Reflection: First Sunday of Advent

By: Sister Eleanor Suther | December 3, 2017

The liturgical readings from Daniel and Maccabees, which we have been reading for the last few weeks, have seemed eerily contemporary. We have seen hurricanes, fires, floods, mass shootings in our own country and abroad, the ongoing horror of terrorism and the war in the middle east, the heightened nuclear threat, social upheaval as the sins of respected leaders have been unmasked, a general distrust of leadership especially at the national and state level. We have a sense of dread…of the evening news. We would like a savior, someone who would just make it all right again! We would like to have the heavens “torn open.” (Is 63:19 First Reading for Eucharist)

In his book, Christ Actually, James Carroll sets the life of Jesus in just such a time. He names it the first and second holocaust—with all the feelings and nuances that term sparks in us. The Romans were intent on extending their Empire and crushing every sign of rebellion. The religious authorities were trying to maintain some type of accommodation in the Empire. And many Jews believed the only honest approach was outright armed rebellion. They considered Jews who did not joined them as part of the problem. So violence, exploitation, unemployment were part of life. Carroll wonders if Jesus was one of those young men wondering how to live with integrity and idealism in this environment.

Jesus was attracted to John the Baptist, himself heavily influenced by the Essenes who also looked for the Messiah, the Son of Man of the Book of Daniel. They saw that reforming their own lives— privately and collectively—would be necessary if God were to intervene as he had in the past. Jesus recognized the authenticity of John’s approach, calls him the greatest of the prophets—and yet sees farther—recognizing that he is God’s beloved Son—and that changes everything.

How would God act in this situation? If God is love, what would that mean in the way we relate to one another and even to our enemies? Greed, power, riches, lust are ways of building ourselves (our ego) up. But they don’t work. Your ego is always at risk until you realize who you really are and then you don’t need to hold onto it any more.

Even when you try to live by the covenant, you discover that you are at fault too. We do need the heavens “torn open.”

But how will you know when that is to happen? You have to keep watch. If we want to build a better world, we need open minds, open hearts, open wills. But in large and small ways we are part of the problem. We close our minds, judging that we have the right answers…not they. We close our hearts as we criticize them, who are wrong and evil. We close our wills, afraid of what this new situation may demand of us.

This season calls us to repentance, to metanoia, to make a U-turn. As we try to open our minds, our hearts and our wills we hear God’s word through the prophet Isaiah. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine…I am your Savior, I, your God, the Holy One of Israel. ” (Isaiah 43:1)

Jesus tells us the savior will come at unexpected times and unexpected places. We need to watch, to keep our minds open to what God may be revealing to us through the people and circumstances of our time; to keep our hearts open to listen with the ears of our heart to those who act and think differently from us; to keep our wills open, to face down the fear and to reach out in love to all God’s people. In the stillness of our own hearts, we need to listen to that voice, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be harmed, neither will the flames consume you. For I am your Savior, your God, the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 43:2)

“Let us now put on Christ Jesus. Let us awaken to the spirit within us.” In the strength of that Spirit, we can make that U-turn and help to bring Christ our Savior to our world.

Eleanor Suther, OSB Carroll,

James, Christ Actually: Reimagining Faith in the Modern Age, Penguin Books. 2015

Scharmer, C. Otto, Theory U: Leading from the Future As It Emerges, 2 nd Edition, Berret-Koehler Publications. 2016.