Friday, November 25, 2016
Advent ~ Walking in Mystery!
In late September of 2015, Yogi Berra died at the age of 90. He was a great Major League baseball catcher, manager, and coach. He was also known to be quite a character. Besides his baseball competency, Berra was renowned for his impromptu pithy comments, malapropisms, and often unintentional witticisms, known as "Yogi-isms".
I am sure that we are familiar with some of the quotes attributed to Yogi Berra; even though he says: “I didn’t really say everything I said.” These countless expressions are memorable because most of them didn’t seem to make any sense; yet, at the same time, they contained powerful messages that offered not just humor but wisdom
I’d like to share a few:
• Never answer an anonymous letter.
• The game isn’t over until it’s over.
• Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours.
• It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.
It makes us think and sometimes laugh, but I believe there are some witticisms that relate in particular to our Advent readings. The expressions offer us a unique perspective and “theology” of how to view our liturgical journey over this Church year.
All three of the readings this Sunday are powerful messages of wisdom, as well as pronouncements of encouragement and hope for the future. The “end time” texts that we have been hearing in the final days of Ordinary Time have now spilled over into today’s readings. In our Gospel, Jesus proclaims, once again, a message to “stay awake” as he prepares for his next steps toward his Passion. Here, he is clearly anxious about the future, as he paints a bleak picture of the end of the world. It is a Gospel that is difficult to hear and understand.
Still, Jesus offers us the encouragement to stand firm against the tribulations which will lead to chaos, disorder, and distraction. We are to be vigilant and pray for the strength to survive all that is to happen. Jesus is always inviting us to be attentive with faith, courage, and resiliency as we face the distractions, denials, and disorders in our culture, in our personal lives, and in the global disturbances around us.
It is challenging to be alert, to be present to the moment with a hopeful heart. It is difficult not to let “the anxieties of daily life” absorb us. It is far too easy to get lost in the particulars of endless tasks, plans, meetings, and so many other interruptions and distracting choices that sometimes whirl us with frenetic energy.
A stance of spiritual watchfulness is what we are invited to cultivate during this period between the first and second comings. As many wisdom figures in our tradition have insisted, God often blesses us with opportunities to know God more intimately, but we can easily miss them by simply not paying attention.
A Yogi Wisdom to ponder from our Gospel: “You can observe a lot by watching.”
This week, Christians begin a new liturgical year and enter into the rich and ancient four-week season of Advent. However, perhaps for a number of American Christians, Advent passes virtually unnoticed, as the celebration of "Christmas" as a secular and intensely commercial feast begins the day after Thanksgiving. Yet, the time of Advent offers us an opportunity to dive deeply into a counter-cultural time of quiet reflection, a space of hopeful and patient waiting and discernment about how God's incarnation has meaning and is at work in our world today.
Our faith tells us that God communicates with us whether we know it or not by continuously creating and redeeming us. We are being “spoken to” continuously by our God who desires us to notice that life communicates God to us.
Advent beckons us to intentionally carve out a sacred space and time for quiet reflection, patient and hopeful waiting while observing, watching, and pondering what the future may hold. As one author counsels,
• ”in an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow,
• In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention, and
• In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” (Iyer)
Before the middle of the fourth century, there were no liturgical seasons, such as Advent or Lent, or any idea of a "liturgical year.” The great feast of Easter was the central focus of the Christian year, along with the Sunday gatherings, considered "little Easters." Advent is first noted around the year 350, about the same time that Christmas is first mentioned as being celebrated. The date of Christmas might well have been placed near the winter solstice as a replacement to the pagan solstice celebrations of the Roman Empire.
As in the other yearly liturgical cycles, the readings of this Advent season reflect a movement through the four weeks from a cosmic in-breaking of God in the first Sundays to the more intimate stories, including Mary as a central figure, in the fourth Sunday, all of which prepare us for God's incarnation in the most unexpected and unpredictable manner -- as an infant in an occupied country to a poor and unwed teenager.
Advent invites us to set out on a great journey - to follow in the footsteps of Christ in all of his mysteries, so that we can live as he lived and truly be disciples of God’s mercy and compassion. These mysteries are stories to encourage our hearts, their meanings and wisdom are to permeate our being, and their truths are to sustain us through the long haul.
Advent invites us to do more than simply commemorate Christmas; it invites us to embrace a larger vision. Advent draws us to prepare to live the mystery of the Word made flesh here and now. Life is Advent.
So perhaps Yogi Berra is a teacher for us in this in-between time, offering an opportunity for us…
• to cultivate a spiritual watchfulness and a patient waiting,
• to stand firm in our faith,
• to be present to the moment with a hopeful heart,
• to reclaim our space and time of quiet refection of the mystery of the Word made flesh here and now,
• to realize that we will truly need courage, compassion, resilience, wit, and wisdom.
A Yogi Wisdom to ponder as we take leave today on this First Sunday of Advent: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might wind up somewhere else.”