2 Advent December 10, 2017 Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 40, 1-5, 9-11 + Psalm 85 + 2 Peter 3, 8-14 + Mark 1, 1-8
Last week the real focus of Advent was shifted from pretending that Christ was going to come and be born in Bethlehem to what I like call, “Get real” or “Live in the present”. This week we begin to reflect upon what the “present” is for believers. When we get honest with ourselves, we can admit that we often live out of our past. Memories, experiences, people, our ethnic history, our national history all can easily fence us in, influence our choices, and control our expectations. “We’ve always done it that way” is one of the first signals that the past is in control. The consequence is resistance to and fear of change. That makes conversion and repentance almost impossible. Many drag all that past stuff through their lives like baggage, and as is the case with most travelers, we take too much, far more than we will ever need.
That prophet who opened our liturgy today announces the future as if it is already happening. This sense of the future already present prompts and encourages a whole new way of living. It transforms the present into a new creation, and with it, the Day of the Lord appears. It sets us free, breaks the bondage we too often have to the past, to old ways that do not give life, to old thinking that resists the Good News, and habits that might very well be sinful and destructive. Suddenly, when our present is being lived with a view to the future instead of looking back to the past all the time, we can be anxious and excited about change, about repentance, and the conversion of our lives will be affective and remarkable.
This season of Advent suggests that the key to a renewed way of life, is a vibrant, active, and free imagination. Without it, we are trapped with no future, nothing to hope for, and no reason to live. We all know people who have no imagination, and they are no fun to be around. Conversation is difficult. They live in the past and have no way of adapting or living in the present with its ups and downs and uncertainties. I am not sure what it is about our educational system, but having been part of it for many years, I am of the opinion that one of the consequences of many educational theories and practices is the loss of or the smothering of the imagination. You can watch what happens to little children from the time they start school until they are few years into it. Their lives seem to dull down as they dumb down. I have an idea that this is why so many young people escape into the world of the internet with those games they play by the hours. It excites and revives their imagination unlike the memorization of facts and figures needed to pass tests and raise scores. Be that as it may, I am reminded of something I would say to every seminarian with whom I worked while being their director years ago. “If you can’t imagine the Kingdom of God, you can’t lead anyone there.” If I met a man who evidenced no imagination telling me he wanted to be a priest, I would always suggest that he consider being a plumber or a life in retail. A disciple of Jesus Christ has imagination and lives for and in the future.
If Moses had never imagined what the Promised Land would be like, he never could have taken God’s people there. If John the Baptist had never imagined what the Messiah would be like, he could never have said: “Behold the Lamb of God.” If Mark had been without imagination of what God’s original creation must have been like, he never would have started his Gospel with those words we just heard: “Here begins.” Just like Genesis begins. The whole Gospel is an imaginative description of the New Creation.
The season of Advent renews and excites our imagination too often dulled by the ordinary routine things of survival day by day. Advent invites us to live the future in the present imagining things yet to be. We can believe that Christ is coming because Christ is already here, and we know it. This is why Advent is a season of hope. We live as if we are saved, and the result is that we are saved. We live as if we are forgiven, and so we are and become forgiving. We live in the promise of a God who is always with us, and so we are never alone, never afraid, and never without courage and peace.