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Readings for the First Sunday in Advent: Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13; Luke 21.25-36

Every day I want to make a fresh beginning – and I offer that desire to God every morning. And then every day it seems I make some mistake, I work against my own best intentions, I do not live up to my own desires. As St. Paul has said about himself I can say about myself: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I do not want.”

What gives me hope is that other desert monk who was asked, “What do you do all day in the monastery?” His answer: “We fall and we get up. We fall and we get up.“

Well today is the first day of Advent, the Church’s New Year.  And in spite of what at first seems like a rather gloomy gospel, the day is full of hope. Every year we have the opportunity to make a new beginning in our spiritual lives, in our relationships, in our attitudes, in our attempts to follow God’s will, to live out our own deepest desires.

The scripture readings this morning at first seem contradictory. The reading from Jeremiah is uncharacteristically optimistic – that is for Jeremiah! “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.”

Really? Will Jerusalem ever live in safety? We urgently hope so, and we pray so – not only for Jerusalem but for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, for the United States in all its internal and international conflicts, for the migrants from Central America wanting to enter the United States, and for so many others in the world including Canada who do lot live with a sense of peace and safety – and for the conflict in our own church as well.

Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior that every single day he made a fresh beginning.

God has given Jeremiah the promising words that God will make a fresh beginning – as God did with Adam and Eve, with Noah and his family at the time of the flood, with David and the many other people chosen of God who sinned time after time. And especially the fresh start God made for us all in sending Jesus – and as God continues to do every time a human being is open to accepting the great love of a Creator who has stamped us with the divine image. “The days are surely coming when I will fulfill the promise,” says the Lord.

That is the great hope of Advent, and we see that same hope in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians when he prays that God will “make you increase and  abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.” As we increase in love, each person on this earth, we increase the hope for peace and justice in the world.

I mentioned earlier that the gospel appears – in contrast to the other readings – to be quite gloomy. But if you look at it more closely, you see how Jesus is offering us hope even in the midst of predicting the terrible disasters to come on earth – disasters that we don’t have to wait for, by the way, because they are disasters that have already come, over and over in human history:

And it’s that hope offered by Jesus which is at the heart of the parable about the trees – when they sprout leaves “you know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the reign of God is near.” Every place, every time we see disaster or death or pain or sorrow, the reign of God is near. In other words, Jesus is reminding us of what he says elsewhere that the “reign of God is within you” – within you personally, as God makes a home in each of us. But also within or among you in your community, your family, your church, your city – wherever disaster falls, or conflict or sorrow or pain, the reign of God is visible when we respond with love and prayer and active service to others. And when we ask forgiveness for the times that we did not respond with love or gratitude, whenever we fall and get up, fall and get up.

Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior that every single day he made a fresh beginning.

Just as the disasters described by Jesus happen numerous times in human history, just as often the reign of God is right there, wherever people are willing to act in the image of the Creator, on behalf of the Creator. As Teresa of Avila said, Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. We are Christ’s body. And so to some extent the hope of Advent is lived out in each of us, individually and corporately. Where each of us is willing to get up and go on whenever we fall, where each of us is willing to be Christ’s hands and help another when they fall, where each of us is open to conversion of heart and mind – there is the hope of God’s reign, there is God’s reign already within us and among us.

And so as we start our journey toward Christmas where we will celebrate Christ’s birth among us and within us, so we also muse on the second coming, the coming of Christ in us in the midst of the disasters in our world, and we pray for all who hurt – especially those who have no one to pick them up when they fall.

We pray too that each of us, each time we make a promise to ourselves to do better, to live more fully into God’s loving will for us – that for each of us our friends and community and family will be able to say “every single day she makes a fresh beginning.”

Sr. Constance Joanna Gefvert, SSJD
Companions Coordinator