Over the past several months I have had the opportunity to go horseback riding on a couple of occasions. Last May I was able to take a group of friends open range riding in the flint hills. On that particular day we witnessed a Kansas storm rolling in over the prairie hills. It is an awe inspiring thing to see dark clouds on the horizon with lightening in the clouds, to hear the faint rumble of thunder that grows louder upon approach, and to feel the fluctuation of pressure and the change of temperature. And when you realize the power in the storm you consider where you need to go to find shelter. In this situation you know two things: where you are and where you need to go. You begin doing preparations to protect yourself. You put on your rain coat, gather people together and make a plan to return home.
I think anybody who is aware of the news right now sees the proverbial clouds on the horizon. Over 4 million Syrian refugees have been displaced from their house. 4 million! That’s nearly 4 times the population of Kansas; 10 times the number of residents in the city of Wichita! They are displaced because of civil war and of Isis. And the Isis crisis continues. Terrorist threats ring out around the world. Pope Francis calls this a “piece-meal World War III.” This terror has led to increase security in our airports, on our campuses and in our schools. This past week someone jumped the fence at the white house. Did you watch the video? Everybody ran. Their reaction is one of fear, anxiety and panic. We are also aware of the attack in France that reminds us of our own 9-11. Russia… Turkey… the frightful sight of a plane shot down burning out of the sky.
And on the national level we have riots and protests happening. We see mobs of people walking down city streets, hands raised in the air. There is political posturing taking place among our presidential candidates.
And this doesn’t even begin to touch our own personal lives. The challenges we see inside our own family: illness, sickness, loss, division, anger, hurt, divorce. And if that isn’t close enough I recognize inside myself: the riots in my own heart, the battle raging in my own soul. How frustrated I am with myself going to bed at night thinking, “I did it again! I know what I need to do, but I don’t do it. I know the difference between right and wrong and when the moment arises for me to make a decision between the two, I choose the wrong.”
It’s not easy turning on the TV; not at all. News is filled with bad news. I feel like the Lord of the Rings, locked behind the doors of Helm’s Deep with evil creatures battering against the door of the castle, slamming again, and again, and again. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just feel like crying!
Today’s Gospel speaks to all of this, “On earth nations will be in dismay… people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth… for that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.” This Gospel is all too close; it speaks to clearly of what we are experiencing. And we have to ask ourselves a serious question, “How do we deal?”
As Christians, we have a choice: we either despair or we hope. The entire purpose of Advent is to remind ourselves as Christians: we are people of hope not despair, of peace not hatred, of love not division. And we do not give in to hate and anger, violence and frustration. We stand in hope, with the longing expectation that something greater is going to happen. We know that the dark clouds on the horizon are nothing compared to the Son of man who himself will be coming on the clouds. He is light out of darkness. Our God is bigger than the problems of this world!!! You see, the Jesus who was born in the middle of the night is the same Jesus who will return in the middle of the darkness of the tumults of this world. The dark clouds that are on the horizon are nothing more than the vehicle of Jesus Christ who will come to strengthen his people. Light is always stronger than darkness. The darkness only serves to highlight the light.
This is why our Gospel says today, “When you see these things happening, you stand erect, for your redemption is at hand.” We don’t run from the clouds… we face into the wind, knowing that Jesus Christ has given us the strength to prevail. And we recognize that Jesus Christ gives us the words to use to bring peace to the nations, to families, to people and mercy to our souls. We have this hope. This is why we are Christian. The power of this world is nothing compared to the Mercy of God.
This advent season is a reflection on, “Shine…out of darnkness, light: Mercy is born.” Jesus Christ is larger than all of this. In him we place our hope. If you are watching the news more than reading you bible then you are creating your own problems. Ask yourself, “What am I focusing on? Isis… or virtue? Brokenness…or mercy?
You see, when I was on that horse the sight of dark clouds rolling in caused me to make preparations and reminded me of my final destination. In the same way Jesus is telling us to be prepared. “Be vigilant and pray,” he tells us. Vigilance. When I saw the clouds I got prepared for rain. So too, when we see the tumults of the world, we do not despair we hope. And in our hope we do what St. Paul tells us in our second reading: we conduct ourselves in a way that pleases God.
We also focus ourselves on our heavenly home. Jesus pointed out three failed options of how to deal with these problems in today’s Gospel: carousing, drunkenness and anxiety. Carousing is partying like there is no problem. Ignoring the problems of this world does not mean they will go away. Carousing will not fix these problems. Drunkenness? Drunkenness is an attempt to numb our senses. I don’t care what you use to numb your senses: maybe its television, maybe its music, maybe its golf, maybe it alcohol or drugs… I don’t know what you do to numb your senses. But numbing your senses through “drunkenness” will not bring resolution to the worlds arguments. Anxiety? That does nothing for it. A greater amount of anxiety does not take the stressors of life away.
What, then, help us deal with this? Confidence in Jesus Christ, “Stand erect because your redemption is now at hand… be vigilant and pray” because you know that God is greater than the problems of this world. That’s what will overcome this: faith in Jesus Christ, hope in a kingdom that is already here and will be completed at the end of time, trust in a mercy that has been promised to each one of us.
When I was preparing this homily I was recalling this scripture passage. “We afflicted in everyway but not constrained; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” And as silly as it may sound I also thought of a popular song from the 80’s, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you are never gonna keep me down.” I hope that plays through your head. Because there is nothing can knock us down. And when we stand with Christ, we stand with the light that destroys darkness. We don’t despair; we hope. And the dark clouds on the horizon are nothing more than the vehicle of Christ’s return. The thunder and lightning are the rumble of his victory of tumult and war. Let’s us know that the world is conquered in Christ.