First Sunday in Advent
December 02, 2018 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Jeremiah 33:14-16 | Psalm 25:4-5;8-10;14
I Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 | Luke 21:25-28;34-36
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Among the components of the local news is the weather report. Most of the time here in Palm Springs, we have pretty nice weather. The temperature very seldom dips below forty degrees Fahrenheit; we have no snow and very little rain. This good weather is the major reason Sharon and I live here. Triple-digit temperatures are not as heavy as a snow shovel!
The weather elsewhere, however, is a different story. Freezing temperatures and snow are the norm much of the year in the mountain states, the Midwest, and the East Coast. The Southern states are often flooded and suffer hurricanes. In California outside of Palm Springs, sudden wildfires in dry conditions consume homes and take the lives of both people and animals.
Today’s gospel contains what’s called “apocalyptic language,” warning of impending disaster. The moon, sun, and stars predict dismay on earth and people dying from fear of roaring seas and waves. Forces of nature about which we can do nothing will cause great distress and anxiety, precisely because there is indeed nothing we can do to stop them. No matter how much you sing, “rain, rain, go away, come again another day,” the rain will continue to fall. We have no choice but to deal with the weather as it is. Its power is greater than that of all humanity. As long as people choose to live in a particular area, they are forced to accept its weather, whatever it may be.
We have seen in very recent memory that weather has the capacity to be apocalyptic. The West Coast experienced wildfires arising from dry conditions and high temperatures, which most certainly caused great distress and anxiety for the residents of Ventura County in the south and Butte County in the north. For those people, the wildfires, and now the coming floods and mudslides, are truly apocalyptic and are changing their lives dramatically. Weather, like the events described at the beginning of today’s gospel reading, is what it is.
Many adverse meteorological events have been ascribed to climate change. Evidence that it exists, and that human activity is a substantial cause of it, is undisputed by nearly everyone in the scientific community, where people take positions based on facts, rather than gut feelings like the current occupant of the White House. God did not intend the gut as a tool of cognition. God gave us brains to do our thinking.
Climate change is both a scientific issue and a people issue. It’s a scientific issue as to cause and remedy, and a social issue as to effect. For Christians, however, there is a third layer: it is a spiritual issue as well.
About three years ago, Pope Francis issued an encyclical entitled in Italian, Laudato si, mi signore, or “Praise to You, my Lord,” in which he details both the recognition of climate change and the Christian response to it. Pope Francis described our earth as, “like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us,” and, “a sister who now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her,” more particularly, pollution of the air, water, and soil.
We live in a culture where those who want to enrich themselves feel entitled to pollute bodies of water that others use for drinking, swimming and bathing and bury their dump industrial waste in soil that others use to grow crops.
We live in a culture of one-use, throwaway products despite rapidly running out of landfill space for trash.
We live in a culture where those who manufacture transportation vehicles and produce the fuel to run them think it’s alright to dump tons of pollution into the air.
All of this environmental damage continues because it is profitable for whoever is doing it to keep on doing it, as either a producer who wants to earn more profit from producing more of it or as a consumer who tolerates it to save money. This activity keeps on occurring because people are more concerned with their bank accounts and personal here-and-now convenience, rather than what happens to human health.
Pollution presents an urgent moral issue: Does anyone have the right to pollute the air, water, and soil to make or save money when that activity adversely affects the health of the overall population? No! Financial expediency cannot ever be allowed to trample the rights of every person to breathe clean air, produce food from clean soil, and drink and bathe in clean water. Protecting the earth and its resources must come ahead of anyone’s bank account.
Jesus exhorts us to watch, look around, lift up our heads, and see what is in front of us. Today’s Gospel tells us we are too concerned with the carousing and anxieties flowing from our day-to-day activities. It reminds us that people tend not to be alert for events which will shake us from our apathy until we are beset with fires, storms, and floods and must deal with their consequences.
Pope Francis tells us that humanity must take measures to stop or slow climate change as a moral imperative. On the practical level to which most of us relate, the question should be, not so much, “can we do something about climate change,” but rather, “how do we handle climate change?”
Like the weather, how we look at climate change is a matter of accepting its reality and adapting to it. But how you adapt to climate change depends on how wealthy you are. The wealthier you are, the better one you are able to deal with the effects of climate change on your life. Indigent people, however, lack the resources to mitigate the impact of climate change on their lives to the same extent that wealthier people do.
Caring for the least among us, that is, poor and oppressed people, is, or at least should be, an overarching concern for all people of good will, and especially for Christians. It’s a theme we will repeatedly visit this liturgical year as we hear most of our readings taken from the Gospel According To Luke, which some call the Social Justice Gospel. What does the term “social justice” mean? It means a society which is just.
In a just society, the powerful don’t exploit and oppress the weak.
In a just society, generosity and compassion crowd out greed.
In a just society, people are accepted as God made them and not what others want them to be.
In a just society, respect for human dignity conquers a desire to control others.
