1st Sunday of Advent (C)
Pictures: cc City of St Louis Missouri
My dear friends, do you know what blinkers or blinders are? They are sometimes put around a horse’s eyes, so that it can see only what is directly ahead. This prevents the horse from getting distracted or startled by its surroundings. Which may be a good thing, except that it narrows the view of the horse.
I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but I think we often look at Christmas, as though we too were wearing blinders. Commercially, Christmas is presented as a season for giving and merry-making. Which makes it a precious time for buying and selling. That’s only to be expected. But I suspect that even those of us, who may be more religious, will be surprised, if we were told that Christmas is more than just a celebration of the birth of Christ two thousand years ago.
Which is one good reason why we need Advent, and especially this first Sunday of Advent. As you may have noticed, in our readings today, there is no mention of a baby in a manger. Indeed, our attention is directed, at least initially, less to the past, than to the future. The gospel begins with a rather disturbing, and even scary, description of the end times. Jesus says that people on earth will be dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken… How do you feel when you hear these words?
I confess that I’m tempted simply to ignore them. To skip ahead to the less troubling parts of the gospel. Which is, of course, just another way of putting on blinders, isn’t it? And I know why I do this. It’s the same reason horses do it. To avoid being scared and distracted. Distracted from what exactly? From the routine busyness and stress of daily living.
And yet, in the gospel, Jesus offers a different antidote to fear. Instead of covering our eyes, he strengthens our hearts, and guides our steps. He strengthens our hearts by telling us that, if we truly follow him, then the end times are not to be feared, but welcomed: When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand. And he guides our steps, by warning us that the routine busyness of daily living can itself be a distraction: Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life…
In effect, Jesus is reminding us that the promise made in the first reading has already been fulfilled in him. That we, the body-of-Christ on earth, we too bear the name the-Lord-our-integrity. For Jesus has already shown us how to face the end without fear. By living the kind of life we are meant to live: the life that God wants. By continually asking God to increase our love, making us love one another and the whole human race.
Sisters and brothers, we don’t really have to wait till the end times to see scary signs. We can already see them now: the growing climate crisis, multiplying COVID-19 variants, desperate migrants drowning in the sea… Still, Christ is with us already. What must we do to let God remove our blinders, and better prepare for the Lord’s coming again today?