Advent 2018

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Jude Siciliano, OP

Ever hear voices? I hear voices this Advent. They are diverse and from extremes - voices of pain, voices of warning, voices of hope and voices of fulfillment. That is just the way Advent is, filled with contradictions and extremes. It is a season to celebrate the promise of Christ’s coming, his arrival and the expectation of his return. Who can hold it all together? Maybe we can’t. It is the way the season is, it is the way life is.

Listen to the voices of Advent, maybe they will help balance all the seeming contradictions. Better still, maybe they will throw off balance what we have so carefully tried to keep balanced. Our ordered lives need the disorder of Advent so that we can put aside our biased concepts of order and be more open to the new order God wants to bring to our lives this season. We should let the voices speak, hold them in Advent awareness and experience the transformation they offer us. If anything, Advent promises a change both for us and our world, a change beyond anything we ourselves can envision or bring about on our own. Let the Advent preacher listen to the voices of the season.

But it is hard to hear the voices because there is a lot of background noise. It is the usual noise this time of the year, it starts before Thanksgiving and gets to a feverish pitch as Christmas Day draws closer. It’s everywhere this noise: it’s audio and visual, coming to us through the sights and sounds of television, radio, the malls, newspapers and, of course, through the Internet. Hard to escape it. Hard to hear the other voices, the Advent voices that can keep us focused. I am guided in my Advent listening by our Lectionary’s choice of scripture reading through the season. Let the Advent preacher be a careful and discerning listener.

On December 28th, in my Roman Catholic tradition, we celebrate the feast of Holy Innocents. That day, the story of the slaughter of the male infants is proclaimed in our liturgical celebrations. In one terror-filled verse, Matthew suggests unspeakable horror for the families of the newborn and the people of Israel.

"Once Herod realized that he had been deceived by the astrologers, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys two years and under in Bethlehem and its environs making his calculations on the basis of the date he had learned from the astrologers." (Mt. 2:16)

Though the feast falls just beyond the Advent season, the voices heard as a result of this brutal act need to be attended to through all of Advent. Hear them?

They are the cries of agony of all those who have suffered at the hands of tyrants right up to our day, those who are powerless and cry out to God to save them. To express their pain, Matthew draws upon the prophet Jeremiah’s description of Rachel mourning her children. (Jer. 31:15f) From her tomb in Ramah near Bethlehem, the grieving voice of Rachel is heard. Once again, as in the Exile, Rachel weeps for her scattered, enslaved and slaughtered children. Hers is the voice we hear through all of Advent, if we listen closely enough. She cries out for all humanity’s children who are made to suffer by dictates and whims of those who wield power and determine who are in and who are out of national political, economic and military agendas.

  • I hear Rachel’s voice in modern tones this Advent from information I read on the webpage of the Children’s Defense Fund. It is a national moral disgrace that children remain the poorest age group in the United States of America—one of the richest countries in the world. It is also unnecessary, costly and the greatest threat to the nation’s future national, economic and military security. Nearly 1 in 5 children—12.8 million in total—were poor in 2017. Over 45 percent of these children lived in extreme poverty at less than half the poverty level. Nearly 70 percent of poor children were children of color. About 1 in 3 American Indian/Alaska Native children and more than 1 in 4 Black and Hispanic children were poor, compared with 1 in 9 White children. The youngest children are most likely to be poor, with 1 in 5 children under 5 living in poverty during the years of rapid brain development.

  • Child poverty hurts children and our nation’s future. It creates gaps in cognitive skills for very young children, puts children at greater risk of hunger and homelessness, jeopardizes their health and ability to learn and fuels the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

Can you hear the cries of anguish this Advent? There they are, the cries of poor parents in our own land for their children’s future, a future made bleak by the cycle of poverty and national neglect and growing insensitivity to their health and educational needs. They are cries not being heard by a nation setting priorities that ignore their voices. Let the Advent preacher hear Rachel’s ongoing cry for her children in our modern world.

God hears Rachel’s cry. When Matthew quotes Jeremiah’s description of Rachel’s pain, he also implies a voice of hope and comfort to the grieving. In Jeremiah, God addresses her pain and promises restoration. In the very next verse God says, "Cease your cries of mourning, wipe the tears from your eyes. The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward...they shall return from the enemy’s hand." (Jer. 31:16) Indeed, all of Chapter 33 is about the total healing God will bring to The People. This restoration will be for all aspects of their lives; for their interior healing through the forgiveness of sins and for the restoration of the nation.

