Reflection by Jim Dryden, a parishioner.
I’m not really all that fond of the first part of Advent. The readings at Mass aren’t about a cute little baby in a manger and a young family doing its best to find a place to stay. Those readings don't come until later. The early Advent readings aren’t even about the not-quite-married-yet young man and the woman who struggle with an unexpected pregnancy and make it through things only by the “grace of God,” who literally sends angels to Mary, at the Annunciation, and to Joseph, in a dream, telling them to trust that they’re going to come through the ordeal okay.
No, in early Advent, the readings tend to look forward to the end of the world. When I remember that the end times will be the full realization of the kingdom of God, that can sound comforting, you know when the “wolf is the guest of the lamb” and when we “beat our swords into plowshares.” But it also makes me nervous.
I wasn’t all that happy, for example, about trying to escape the “tribulations that are imminent” that Jesus mentioned last Sunday. And as much as it may sound good to raise the valleys and lower the mountains, as Baruch, Isaiah and John the Baptist prophesy in todays readings, I’ve got to presume all that mountain-leveling and valley-raising will be anything but painless.
“No pain, no gain,” as they say. But often during these December days of late sunrises and early sunsets, combined with lots more cookies and cocktails than normal, I find myself thinking less about gaining and more about hoping to “tread water.” When I take a personalinventory, it appears there’s a whole bunch of the valley-raising andmountain-leveling work I’ll need to do to get ready for Jesus. But for me, that prospect is something I look forward to about as much as a trip to the dentist, or climbing my ladder to hang Christmas lights.
I realize that Advent is about preparation. For some of us at this time of year, that may involve cleaning the house and spiking the egg nog, but it’s also universally true that most of us have some work to do to prepare our hearts for that day when we’ll see Christ not just in one another’s faces, not just in the Eucharist and not just in the nativity scene under the Christmas tree. The readings during this part of the season tell me that Advent is about getting ready for that day when I hope to hear the words, “good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s joy.”
Last Friday, Dec. 7 would have been my youngest sister’s 45th birthday. But on an autumn afternoon in 1994 at the age of 26, Jenny developed a severe headache. A blood vessel in her brain had ruptured. She felt fine at lunchtime, but by dinner, she couldn’t breathe without help from a machine. She never woke up.
So I’ve witnessed the kingdom of God, indeed, arriving like a thief in the night. But I believe that in the 18 years since her death, Jenny has spent a lot of time with God, maybe even helping a bit with the work required to raise my valleys and lower my mountains. And I guess that’s a good thing. I need all the help I can get.
+In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.