FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – YEAR A
“Elliiiot!” So begins the most charming television commercial in many a year. ET, absent since his visit to Earth in 1982, peers out from behind a snowman in a suburban front yard at two teenagers whom he has just startled into near- hysteria. Puzzled for a few moments, the visitor recognizes the father standing behind his even more puzzled children. “Elliiot!” “You’ve come back,” a now fully grown up Elliot exclaims to his long-lost friend. Without realizing it, the scene illustrates Jesus’ warning in the Gospel today about the coming of the Son of Man. Some will recognize him, others will not.
The Scriptures for this First Sunday of Advent – indeed Advent itself, and Christmas – are all about an in-breaking that startles, awakens, enlightens, encourages and renews hope.
Isaiah, the quintessential Advent prophet, declares that the God of Jacob, enthroned in his Temple, will draw nations and peoples to himself; and he will persuade the arms dealers to retool their foundries to produce agricultural implements rather than weapons.
St. Paul, writing to the Romans, proclaims the in-breaking of the first rays of the dawn to banish a long night of foolish and self-defeating behavior.
Jesus compares his coming at the end of time to the house-breaking activity of a common burglar, an odd metaphor when you stop to think about it, especially in this era of sophisticated alarm systems and doorbell cameras.
James Alison, a former Dominican priest, entitled one of his books, “Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in.” All of the Scriptures that I have just cited could very well be called dispatches from the scene of a break-in.
An article in Stars and Stipes On-line Magazine this past week talked about the newly-discovered comet, 21/Borisov that has broken in to our galaxy. The article said, “Something strange is sailing toward us. Something small and cold and extraordinarily fast. No one knows where it came from, or where it is going. But it’s not from around here. Every night, the comet grows bigger and brighter in the sky…” One cannot but think of the Star of Bethlehem that long ago guided the Magi to the scene of the most momentous break-in in history, a break-in that even thoroughly secularized screenwriters are striving to describe with characters such as ET.
We desperately need the in-breaking recalled and anticipated in Advent and celebrated at Christmas, because WE ARE STUCK! We are stuck in things as comparatively trivial as the gridlock of traffic jams that grow more and more time-consuming and things as momentous as our tragic refusal to act on the root causes of the climate change that is making more and more of our planet uninhabitable. Our national government is STUCK, divided right down the middle of partisan politics to the detriment of the commonweal of our nation. The leadership of our Church is STUCK in the mire of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, seemingly unable or unwilling to take the measures necessary to assure accountability on every level of the hierarchy and protection for every young person in every nation. We ourselves, when we admit it, are STUCK in the same old sins and ineffective or self-defeating patterns of behavior. We are STUCK in our growing absorption with our digital devices to the detriment of genuine interpersonal relationships. Right now, we are STUCK in the culturally mandated rush of preparation for “the holidays.”
WE ARE STUCK and we cannot seem to be able to get ourselves unstuck. “As it was in the days of Noah… In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…”
So, Advent comes along and declares, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” “The night is advanced; the day is at hand… Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” “Stay awake… for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Jesus is continually breaking into our lives and history the way Comet 21/Borisov has broken into our galaxy, the way ET breaks into Elliot’s life and the lives of his children. But we have to let him in. We have to welcome him, listen to him, learn from him, let him touch the places where we hurt, unveil the parts of ourselves where guilt and shame reside, trust him to show us the way out of our stuckness.
As ET prepares to lake leave of Elliot and his family he declares “I will be right here,” while he reaches out a glowing finger to touch the heart of Elliot’s son. During Advent, while we look back to Jesus’s first coming and forward to his coming again, in the Eucharist he reaches out to touch the heart of each of us and reminds us, “I will be right here.”