II, XXXIV World Day For Peace 2001 (January 1, 2001)
- “To the United Nations Organization”
Pope St. John Paul II, Apostolic Journey to the United States of America (October 5, 1995)
(From w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/1995/october/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_05101995_address-to-uno.pdf (November 26, 2016))
- “Evangelium Vitae”
Pope St. John Paul II (March 25, 1995)