He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into sickles;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
For the love of my brothers and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
For the love of the house of the LORD, our God,
I will pray for your good.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us live decently as in the light of day,
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
It’s about Time! Is it good to speak about time when you’re late? The Advent First Sunday readings for this year have a rude urgency to them: tension, conflict, dissonance, change, beating the swords, throwing off works of darkness, breaking into the house. And for those of us who work in schools--aren't we anxious and conflicted enough already, especially now? This isn’t relaxing at all.
For that matter, nor is the Gospel; nor the reign of God as lived at the heart of the Church through the centuries by the Proper Saints and the ordinary saints. Saint Paul really is emphatic about the conversion he wants to see in the community of the Church, making its way as Christ’s witness in pagan Rome, not only in contrast to the saturnalian character of life in the empire, but in its own internal being--throwing off rivalry and jealousy, which have not gone out of style among believers like ourselves. Maybe we can be smug about having grown out of the “worldly” temptations he names, but today dissension within the Body of Christ continues to be the thousand cuts which cripple the Body. None of us needs to look far to see it; it is in every family, workplace and political body, the embodiment of Augustine’s City of Man.
Isaiah’s passage is eerily “modern” in its sensibility as well, warning us not to accept the world’s “training for war” by its standards--games of intrigue, the manipulation of proxies, the inaction of international agencies, the weapons trade and the persistence of ideology continue to simmer even as real progress continues on the dismantling the Cold War arms repositories. The state of the world is not at peace, and won't be, until human hearts are readied for genuine hospitality, the ability to say with the Psalmist, "Peace be within you," and to pray for one another's good and mean it. I am reminded of some family members of my grandparents' generation, now long deceased, who bore a grievance that separated them quite senselessly for more than thirty years. Finally one showed up--completely unexpectedly--to restore the relationship. You know what everyone said: "It's about time!"
All of us know innately that things work toward natural conclusions--or better, resolutions. Some of these are more satisfactory than others. Why? Taking a cue from the New Testament readings, we might be able to propose a couple of reasons. The first is awareness: "if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake." The Socratic version of this is Nosce te ipsum, Gnothi seauton, "Know Thyself" or, better still, Know Your Human Nature And Its Destiny, which might be close to what the old Stoics would say. Jesus, for his part, is discussing our destiny as individuals and the destiny of all persons as part of the order of Creation and Redemption.
The old Catechism told us that we were made to know, love and serve God in this life and be happy with Him in the next. Our job is not to be distracted from the long-term view. There are some basics we need to attend to now--"throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light." So, maybe the second reason why things conclude themselves either ambiguously or awkwardly in human affairs is that we fear being light, especially to ourselves. Those dark rooms, stuffy closets and cluttered corners in the mansions of our souls keep us tied down by a skulking, earthbound gravity and make us unable and often unwilling to surrender freely to Grace, the armor of light.
Advent must be about advancing the judgment to which all must eventually submit. When we were told as little children to make room for the Baby Jesus in our hearts, the metaphor was not just for our child selves. Isn't it about time for some house-cleaning?