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Advent reflection

Extend God’s peace in this poignant season of hope


Each morning the devout rabbi would awake, look to the world outside his window and seeing the cruel afflictions and pain humans were inflicting on each other, he would turn away, shake his head and say sadly, “The messiah has not yet come.”

On Sept. 11, millions watched through the window of the TV screen the cruel acts of terrorism taking place. As two symbols of financial power suddenly collapsed with precious human beings within, we felt our own national and personal sense of security vanish in the smoke rising from the ashes. Soon to follow were warnings by FBI and threats of anthrax. We too might be tempted to echo the rabbi’s words: “Surely, the messiah has not yet come!” Or ask in the words of Thomas Merton what messiah would come to this “demented inn.” We felt a loss of hope. Thousands gathered in churches, synagogues and mosques to pray for the victims, to let our tears flow and embrace our fears. Rather than stand alone in this dark, we drew strength and comfort from each other in community.

The terrorists’ acts confirmed the truth of this gospel passage of Advent: “As for the exact hour, no one knows … two men will be in the field: One will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding meal; one will be taken, one left” (Matthew 24:40-41).

Suddenly we wanted to be within hugging distance of each other. We suddenly saw how precious are the bonds of love that hold us together, and how, like gossamer threads, they can be unexpectedly rent asunder. Hostages on jetliners placing cell phone calls to loved ones in the last moments of their lives reveal that truth.

Never before has Advent, the season of hope, been more poignant. Advent’s grace is the gift of bold hope as proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah, whose words once stirred the hearts of a defeated people in the 8th century before Christ with a vision of their restoration. He comforts us: “Be strong. Fear not. Here is your God who comes to save you.”

This Advent should be different for us. We shouldn’t let our lives ever get back to normal, such as the rush of Christmas shopping. The Baptist’s voice tells how to live Advent. “Make ready the way of the Lord. … Clear a straight path for him. Make God’s ways your ways. … Exact nothing over and above your pay. … Let the one with two coats give to one who has none.”

In what new and creative ways can we show how much we care and love others without the conspicuous consumerism? How can we put our lives more in line with the needs of others by sharing our coats?

Advent is communal as well. We gather to strengthen and reassure one another in faith and to light Advent candles while singing hymns of hope. As we gather, Isaiah’s vision challenges us to expand our notion of community beyond our own parishes, centers of learning and national boundaries. “The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain. … All peoples of the world, Isaiah says, shall “stream toward God’s holy mountain” (Isaiah 2:2).

What kind of community is God calling us to become? How does our community worship, reflect and express our solidarity with other cultures and peoples of this earth? So much of our world’s values stand in contrast and against the values of God’s reign evident in Isaiah, so evident in the term “superpower.” Isaiah warns against putting more of our trust in militarism than in messianic promises. “Woe to those who depend on horses; who put their trust in chariots because of their number” (Isaiah 31:1). War has never created a lasting peace.

Isaiah’s word reminds us that our God is not a “tribal god” that favors any one nation. Our God is a universal God. Do we dare become a more inclusive community that asks God also bless places like China, Guatemala, India and Iraq and Afghanistan as well?

Advent is the antidote to feelings of hopelessness and lethargy. The rabbi in the story was waiting for the messiah to come and change everything. He was not an active agent in the transformation of his world. We believe the messiah has come and dwells in this demented inn. God comes to save our fragile communities and asks us to extend God’s peace. What will those now looking out their windows into the world see? Evil and destruction. Or will they see the messiah present in us and in our communities of solidarity? Will they find a reason to hope?

Fr. Richard Broderick is a priest of the diocese of Albany, N.Y., and author of The Leather Tramp Journal: A 12-Mile Mountain Retreat (Forest of Peace Books).

National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2001