Jesus is present in humble ways

  • November 15, 2011

First Sunday of Advent (Year B) Nov. 27 (Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1, 3-8; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37)

Children often play hide-and-seek with adults in a rather amusing way. They cover their face with their hands and then squeal “You can’t see me!” People play a similar game with God but with a twist: “I can’t see you so you either aren’t there or don’t exist!”

The author of Isaiah’s passage is almost sick with yearning as he calls to mind the times in Israel’s past when God seemed so close and the manifestations of divine power so overwhelming. Now it seems that God has disappeared. The author’s cry of the heart resonates with people in all ages: If only you would tear open the heavens and come down! Come down and fix everything, come down and comfort us, come down and defeat our enemies. But God cannot be manipulated or summoned on demand.

As with many biblical authors, Isaiah blames this loss of God’s presence on the collective sin of Israel but with a curious variation. God made Israel sin! God let them stray from His ways and hardened their hearts — or so they say. But people harden their own hearts without any divine push and sin cannot be blamed on God. Hardening of the heart — the ancient Jewish seat of understanding and character — is an immersion in selfishness and materialism topped off with lack of justice and compassion. No wonder they were unable to perceive the presence of God. All of these negative things cloud and distort the mind, heart, emotions and spiritual understanding. God did not go anywhere — the people did.

And in our own time we should not be surprised that humanity has difficulty finding God. The world that we have created — our societies, political and economic systems and cultures — are fuelled and fashioned by greed, fear, violence, exclusion and irresponsibility. These are scarcely the conditions for experiencing God. No one forced us; we have done it to ourselves or allowed ourselves to be manipulated and controlled. With the psalmist we can plead with God to restore us but there is always the proviso that we have to do things God’s way rather than our own.

The first reading assured us that God works for those who wait for Him. This is certainly true, but waiting does not mean pacing back and forth looking at our watch. Waiting is an art and a spiritual discipline, and it entails being attentive, alert and sensitive to the movements of God’s Spirit within us and the signs of the times around us. It also means using the waiting time wisely and with a sense of gratitude for the gift that it is. God is indeed faithful and enriches us with every spiritual blessing that we need and are willing to accept.

Stay alert and keep awake — this is the warning repeated often in the New Testament. The Lord’s return was expected at any time, and the warning was to prevent people from growing spiritually lax. But there is another warning tacked onto the end of the first one — you do not know the day or the hour. If people had paid a bit more attention to this warning it would have prevented a lot of needless speculation and even some tragedies. We might think that we couldn’t possibly miss such an amazing event but that assumes that it will be something flashy and dazzling. But what if His return were a very quiet affair — in fact, so quiet that only those who were alert and listening were even aware of His presence?

The Lord could come and go without everyone even knowing it. In fact, a humble, simple and quiet presence would be in keeping with everything Jesus was about. He might even appear in terms that we would find unacceptable. He might say things that we would find objectionable and He would probably challenge us in ways similar to His first visit. It is by no means guaranteed that He would be accepted by His own; in fact, it is more than likely that He would meet much resistance and rejection.

Being awake does not mean looking up at the sky for Jesus but observing and listening to what goes on around us with open hearts and minds. Jesus is already present to us far more than we dare to imagine.