In a just society, peace and cooperation replace people competing against each other for survival.
This last proposition is the most important. In dealing with climate change, nations, communities, and individuals fighting each other for survival insults the dignity of the human person. Competition among people for survival exalts the strong at the expense of the weak. When people seek power to have control over other people in order to ensure their own survival, their behavior is more like that of the kingdom of wild animals, not like the kingdom of God.
A society realizing social justice on every level proclaims the Kingdom of God, the world for which we all hope. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us hope as well as warning of coming disaster. Jesus tells us to stand erect and raise our hands. In our world today, while others spiritually \”die of fright\” by rejecting God before such catastrophes like fires, storms, and floods, Jesus implores us not to collapse in fear, but for us to look for his presence coming amid the turmoil. The presence of Jesus in our lives, which we receive every Sunday in Holy Communion, gives us hope for a better future.
Hope for the coming of God’s Kingdom has traditionally been a theme for the First Sunday in Advent. Daily I see a struggle going on in popular culture between the prophets of doom and the believers in progress. Some point to an ecological crisis, to unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, to the exploitation of the poor and weak by the rich and powerful, the effects of unemployment, the breakdown of families, and the struggles of people living with a deep sense of alienation from society and perhaps from God. Others believe that things will always get better, that God will win and all those problems will go away. This, however, is not an either-or situation. We should think of it as a both-and situation. If anything, it illustrates why for Christians, black-and-white, dualistic thinking, is often inappropriate and ineffective. With God, not all things are “either-or” propositions
As Christians, we believe that on the one hand, we must recognize that many present aspects of our lives are unacceptable and/or unsustainable, and on the other hand, our hope for things to come impels us forward, having faith in a God who will make all things good.
Jeremiah’s words in today’s first reading were addressed to both the people of Israel in the northern part of the Holy Land and the people of Judah in the southern part. At the time Jeremiah spoke, they had been one kingdom under King David and King Solomon in about the year 1000 BC, an era thought by some to be the utopian age of the Old Testament. These two kingdoms were now at odds with each other, sometimes fighting one another with the assistance of outside alliances. But all the people of the then-divided kingdom were united in hoping for a return to the utopia that existed under King David and King Solomon. Jeremiah was there to comfort the both of them with words of hope for a better future, telling them that God would make things right with a king descended from King David.
For Christians, our hope lies in Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Jesus taught that the present age will be a time of fear and foreboding and will challenge us, but he also taught us we should have confidence that the future will be better, a time when we will experience that utopia called the Kingdom of God, the just society for which we all long. Like Jeremiah, Jesus comforts us, telling us that someday things will be different, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The most recent election illustrates the twin concepts of present difficulty but hope for a better future. For the past two years, our divided and strife-torn country has languished in the dark throes of a corrupt government, racial prejudice, the denigration of women, and cruelty to the poor and immigrants. The people engaged in that behavior are driven by fear, not love. Those of us seeking a better situation were driven to the polls by a hope that things will improve. When the election results were reported, I realized my hopes for better times ahead have not been in vain.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of hope for Christians. Hope is what keeps us going. Hope that things will get better in the future gives us our will to live.
I continue to hope for a time when people are open to learning the path of truth in God’s ways.
I continue to hope for a time when God’s justice reigns.
I continue to hope for a time when the imitation of God’s constant kindness will become a way of life for everyone.
Turning our hopes and our dreams into reality requires that we be watchful, that we be alert for opportunities to change what is going on around us. Today’s Gospel invites us to do just that, to be vigilant. But to be vigilant is not just to be awake, but to be observant. It means looking for what needs doing and do it. The result of vigilance is initiative. As Saint Paul tells us in today’s second reading, we ought to increase and abound in love for one another and for all. None of that costs anything.
Smile. It doesn’t cost anything.
Tell someone, “You look good today.” Again, it doesn’t cost anything.
Say “Please” and “Thank You.”
Hold a door open.
Make visitors feel welcome at church.
None of that costs anything.
And never overlook things that really matter. For example, call out bad behavior, like criticizing racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes rather than accepting that stupid nonsense as part of the landscape. Doing nothing in the face of evil should never be an option, and often, doing nothing makes you complicit in the persistence of the problem. While taking action may be unpleasant at times and involve risk, it is part of following Jesus, who was on the receiving end of much unpleasant behavior and gave up his life for us, all because he loved us.
Today, Jesus warns us of the danger of fear and discouragement in the face of evil. Jesus invites us to open our hearts to hope in a world dominated by injustice, selfishness, and arrogance. With Jesus, all of that will end and be replaced with a new life without those things.
Today’s Gospel invites everyone to lift up themselves. There’s no chaos from which God cannot obtain a new and wonderful world, a world which will be born the instant we allow God to fulfill Advent in our lives. As the Blessed Virgin Mary responded to the news of the Annunciation, nothing is impossible with God. AMEN.