Homilies,  Year B

First Sunday of Advent – 2020

The Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in Moscow some years ago, wrote in her book, Putin’s Russia, “There is a part of every society that wants nothing more than to be lulled into sleep.”[1]   It was a striking statement about how there is a part of us which does not want to know too much.  It is a sad, but true, observation that we cannot bear too much reality.  We seek to shield ourselves from reality, not to take too close an interest in things, or we simply overlay complex situations with our own prejudices and biases. The problems that swirl around us – especially in respect to all the ramifications of the pandemic we experience – can be all too complex, all too difficult. We can bury ourselves in pre-occupations about which we think we have some control.  But then we live our lives asleep, we close our eyes and our ears, and hope in our imagination that things might be otherwise.  We become drowsy, inert, passive, asleep.

The disciple of Jesus, though, is the one who lives their life awake whilst the rest of the world sleeps.  “Stay awake,” says Jesus.  “Stand alert, stand ready!”  Yes, it is easy to go through life asleep rather than awake. The Spirit of Jesus is birthed within us, however, to stir us from our sleep, to jolt us from our complacency, to quicken our steps, even to have us dancing.  The Spirit is birthed in us so that we do not become the living dead but keep rising to all that is offered to us by God’s promise of a life lived fully. The Spirit touches the parts of us which are asleep and transforms them into a renewed sense of responsibility. The Spirit touches our eye, and touches our ear that we might see and hear. The Spirit of God comes to open our eyes, to open our ears, to open our minds and hearts. The Spirit comes into our life to break open the entombment created by our passivity, our inertia, our fear, our paralysis.    And how, then, does life enjoy this freshness, and youthfulness? By always remaining awake to possibility. As the 19th century Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard once penned, “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!”[2]  

This past year has stirred us out of our complacency; life has not carried on as usual. It has been a year of immense disruption for us all; it has jolted us, disturbed us, made as anxious. Hopefully, it has, however, given us new eyes and new ears; hopefully, we are seeing things in a different way. Perhaps, we are also acting in a different way than when we started the year? At the least, maybe it has awakened in us a hope for something different, a hope for a new possibility. I do think we come to the end of this year with hearts full of hope: hope for the end of this pandemic and all its disruption; hope for something resembling normal. Yet, we also hope that the disruption of this last year will not be in vain, and that a new way of being together will emerge, a new way of living that is less frenetic, less driven. 

Let us allow our sense of hope to continue to stir us, to keep us awake, to keep us searching for possibility in the midst of all the limitations we currently know.  As Winston Churchill apparently, said, “we must never waste a good crisis.”  As we come to the end of this year, as we start a new liturgical year, let us ask ourselves, “What is the unique possibility into which I am being invited? At the heart of all that I have gone through this year, in the midst of all the limitations I have gone through, what, nonetheless, are the possibilities that have presented?” Naming these opportunities and following them through make us people who are awake.  And as those who are awake, we are those who are alive.  Yes, it is easy for us to go through life only half awake.  It is easy for us to go through our life asleep.  But then we go through our life only half-alive.  

We started this year with fear – fear of drought, smoke and fire. We finish this year with hope, and, as a sign of this, we light a candle on our Advent wreath for hope. Let this hope burn brightly in our hearts as we journey to Christmas, looking for the way in which the life of Christ is birthed in a new way this year – yes, even in, and maybe through, all the challenges we have known.

[1] Cited in James Button, “A tough crusader falls,” The Sydney Morning Herald, (14-15 October 2006), 27.

[2] Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life.

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