Sunday, May 31, 2009

11-30-2008: 1st Advent (B)

Isaiah 63:16-17,19-64:2-7/Psalm 80/1 Corinthians 1:3-9/Mark 13:33-37
The calendar pages turn and Advent is upon us once again. Some say Advent is meant to teach us how to wait. But wait for what? Can you wait for something that’s already happened: like the coming of Christmas, the birth of Jesus? The readings today tell us we should be waiting not for Jesus’ first coming but for his second: his coming at the end of history, at the end of time. But who, besides the fanatically religious, really wants to wait for that?

Near the end of his life, Albert Einstein’s biographers tell us, he was neither upset at the loss of his closest friend nor at his own approaching death. Although an atheist Einstein had an almost religious respect for the mysteries of the universe he had attempted to unravel and understand. In his theory of Special Relativity Einstein concluded that Time -- what appears to be one of the most complex of constructs – is not an absolute. He would assert that the “distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion – however persistent.”

Fifteen hundred years previous St. Augustine had also talked about the mystery of time in his Confessions – an account of his own ”special relativity” with the Divine Providence. Augustine wrote that “time comes from the future which does not yet exist, into the present which has no duration, and goes into the past which has ceased to exist.”

Today we begin a new year of grace, as the church calls it, preparing to recall the events surrounding the birth of the Savior as well as his coming at the end of time. Predicting that date of future demise or impending glory (depending on your POV) has been the hobby of those who take the Bible literally when speaking of the world’s end as well as its beginning. Charles Russell started the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the nineteenth century by predicting a date of demise. The fact that the date has come and long gone, while the world remains, does not seem to have deterred the faithful -- then or now. Back in the seventeenth century James Ussher, the Anglican archbishop of Armagh, studied the scriptures and determined with uncanny exactitude the date of the world’s creation: October 23, 4004BC … at dawn. That would’ve been news to the Neanderthals, not to mention all those wooly mammoths. Many, though, still hold to this chronology.

Ignoring scientific fact about origins, as well as predicting Armageddon, is ultimately a waste of time, as sometimes waiting can be. Because if time is an illusion, so may be waiting. Misappropriating Advent – getting sidetracked by silliness, even if it’s religious silliness – can be a pitfall for the believer.

Back in the twelfth century Bernard of Clairvaux taught his monks about Christ’s third coming: when he is born in each human heart. Although the comings of Christ are made distinct for us who are encased in time through tense – past, present and future – they are, in reality, sacraments of eternity. Each moment, from future through present to past, is a coming of grace, an ever present reality to all. Advent helps us transcend the illusion of time and see, as if from above, the powerful hand of Providence guiding us throughout our lives. Advent is but a short course (relatively speaking) in the art of recognition, opening our dull eyes to the continuous, unfolding glory of Emmanuel: God-with-us.

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