Precious moments

  • November 17, 2010
First Sunday of Advent (Year A) Nov. 28 (Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44)

Where do human beings meet God and receive divine revelation? According to the ancient worldview it was often on a mountaintop and here Isaiah describes one that is the highest. This can only mean a more powerful encounter with God and a more profound and transforming revelation. This calls for leaving the comfort of human culture and thought systems and making oneself vulnerable. Not only that, the ascent requires elevating thoughts, ideals and desires away from self and towards God.

Isaiah expresses a human yearning for a time when we will finally get it right — when we will really start listening to God and taking the message to heart. He describes this experience of humanity being instructed by God as a time when the implements of war — swords and spears — will be refashioned into instruments of agriculture and community building. This implies that violence and warfare have nothing to do with God but are human in origin and intent and any attempts to bring God onboard for our periodic outburst of bloodletting are perverse and misguided.

Unfortunately the swords and spears have morphed into missiles and bombs rather than something more benign and this beautiful and tantalizing prophetic vision has remained just that. The problem is that divine instruction is refracted through human fear and selfishness and made to conform to human purposes and desires. Streaming toward God’s holy mountain to be instructed does not mean more religion — it means listening with the heart to what we have already been given and being willing to make deep and radical changes in how we think and act.

When St. Augustine heard a nearby child’s voice chant “take it and read” he picked up the Scriptures and this passage from Romans pierced his heart. The passage warns that there is so little time left that it is imperative not to waste it — especially in behaviour that is opposed to the spirit.

Paul calls for a moral and spiritual renewal. It too presents an inspiring vision — a night that is far gone, a time for waking from sleep, and the dawn of a new and glorious day in human history. It seemed that way to Paul for he expected the immediate return of Jesus and the end of the age. But to us it seems that the night is still with us and in some respects has even grown darker. We long for the fulfilment of Isaiah’s vision and the transformed world portrayed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

But dawn does not come at the same time for all people — one by one we come to the light and wake from our sleep — and there are more people awake than ever before. Never has the need been greater for moral and spiritual recommitment and renewal and there is no greater tool than the armour of light. A new world begins with oneself.

As much as frightened people look for dramatic signs of impending change or disaster these events are often presaged only by utter routine and normalcy. Days of natural disaster or terrorist attacks dawned just like any other and those who would be most affected had their usual plans for the day. The day of the flood in Noah’s time began like any other but ended like no other.

The Gospel description of the “end” describes two women at their daily tasks, one taken and the other left. This has fed a very dubious (and very recent) theological idea called the rapture as the unfortunate success of the Left Behind series attests. We are not going to be “beamed up” from the challenges of life on Earth. But the story intends only to illustrate the sudden and unexpected nature of the end and the fact that many will have missed the chance to respond in positive ways to God’s graces while on Earth.

We simply do not know when or how the end will occur — but that does not stop many people from making extravagant guesses. Although we are not expecting the imminent return of the Lord and the end, staying spiritually awake is imperative for no one knows how long he or she has on Earth. Every moment is precious and is the moment in which we meet the Lord.