Thomas Merton warned that we must not strive to keep an atmosphere of optimism during Advent by the "mere suppression of tragic realities." (cf. Seasons of Celebration) There is, he says, an "anguished seriousness in Advent." We are anticipating the birth of one Jeremiah says, will be a "just shoot", who will "do what is right and just in the land." Baruch, another prophetic voice of the season, (heard on the second Sunday of Advent), tells us this one who is coming will call Jerusalem to wrap herself "in the cloak of justice from God." Our voices need to speak against sentimentality this Advent and for justice.

Advent does not pull us out of the world to wrap ourselves in the warm fuzzies of the season, but to look to the coming of Christ and his justice. Indeed he is already among us. How will people know that the One who is to come has already arrived? It certainly won’t be obvious in the sights and voices of the malls. The first Sunday of Advent’s Gospel passage that opens the season is Jesus’ reminder, "Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares." (Luke 21:34). It is a stark wake up call to sobriety and circumspection. It not only calls us to examine our own lives, but the signs of Christ’s presence in our midst. We need to enter more soberly into the Advent yearning for a new creation, when a new community will come into being. Let the Advent preacher hear the voice of justice and reordering that wakes us up to be sober, alert and ready to speak to injustice.

Our spirits are uneasy in Advent, restless and yearning for the peace promised us in God’s Word. The present world is complex, not easily dismissed by platitudes and simplistic promises. The world is tense, yearning for peace, a resolution not easily achieved. We are found waiting in this Advent world, a world of alienation and division, longing for justice and peace. Let the Advent preacher hear the longing voices and the incompleteness that permeates our lives.

It is not that Christ may or may not come – he will come! How will we receive him? We must receive him ready to set things right in the world. This Advent is not a mere celebration of the "Christmas season" described to us in the jingles and the slogans. It is not a nostalgic trip to former, youthful, more innocent days. Christ’s coming this season is a call to renewal, indeed, a call to transformation that makes a new world according to the plans voiced for us by the voices of the ancient prophets we hear through Advent. Let the preacher hear the voices calling for transformation.

Rachel’s plaint is to be attended to this season. We cannot deafen our ears to her cry. She wails for the children of exile, fleeing civil war and violence in their own land. But the season does not end with only that wail, another woman’s voice is heard, it is that of Elizabeth on the final Sunday of Advent. She is filled with the Holy Spirit and cries out in a loud voice to her pregnant kinswoman Mary, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb,...Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled." (Lk.1:42-45)

That is the closing voice of the Advent season. It is also the voice that addresses our future. God’s word is fulfilled and will be fulfilled. Promises made to an inconsolable people have been kept. The "great day" has come, the "just shoot’ is being planted in the land and there will be an abundant harvest. All of us cry out with Jerusalem, "The Lord is our justice." (Jer. 33: 16) Let the Advent preacher hear the final voices of triumph and preach with certitude that promise of fulfillment.

Preaching Essay Archive

Just click on an Essay title below to read it.
(The latest submissions are listed first.)

• Preaching Mark 2023 •
• Preaching Mark 2022 •
• Even the Hymns Preach •
• Advent 2018 •
• Preaching Luke •
• The Journey Through Lent •
• A New Year - A Time To Choose •
• Called To Continue Our Journey As Peacemakers •
• Easter: A Call To Renew Our Faith •
• Fan Into Flame •
• Grieving Our Losses •
• The Importance of Inter-Religious Sharing •
• Are We Living In Pentecost Times? •
• Living With Gratitude and Hope •
• “Lumen Fidei” – the Call and the Challenge •
• What is the "New Evangelization"? •
• Pentecost •
• Inculturated Liturgy Challenges Preaching to Flower •
• Preaching Lent - Year C •
• Reflection - Psalm 127 •
• Reaching Youth Today •
• The Need To Reclaim And Live With Moral Courage •
• The Sacred Triduum •
• Welcoming the Stranger •
• Working for Peace •

Blessings on your preaching.

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