1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2
Luke 21:25–28, 34–36
Advent is the time for the prophets. There is no Advent without prophets, whether it be one of the great ones like Isaiah or Jeremiah, or the prophet Jesus of Nazareth whom also hear today. Make no mistake, prophets are not easy fellows. The times they live in are critical times. They seem to appear just when the world, society, the religious system is cracking.
Jeremiah is the first prophet we meet this Advent. His was the task to announce the collapse of Judah, its king and its temple. His was the sorrow to live through its dissolution and to be sent off to exile himself and to die away from the place that was the core of his ministry. He had to give the hard word and to be disbelieved though his word always the word of the Lord.
Today we hear Jeremiah speak out of the rubble, as it were. The monarchy had collapsed. And with it apparently the promise made to David that a son would always sit on his throne. Where was God and his promise? Today Jeremiah raises his voice and in the midst of the chaos of that time speaks a word of hope—not his word but God’s word. God had told Jeremiah to tell the people that Judah would collapse; now God says there is a new time coming. He will raise up a just shoot for David. I will keep my word, says the Lord. There will be a springtime for David’s heirs. A shoot, a branch will come up from the stump. And justice will be the key to this new leader. His actions will be right and just.
You and I can easily look out and see that leadership has failed. We can see and feel the world shaking because its leaders are not living up to their vocation. Leadership as a vocation is bringing about justice in and for the community. We can recognize when things are not in order in a society. We know when society needs strong leadership to bring about unity in the face of division. Leadership pulls people together around the signs of justice, freedom, stability and harmony.
We look around and are at a loss as to who can take up the momentous task of uniting Israel and Judah into one again. Who has the gift of bringing about the healing needed to bind the people of God into one. The people then easily despaired of living as one in harmony again. We can easily do the same today. We feel our own helplessness at the times today. But it is precisely when we might move to despair that the prophet raises his voice and speaks what God will do. And in his word lies hope.
The picture of hope that Jeremiah utters is one of justice. God will raise up the just shoot who will do justice. He will see that harmony and balance and human dignity and respect are the guiding principles of the community’s life together. When our God becomes involved in leadership and governance of people then his key word is justice or righteousness. His model will not necessarily be our model but his way will reflect that of the Advent psalm we had this morning: Yes, God’s way is one of kindness and constancy, of covenant and friendship with those who will risk to walk his ways, in his path. When God becomes involved in our human story, then the familiar name of our community changes. Jerusalem, the place of peace, now has a new name, “The Lord our justice.”
Remember, there is a new shoot coming up because the old tree died. There is a new community, a new Jerusalem, a people of justice because the stones of the old were torn down; they collapsed because they were no longer holding the truth of fidelity to the weak and the poor. But the prophet can see and say over the rubble: “The days are coming when…”
The situation is similar with the prophet Jesus who speaks to us today. For him, too, the temple will be torn down, Jerusalem will be desolate. Using cosmic images with the collapse of the sun, moon and stars, he describes for us that their weak light is no longer sufficient. It only cycles out into darkness again. It collapses because there is a new light coming through the clouds, the Son of Man. People are afraid because the old order is falling apart. But the point is not the collapse; the focus is on what is coming. The old is being cleared for a new world is on the horizon. Don’t cower in fear at the break up of what seems so familiar. Rather recognize that redemption is at hand and stand up to welcome it.
The end is not meant to cause fear, whether our individual end in death or the end of something larger, like a country, or a structure of society. We Christians have our eyes focused on what is beyond that. As Jeremiah could see a tiny shoot of a new type of leadership, so the Christian sees that the Son of Man comes to redeem and save not to condemn. Our vocation is not to hide and cower or to despair but to hope and trust in the God who makes anew.
Advent is a time for negotiating the collapse of what we humans have built up and thought we could do on our own. Then, it is the time to listen again to what the prophets say that God can do and will do and is doing: starting with the just shoot, building a community that lives in harmony with God’s justice, God’s way of binding us together in harmony and peace. Advent is the time to recognize that we cannot build a world by ourselves. But one is coming with light so that we can see how with him we can strengthen our hearts in ways that lead to true freedom beyond the slavery we have locked ourselves into. Advent is the time, Jesus the prophet says, when you stand up because you are about to be released from all the selfishness that binds you. Advent is the season to look and see: God is fulfilling his promises. Yes, each time we see some chains of addiction fall, we see shoots of justice, tender and fragile, as we call each other to human dignity. Yes, God is fulfilling his promises each time we recognize the face of the Son of Man in the one who sits across from us, walks beside us, calls us to healing and invites us to leave fear behind. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come fulfill your promise.
Joel Macul, OSB