In a chaotic world, treasure each day

  • November 21, 2013

1st Sunday of Advent (Year A) Dec. 1, (Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44)

The image of beating swords and spears into ploughshares and pruning hooks is both beautiful and painful. It is beautiful in that it represents the heartfelt yearning of humanity for millennia for a time when nations no longer resort to war. The pain lies in the realization that we are ever so far from this state of harmony and peace.

The world around us is wracked with war, brutality, oppression, and genocide — and it seems as if we never really learn our lesson. We decry war and violence, we build programs and institutions to avoid it, but in the end it seems as if we nearly always slide back into the abyss. Is there any hope at all?

Isaiah seemed to think so and he set forth the conditions necessary for it to happen. First of all, it was going to be the work of God rather than bumbling human attempts so often marred by our collective inner darkness. The human contribution was simple but vital: divine teachings were to be taken to heart and lived out both individually and as a people. It would not be hoarded but shared freely with all nations.

When any group of people live together in peace, harmony, justice, prosperity and happiness they will attract others like a magnet. These are the visible signs of God’s presence and they cannot be counterfeited or faked. Without them the noblest truths ring hollow and the most eloquent proclamations and pronouncements evoke contempt or boredom.

These signs of God’s presence are the fruit of putting into practice the sort of divine teachings revealed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and manifested throughout His life and ministry. They represent the path of non-violence; forgiveness; purity of word, thought, and deed; truthfulness; and compassion. There are no substitutes. We have not arrived at Isaiah’s vision yet — it is on the distant horizon. Since it portrays God’s future for humanity we continue to move in that direction however long it takes.

Time passes very quickly especially when it is salvation time. Paul was convinced that ‘night’ was almost over and the dawning ‘light’ very near. Spiritual night is the abode of the deeds of darkness — and we know what they are — but day is fit only for deeds of light. So close was the presence of the Lord for Paul that he begged his followers to fling aside the deeds of darkness while there was still time — the sort of deeds that are splashed across newspapers and TV screens — and walk in the light.

The time is always short. Life is fleeting and often ends long before we expect. Each day is a unique gift that must not be squandered. By putting on the mind and heart of Christ, we should be able to lead an entirely new life in harmony with God. This passage from Romans pierced the heart of St. Augustine in the 4th century and led to his conversion.

People love the predictability and routine of their daily lives. Work, play, eating and drinking, marriage, and a host of other activities flow past with great regularity. But sometimes there are disruptions, even huge ones. The passage from Matthew uses the story of Noah and the Ark to drive home an important point: today’s routine can turn into tomorrow’s catastrophe or cataclysm.

The people in the story were totally unconcerned up to the moment of the flood that overtook them in an instant. In our own time, so many lives have been disrupted or ended in the midst of normal activities. Floods, typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes and terrorist attacks change everything in the twinkling of an eye. Plans and appointments made for later in the day are not kept. Meals that were prepared are never eaten. Lives that were busy and happy are no more.

The story ends with a warning: the end comes like a thief and we know not when. Our lives are not measured by business, activity or success. We must always be ready — the present is all we have. Paul was right, focus always on what is of supreme importance: our relationship with the Lord. That is all we really have control over and all we can take with us.