Waiting, Looking and Hoping
First Sunday of Advent - Year B
November 30, 2008
First Sunday of Advent - Year B
November 30, 2008
Let us pray: God, you promise to lead us from fear and despair. You come to our aid to set us free. Grant that, in this Advent season, we may wait with patience for the promise you offer. Guide these words that they may tell of your presence. Amen.
“Terrorists invade Mumbai” The headline broke through the normal end of day haze that clouded James’ mind as he returned home from the office. It was the first item on the six o’clock radio news, and the details of the attacks, occupied the next several minutes of the broadcast. It was like another door closing to the future in what had already been a bad number of months. It was not as if James’ life had changed all that much since the middle of the summer, but much of what had happened across the world since then was a crisis of attitude as much as it was anything else. The financial crisis which had rocked the world - while based on real data and situations - was fuelled by investors who suddenly lost confidence, not without cause, in the way the economic world was headed. James wasn’t about to lose his job because of it, but he wondered anyway. He didn’t even know many people around him who would be that directly affected, but you can’t hear reports of massive layoffs in the automobile industry without feeling sympathy and just a bit of empathy. What if that were me? What would I do? Suddenly the debt crisis was more than just mortgages - bad enough as that was, but it crossed the boundaries into other things. He’d read about the massive credit card debt that existed across North America. It’s one thing to have debt like that when you are working, but it is quite another to owe so much with no job to support it. Of course it would affect consumer spending, and in turn that would result in a reduction in sales which would give cause for more pessimism across the economy. It was like a downward spiral that could not be stopped.
But it wasn’t just terror in India and fear across the world economy. One of the few seemingly positive outcomes of all this economic turmoil had been the reduction in the cost of fuel. As if we need that, eco-conscious James mused and worried about the increase in Greenhouse Gases that might result. A racing economy got us partly into this climate change mess, but a declining economy isn’t going to do very much to stop it either. Another lose-lose situation is all that James could think about.
Now it wasn’t all bad. There had been a positive blip in what had generally been a pretty negative string of weeks and months. He like many others had been positively encouraged by the results of the American election, but he also could not help worrying for Barack Obama and all the hope and promise that was being heaped upon the shoulders of this one man.
So, it was not exactly a week of hope and promise that was leading James into the first Sunday of Advent. The crises were beyond personal for him, but they could not help becoming personal. The crisis of attitude was having its effect on him, just like it was for many others, and he wondered what he could do to turn it around. Did it require an adjustment in his own attitude, or was it something he was just going to have to deal with as it progressed?
It’s not as if he could claim too much personal responsibility for the way things were. He felt that he lived a pretty simple life. He tried to make his own footprint as small as possible, although he realised that a year’s worth of carbon saving could be used up in one flight south.
James was also a person of faith. His faith had sustained him in times of personal crisis in the past, and he looked to it again for answers to these more global crises. It didn’t give him all the answers. He just did not understand terrorism. He found himself asking questions about the world view of people who would invade a city like Mumbai with death and destruction on their minds. What did they hope to accomplish? What kind of world did they envision if their attacks were successful and their goals were achieved? He didn’t know the answer to those questions. He could only grieve with the people whose lives were changed forever by the work of a few. He cheered the people who said they would not let the attacks disempower them, that they would go back to Mumbai to show the killers that they were not deterred. James wondered if he would have the same courage.
The gospel passage for the first Sunday of Advent in 2008 contained these words from Mark’s gospel:
"Following those hard times, Sun will fade out, moon cloud over, Stars fall out of the sky, cosmic powers tremble.” The application of these words to his thoughts over the week was not lost on James. Now he wasn’t such a literalist that the apocalyptic vision described by Mark made him start to look around for signs of Jesus as Mark put it "entering in grand style, his Arrival filling the sky - such that no one will miss it!” He wasn’t about to go looking for angels; pulling in the chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole. But the mythical power of the words were also not lost on him.
People of faith have something more going for them. There is a power beyond their own power. There is a hope that transcends human ability to create. It’s not a stand back and simply wait kind of hope - it’s a working hope, but it is a hope that allows for a change in attitude. James had trained himself to listen carefully. For he believed that in every situation, no matter how dire the outcomes and distressing the consequences there was an element of hope. As bad as the Mumbai terror attacks were not only for the people directly affected, but for the world in general, he also heard the hope in those who courageously stated they weren’t going to be defeated by the terrorists.
James was using his training very carefully. He had to listen very hard in these days. But he could do no other because he was a person of faith - a child of God. And Advent was coming - a time of expectant waiting - working waiting, just like working hope - not a stand back and wait kind of time, but a get busy and get ready kind of waiting. Not the normal kind of frenetic busyness that was always part of this time of year - although some of that was necessary and important, but a busyness which allowed him to put his spirit right - to help to feel good about the world, his part in it and his hope for it.
James was lying in bed thinking about all of this, contemplating the woes of the world. The uppermost woe at this moment happened to be the state of the economy - although it could have been any one of the other things that were troubling him. It came to him not consciously solicited “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust will destroy” - “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” “For where your treasure is there is where your heart will be also.” Of course it was a hopeful message about what was troubling him.
It was as if a cloak of calm and determination had settled over him. Waiting and working go hand in hand. Hope and faith go hand in hand. Listening hard paves a path toward answers that aren’t easy, but are at least hopeful. Advent had dawned. Amen.