December 2, 2018
There are two beginnings that occur today.
First, it’s the start of Advent, and our readings fit well under the adage of begin with the end in mind. While they point to end times, they fill us with anticipation, preparation, and even warning of the coming of the Christ child.
The prophet Jeremiah fills us with anticipation: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise of the Lord of Justice.” Referring to Emmanuel.
Paul exhorts us to prepare: “be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus.”
And amidst his apocalyptic description of the end times, Luke gives us a bit of warning, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.”
Advent is all about anticipation and preparation for the birth of Jesus. We know a very, very special guest is coming, and we’re excited and we literally can’t wait, but at the same time we have to prepare our homes and our hearts to receive the special guest.
The second beginning that always occurs with the First Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year. Let me be the first to wish you a happy new year!
Our theme for this new year is Stop – Look – Listen. This is your invitation into a simple spiritual practice that, over the course of this year, we can all master together.
My parents taught me this practice without them or me even knowing it. Recalling my awkward, self-conscious, embarrassing middle school years, three things I remember them telling me especially when I would get revved up, in a hurry, anxious or excited about something. They would say:
“Take a breath.” Which meant stop, slow down, catch up to yourself.
“Walk where your watching.” A play on words that that was apropos during my clumsy, growth spurt, early adolescent years. Simply means open your eyes and look!
“Give me both ears.” I’d hear this when my mom or dad had something important to say, and it was critical that I both hear and understand. Listen!
So let’s bring Stop – Look – Listen in here, into our faith community. What might it mean in the context of our faith and spirituality? See how this sounds.
Stop. Bring the whirlwind of your life to a halt, if only for a moment. Calm your racing heart and your frenetic mind. Pay attention to the closeness of everything around you. What do you see? What do you hear? Take a breath, and remember, you are in the holy presence of God.
Look. Open your eyes and look around. Look other people right in the eye. See your surroundings and recognize your rightful place in them. Walk where you’re watching. God has an idea for you, right here, right now.
Listen. Listen to the external sounds of the world around you. Listen to the internal sounds of your intuition tugging on your heart and pestering your head. Could be the Holy Spirit beckoning. Give her both ears.
This new liturgical year is called the year of Luke. Which simply means that most of our Sunday gospel readings will come from the Gospel of Luke.
The year of Luke is also known as the year of Justice because Luke has the greatest emphasis on the spiritual journey of becoming a more compassionate and just people.
Commenting on the author of Luke, my friend and colleague Brian Singer-Towns wrote,
Imagine that you lived in a time when most people measured their importance by their power and wealth. Those who are poor and without status are at best ignored and at worst abused and scorned. That’s what the Roman Empire was like during the time of the first Christians. And then imagine that you are a physician with a very compassionate heart for people who are hurting. You hear of this movement whose members show love and compassion for all, especially for the poor and outcast. You join this movement and find out all you can about them and their founder. Eventually you write up their story to tell others about it. That’s very probably how the Gospel of Luke was written.
This year we will see the uniqueness of this gospel with its emphasis on prayer, care for the poor, and concern for the role of women.
We will exercise our practice of Stop – Look – Listen as we hear
salvation stories about the lost being found, and about sinners being forgiven and invited back. Only in Luke, for example, do we hear the story of the good Samaritan (see 10:29-37), the parable of the prodigal son (15:11-32), the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus (see 19:1-10).
Were it not for Luke’s Gospel we would not have Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).
Were it not for Luke’s Gospel we would not have Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (1:42-43).
Were it not for Luke’s Gospel, we would not honor Mary as the preeminent disciple of Jesus Christ.
Were it not for Luke’s Gospel, we would not have Jesus proclaiming the words of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." (4:18).
And then giving a one-line homily: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’’
I believe we are well-poised to fulfill the rich wisdom and insight of Luke’s gospel this year, but together and individually we have to discipline ourselves to . . .
Take a breath,
Walk where we’re watching, and
Listen with both ears.