27 November 2022 At St Agnes & St William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 2, 1-5 + Psalm 122 + Romans 13, 11-14 + Matthew 24, 37-44
On this first day of Advent the first reading of the day and season is the voice of Isaiah who awakens us to the promise of this season. He speaks today just as he did generations before Christ. He speaks to a people in danger of giving up hope on their dreams because their experiences suggest that faith no longer makes sense. They knew the stories of how God had acted in the past, of how God had delivered a people from Egypt, of how God had spared Noah, of how the faith of Abraham had been affirmed by his countless descendants. But for the people of Isaiah, it seemed as if that time had passed as well as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is as though they asked the question: “Is this all there is? And they answered that question with a hopeless “yes”.
We are the people of Isaiah today, a people in danger of giving up hope as many around us have already done so. “What’s the use?” they say. “What’s the use of going to church?” “Where is God?” and “Why doesn’t God do something?” So, many dreams of peace vanish as we awaken to news once again of another mass shooting. Celebrities with jaded and sordid lives have become heroes only to betray us with another scandal. While our real heroes like dedicated teachers and public servants go underpaid and dismissed with no word of thanks. In the meantime, another batch of power-hungry men and women have bought their way into positions of power and influence desperate at all costs to win promising nothing, with no plan to bring us together while their rhetoric demonizes others leaving us even more polarized.
Isaiah laments that imaginations are dulled. He complains that prayers are little more than laments of self-pity or just rote recitations that come from lips with no desire to change anesthetized hearts. Yet, he cries out today in this church just as he did ages ago: “In days to come…” He has no time for looking back. He understands what the word “past” means. It’s over. It’s finished. His message then and today is simple: “God is not finished with you.” There are days to come he says. What has happened in the past is not the end of our story. Isaiah tells us what God intends for the world. He knows that the world as we know it is not what God intends and that God wills to help us do better and be better. St. Paul echoes that message today as he urges us to wake up and walk in the light of Christ.
Jesus translated the words of Isaiah into his own by reminding us about Noah when things were headed to hell in a handbasket. For some it was all about making money, luxury living, fast cars and country clubs while others went about their business, assuming that nothing can change the way things are going. That’s my version of “eating and drinking and marrying”. Jesus used his imagination with fantastic ideas about the time when God would finally come bringing all things to fulfillment. His message really simply suggests that by not living up to our vocation, we make a mess of things, but hope is possible because of who God is.
The season we have just begun reminds us that our hope is little more than childish wishes until we recognize how we have failed to live up to our human vocation. It invites us to awaken our dull imaginations, stir up our hopes, dare to dream again about what God has from the beginning called us to be and how God has so longed to walk with us again in trust and friendship. This season of Advent proposes that we invest our hearts, hands, and feet into active hope in God’s days to come. Pope Francis, like Isaiah has spoken to young people about a new Pentecost calling us out of the mess we have made of things because it is not the end of the story. Redemption is possible, and in four weeks we are going to proclaim that Redemption story once again. Not because it’s what we always do on December 25th, but because we need to and because the joy of that proclamation will give us life and lift us up once again with real hope that we can walk away from our past and all the hurts and offences we sometimes love to hang on to and imagine real and lasting peace.