Sunday, December 10, 2017

Like Fish Out of Water

2nd Sunday of Advent (B)

Picture: cc las - initially

My dear friends, do you know what it’s like to be a fish out of water? To feel out of place? As though you simply do not belong?  It’s not a good feeling, right? Isn’t this why, for many of us, myself included, much of our lives is spent trying to fit in? Trying to make ourselves, and our families, feel more at home in this world? To blend in like a chameleon? Instead of sticking out like a sore thumb? And don’t we do this in many different ways? From childhood, through our teens, and even into our adult and twilight years? By feverishly accumulating likes and followers on social media… Or keeping up with the latest fashion trends… Or driving the right car… Or living in the right neighbourhood… Or going to the right schools…. Or mixing with the right friends… Or choosing the right hobbies… Aren’t these all attempts to fit in? And yet, have you noticed that, on this second Sunday of Advent, our readings are quite clearly drawing our attention precisely to the benefits of feeling out of place? Of being like fish out of water?

We see this by first noticing that in each of our readings there is an announcement of a significant event. The second reading calls it the Day of the Lord. Which it describes in terms that make it seem really frightening. Not only will this event arrive like a thief. An unwelcome shock. It will erupt with great ferocity. Like a much larger version of that fiery volcano in Bali. With a roar the sky will vanish, and the earth and all it contains will be burnt up. Everything is coming to an end. Certainly sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? At least it does to me.

And yet, quite incredibly, our other readings treat this announcement of God’s coming as a joyful message, a consolation. Console my people, console them… So begins the first reading. Shout with a loud voice, joyful messenger to Jerusalem…. Here is the Lord coming with power…. He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms… And notice too what we sang in the psalm just now. As well as what we heard in the gospel. The psalm describes God’s coming in terms of justice and mercy, and faithfulness and peace. And the gospel’s opening verse speaks of the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ… Consolation of people and feeding of sheep. The springing forth of faithfulness, and the experience of peace. The beginning of good news. Doesn’t all this sound wonderfully inviting?

So what do you think, sisters and brothers? Which of our readings are right? What exactly will the coming of the Lord be like? Will it be terrifying or consoling? A disaster or a joy? What do you think? The answer, of course, is yes to both. The Day of the Lord’s Coming will be both a terror and a consolation. Both a disaster and a joy. It will be a terror and a disaster to some people. And a consolation and a joy to others. But to whom will the Lord’s coming be a disaster? And to whom will it be a joy?

We find the answer to this question by considering the situation of those to whom the first reading is addressed. By recalling that this is a people in Exile in Babylon. Far away from home. A people who, for long years, have been feeling extremely out of place. Like fish out of water. A people who have been pining for their true home. It is to them that the message of the Lord’s Coming arrives as marvellous good news.

Similarly, in the second reading, we are told that the Day of God will bring with it the new heavens and the new earth, the place where righteousness will finally be at home. Which implies that the current heavens and the current earth, the place in which we are all now living, is a place where righteousness does not feel at home. And that it is to people who are in Exile. People far away  from home. People who continually feel out of place. Like fish out of water. Struggling to live righteous lives in an unrighteous world. It is to people such as this that the announcement of the Lord’s Coming is experienced as a consolation and a joy.

And, perhaps ironically, it is people such as this who take seriously the prophet’s call to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Who take the trouble to carve out time from their busy schedules to honestly examine their lives. To consider how they may have allowed themselves to become too comfortable in an unjust world. And even to make a trip into the wilderness to be washed by that crazy-looking man, who says such uncomfortable things. Expressing their commitment to continue living righteously in an unrighteous world. Even if it may make them feel even more out of place. Even more like they don’t belong. For, in truth, they are not meant to belong here. They are in Exile. Patiently awaiting and joyfully preparing for the second coming of Christ. The One in whom mercy and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced. The One who, in Word and Sacrament, at this Mass and in daily life, baptises us not just with water, but with the powerful and inspiring presence of the Holy Spirit. Giving us the wisdom and the courage to do what is right.

In sharp contrast, it is the people who are preoccupied with making themselves ever more at home in this world. People concerned only with securing their own comfort. People who give no thought to the demands of righteousness and faithfulness, of justice and mercy and peace. It is people such as this, who are likely to greet the announcement of the Lord’s Coming with indifference or irritation. With boredom or disdain. People who see the seasons of Advent and Christmas either as a troublesome disruption, or as just another opportunity to continue business as usual. Another occasion to cosy up to a world where true love and peace and joy often find no room at the inn. Where many continue to suffer the painful effects of conflict and division, of inequality and discrimination.

Sisters and brothers, on this second Sunday of Advent, our readings offer us a joyful message. Marvellously good news. The coming of the Lord. The approach of faithfulness and mercy. Of justice and peace. The question is whether we have the correct disposition graciously to receive and generously to respond to this announcement. Or whether we will simply let it pass us by.

My dear friends, in a world where righteousness can find no true home, how willing are we to do whatever is necessary to continue being fish out of water today?

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