Oh Lord, uphold Thou me, that I may uplift Thee. Amen.
God is going to do something new – Isaiah proclaimed. The old ways are coming to an end and God’ s ways are being brought into the world. Be glad and rejoice for God is bringing about a new creation – a creation where old animosities are healed – a place where the wolf and the lamb feed together, where the lion eats straw like the ox. God’ s ways are coming Isaiah proclaims, rejoice and give thanks.
The Virgin Mary, on the eve of learning that she was to bear a special child – literally God come to earth – knew that she, as Isaiah had foretold, was going to witness something new. She understood that she was going to play a role in the birth of a new creation, a new earth, and she gave thanks to God in the now famous words of the Magnificat: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior . . . . Mary knew that God’ s new creation would be different from the world in which she lived. She knew that the old order would be replaced with a new order and so she proclaimed – (God) has scattered the proud in their conceit. He hast cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent away empty.
We read these words spoken by Mary during this season of Advent because we too wait in expectation for God to do something new. Advent is precisely the season of waiting, the season of reflection as we wait for God to rip open human history with the birth of Jesus. And what is this new thing we find in the coming of Jesus? It is the culmination of God’ s process of reconciling all of creation to himself. It is the coming of God’ s Kingdom. It is God coming in person to bring about God’ s ways, to bring about God’ s will, in a world that is all too full of human sin. The wolf will lie down with the lamb the Prophet says, the lowly will be lifted up, the hungry will be filled, the first will be last and the last will be first – these are all signs of God’ s Kingdom breaking into our world with the birth of Jesus, with the coming of the Messiah.
I heard a wonderful story sometime ago about a passenger on a British Airways flight from Johannesburg who was very upset about her seating companion. This was some 20 years ago when the word apartheid was first being heard outside of South Africa. The passenger was a middle aged white South African lady who was quite disturbed to find herself seated next to a black man on the long flight from Johannesburg to London. She complained bitterly to the flight attendant saying – You must find me another seat. I cannot possibly sit next to this person for the entire flight. I would be far too uncomfortable and disturbed by the whole experience and you must find me another seat. In South Africa we don’ t socialize with Blacks. Trying to keep the irate woman calm the stewardess replied, The flight is very full today, but I’ ll tell you what I’ ll do. I’ ll go and check to see if we have any seats available in business or first class. A few minutes later the flight attendant returned with some good news which she delivered to the lady who looked quite smug and self-satisfied with her perceived sense of importance. Madam, the stewardess began, unfortunately, as I suspected, economy is full. I’ ve spoken to the other attendants and business is full as well. However, we do have one seat in first class. Before the lady had a chance to reply, the stewardess continued – It is most extraordinary to make this kind of upgrade and I had to get special permission from the captain. But, given the circumstances, the captain felt that it was outrageous that someone should be forced to sit next to such an obviously distasteful person.. With that, the attendant turned to the Black man and said – So if you’ d like to get your things, sir, I have your seat ready for you in first class . . . At which point the surrounding passengers began to applaud as the man walked to the front of the plane. God will make all things new – Isaiah proclaimed it and Mary knew it deep in her heart. In this new creation the first will be last and the last will be first.
Newspapers and magazines this time of year are often full of stories about religion and faith. The holidays always seem to bring about a reawakening of spiritual interest. Many of these articles talk about the unease and dissatisfaction felt by young and middle-aged professionals as they look at their lives – people who have reached milestones along the corporate journey who discover that they are not happy once they get there. Sometime ago I came across an article in the New York times that began as follows, America is doing well by any material measure, and for the most part is thoroughly enjoying the experience. But there are also signs amid the prosperity that people are asking whether this is all there is, whether driving cars the size of tanks and parking them in garages the size of gymnasiums is truly the national purpose. (NYT, 11.7.99) The article goes on to talk about the spiritual malaise felt by so many successful people, the unease and longing many people have for something more, for something deeper. The fulfillment of the old promises – wealth, success, power – don’ t seem to be as satisfying as many thought. People crave something new, something different, something that will satisfy their deepest desires. I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth, God proclaims in Isaiah, where the, wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox. . . God’ s ways are coming, John the Baptist preaches. God’ s ways are new ways, different ways, fulfilling ways, Mary proclaims for all the world to hear.
The real function of Advent is not the preparation for Christmas – if Christmas only means getting together all the things we need to give and receive gifts, getting together all the things we need to throw a party. The real function of Advent is not the preparation for Christmas – if Christmas only means that we get the warm fuzzies over the cute baby Jesus we place in our creche sets. The real function of Advent is the preparation for the radical entry of God into human history, the fulfillment of prophecies and the creation of something new. Advent is the time when we are to prepare ourselves for the coming of the man who will lay claim to our lives, the man who will tell us that to love God we must love our neighbor – even the neighbor we cannot stand. Advent is the time when we prepare for the coming of the man who tells us that our material wealth matters not – in fact our wealth is actually a hindrance to the well being of our souls. Advent is the time when we prepare for the coming of the man who takes all of our social structures, all of our beliefs about who is valuable in society and who is not and stands them on their head – proclaiming that the poor are in fact blessed, the meek shall inherit the earth, to be strong we must learn to be weak, to be first we must be last, to lead we must always serve.
There is something more out there, the urging felt in the midst of our everyday lives is real. The emptiness we feel even as we accumulate more material possessions is no accident. In the gift of his Son, God offers us something more than the world has to offer. God offers us a life that can be deep and wonderful and fulfilling, where we can be created anew and live life anew. Are we ready for this new creation to take place in our lives? Are we ready to let go of the old and embrace the new reality found in the infant Jesus? Christ is coming, Christmas is almost here. Come Lord Jesus and be our guest. Create us anew and kindle in us the power of your love. Amen.