1 December 1, 2019 at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL
The prophet whose words break open this Advent Season speaks up at a time when people were giving up on their dreams because it seemed as though their time had passed. They had decided that it was time to get real and simply accept their new world as it was, not as they wished it could be. Isaiah was obviously a man with a great imagination, and he was heart-broken to find himself in the midst of people who had quit, given up, and just ceased to imagine how wonderful things could really be. Instead of just shaking his head and saying: “It is what it is”, he dreamed, spoke up, and expected something different, and he was not quiet about it.
Isaiah 2:1-5 + Romans 13, 11-14 + Matthew 24, 37-44 at St. Peter the Apostle
Isaiah realized that most people’s prayer was just whining complaints full of self-pity. Their prayers were little more than the repetition of words that spilled off their lips endlessly with no power, passion, or expectation. There was no fire, no energy to combat their anesthetized hearts. To all of us who experience disappointment and broken dreams Isaiah still cries out just as before. To a people in danger of giving up on their dreams, his words and his spirit come to awaken us all. With Isaiah there is no golden age in the past, and there is no looking back. What matters is the future in which we must have great hope and confidence. Isaiah cried out: “In days to come!” He had no time for looking back. He was desperate to reawaken his people. His message to the Israelites is still a message for us: “God is not finished with you.” To them he said: “Your exile is a part of your road, not the end of the story. Re-adjust your outlook and change your behavior!” To us he says: “Retirement is just part of your road, not the end of your story.” For many of us, retirement in Naples, Florida is only a part of our story. This is not the time to sit around a reminisce about the old days. There is still a future for us all, and we must look ahead.
There is in all of us an odd and unfortunate temptation to look backward when things seem to be going wrong, to believe that the old days were really the best days, and that nothing yet to come could be possibly be good. That kind of pessimism is not to be found in disciples of Christ Jesus. There is in this kind of temptation, a cowardice that may come from fear or simply from a lack of confidence or helplessness. My own opinion is that thinking the old days were better days is the sign of a bad memory.
Jesus translated Isaiah’s message into his own time: “Remember the story of Noah? Things were headed to hell in a handbasket. For some, it was all about making money, luxury resorts, fast cars and the golf course. Others went about their business, assuming that nothing can change the way things are going.” (That’s a modern rendition of “eating and drinking and marrying.”)
Advent ushers us into the challenge of believing that the world as we know it is not what God intends and that God wills to help us do better. Isaiah tells us what God intends for the world: The life and prayer of believers will attract all peoples to know and love God. He speaks of a time when weapons of war are transformed into agricultural tools, and when human beings will care for one another and their Earth as they were created to do. There is no excuse for a failure to look into that future. Neither is there an excuse for failing this very day to start making it happen.