Wayne Sigelko’s Homily from December 1, 2019

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First Sunday of Advent 2019

 

Those of you have heard me preach, know that for the past couple of years, I have navigated this season of the year with great assistance from the Jesuit resistance martyr, Alfred Delp. This is how begins his reflection on the first Sunday of Advent, December 3rd 1944.

 

“The deepest meaning of Advent cannot be understood by anyone who has not first experienced being terrified unto death about themselves…and the constitution of humankind in general.”

 

Now, if that seems a little dark, it just might be because is writing from Tegel prison, in Berlin, a city that like most of the major cities of Germany has been bombed into ruins.  He had been arrested in July on charges related to his work in a Christian resistance circle.  After weeks of interrogation by the Gestapo, he has been held there in solitary confinement.

 

“The deepest meaning of Advent cannot be understood by anyone who has not first experienced being terrified unto death about themselves…and the constitution of humankind in general.”

 

He continues: “This entire message about God’s coming, about the Day of Salvation, about redemption drawing near will be merely divine game-playing or sentimental lyricism unless it is grounded upon two clear findings of fact.

 

The first…powerlessness and futility are both boundaries of our existence and are also consequences of sin.

 

The second:  The promise of God to come to meet us.”

 

It does not require particularly acute detective skills in our time to find sufficient evidence to scare us to death about the state of the world we live in and the condition of our common humanity.  War and cruelty of so many kinds and in so many places.  The spectacle of more than 70 million refugees subsisting in often prison-like camps across the globe.  An absolutely astonishing unwillingness to respond meaningfully to climate crisis.  A twitter-verse full of self-serving lies and institutions of government and church bent towards serving the few and well off, rather the poor and marginalized.

 

In all of this, the seeming insignificance of our own small, and admittedly less than consistent efforts to turn our lives,  our cities, our nations and world towards a deeper sense of compassion towards our fellow beings and towards a more careful stewardship of this small, vulnerable planet binds us all too easily to a sense of futility and even despair.

 

By contrast, the promise of a God who comes to meet us, of swords and spears being beaten into plows and pruning hooks seems more and more the sugary fairy-tale, a seasonal fantasy, rather than a finding of fact.

 

Or so it can seem.  The fundamental grace of advent, as I have come to know it is an almost crazy stubbornness.  For all the tinsel and frivolousness of the time before Christmas in our culture, Advent is not season of quaint nostalgia.  It begins as both Isaiah and our young Jesuit do, with an absolutely fearless assessment of where we are.  In the chapter that precedes today’s verses, Isaiah savagely indicts his own nation for abandoning God’s laws of justice and mercy.  “sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children…Your country is laid waste, your cities burnt with fire; Your land before your eyes, strangers devour.”

 

Not exactly words to curl up to with a mug of hot cocoa on a cold, rainy December day.

 

And yet, not twenty verses later, this same clear-eyed truth speaker begins…” In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.  All nations shall stream towards it…one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”

 

This is the challenge of Advent. To see the promise of God, to bask in her presence in the world exactly as we find it.  To become an Advent people is to become a people of the night for whom even the faintest star becomes a point of navigation-a means to find our footing.

 

For such a people each small act of welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner, extending or accepting compassion, each act pursuing justice is a small spark that with a gentle breath can be nurtured into a flame to light our way.

 

This is the grace of Advent.  As Delp puts it:

 

“The basic condition of life always has an advent dimension:  boundaries, hunger, thirst and lack of fulfillment and promise and movement toward one another.  This means that we basically remain without shelter, under way, and open until the final encounter, with all the humble blessedness and painful pleasure of this openness.”

 

And that is my prayer for each of us, this Advent.  May we discover the pilgrim, the refugee within ourselves.  May we be shelter for each other, under way and open to every small sign of the promise of God come to meet us.

 

 

 

Let us pray:

 

For the world in which we live, a world in which there is too much war, too much hunger, too much cruelty.   Come to us God and heal us from indifference to the sufferings of others.

 

For our church and for all believers, may we find the humble blessedness to listen to and learn from each other.

 

For all those for whom this season is a reminder of loss and loneliness.  For those incarcerated in our jails and prisons touch them with your presence and teach us what we need to reach out with true compassion.

 

For what else…

 

God, you have become one with us.  Teach us to believe doggedly in your promise to be with us and to live lives that proclaim that promise each day.  We make these prayers in the name of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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