I was amused by this joke I read on the internet. Plus, it has something to do with my message:
‘There will be a meeting of the Board immediately after the service,’ announced Reverend Morris.
After the close of the service, the group gathered at the back of church for the announced meeting. However, there was a stranger in their midst. He was a visitor who had never attended their church before.
‘My friend,’ asked Reverend Morris, ‘did you understand that this is a meeting of the Board?’
‘Oh, yes,’ came the rejoinder from the visitor, ‘and after that sermon, I’m about as bored as you can get.’
All the readings this week tell us that we must be a people who wait. Look at our banner – “Advent is a time for vigilance.”
But I wonder if we have grown somewhat bored of our spirituality – our religion? There is a great difference between the peace that religion brings and the boredom that empty religion brings. Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time. Peace is a feeling that nothing is a waste of time.
As a people, have we grown tired of waiting for the Lord?
Just think of how much preparation this community would likely do if we learned that Pope Francis was coming for a visit. We would form commities, we would have practices, we would likely pray more, we would dress better and be on our best behavior. Well, Advent warns us that it’s JESUS that is coming, so we need to whip ourselves into shape in a serious way. It’s not just all about peace and joy and Christmas carols piping through stores and radios. Peace and joy actually take a lot of work and preparation to accomplish. That is the real message. Peace and joy are for those who have worked for it. Our veterans of foreign wars knows this only too well. We Christians have a battle to fight, too.
It is difficult to put into words the theme that I see running throughout all the readings. All readings have as a background this kind of “waiting game” that is going on between God and his people. In the first reading, Isaiah laments that God seems distant from his people but locates the reason for that distance in the fact that man’s heart has hardened and no longer waits for God. In the second reading, St. Paul encourages us to persevere and stand firm while we wait for the day that the Lord will come again. The gospel is extremely explicit. The last sentence is Jesus telling us boldy, “What I say to you is, watch.”
Human beings are not too good at watching and waiting for God. In the Old Testament while the Jews were waiting for the Messiah, many of them fell away. Some of them didn’t even believe in heaven anymore, and we called these the Sadducees. Many of the Pharisees burdened the people with so many rules and regulations that they were more interested in following them than in recognizing the Messiah when he came. And when he came, many did NOT recognize him. And when he came, many actually even hated him and crucified him.
The scary thing about that is we would like to think that these people who failed to recognize Jesus were just evil people, but I would be willing to bet that many of them went home and sacrificed for their families and worked hard and worried about the state of their country just like you. I guarantee you that many of them were good people. But being a good person isn’t enough to be a holy person. Being a nice person isn’t the same as being a Christian.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but the Book of Revelation warns us that when Jesus comes the second time, exactly the same thing is going to happen again. When talking about the end times, Jesus says in Matthew 24:24, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” That means that even Christians are going to be led astray by false messiahs, false teachers and false prophets when times get rough. These false teachers are going to appear as if they are doing good things – even working miracles. Do not believe them. If you even have a question mark in your mind about a book you are reading or a T.V. show you are watching, then it’s probably suspect. Let the Holy Spirit guide you to what is truly pure and holy.
But it seems like so many people are becoming tired of this old message.
In the New Testament, even while the church was still young, many people got tired of waiting for the Lord and started trying to turn the Christian faith into the Jewish faith again, or started mixing up the faith with the mythologies and astrologies of the day. Are we any different when we buy astrology books, or listen more to shows about so-called mediums who talk to dead people, or the psychology advice on shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil – are we any different when we listen to THESE things more than we pray, read the lives of the saints, and Holy Scripture? No, we are not different at all.
By the turning of the first millennium, the church split into East and West. For one thousand years there was only one church. Then with Martin Luther we got two denominations about five hundred years later. And in the past five hundred years, according to some statistics there are close to 300 mainline Protestant denominations in the United States alone, and nearly 33,000 Christian denominations worldwide. 33,000!! It is no wonder why atheists and those in other religions hold us in suspicion. Jesus prayed at the last supper for us all to be ONE, and 33,000 is very different from being 1!!
What is my point? My point is that it seems we are not very good at waiting. It seems that we argue too easily, and perhaps get bored too easily with following the same truth year in and year out. We have been told in advance that Jesus just wants us to be faithful to loving one another, faithful to loving God, and faithful to the sacraments until he comes in his glory. The only reason why we would get bored with this is if we are not actually doing it. Because if we did it, then we would be touched by the grace of God and given the consolation of the Holy Spirit. What does Jesus say, “Behold, I make all things new!!” But Jesus has always had those who mock him. Today, the sarcastic people would say that Jesus makes all things boring. It’s easy to mock things and make fun of them. Our generation is an expert at it. But so is Satan. You might want to think about that the next time you start making fun of something. If you think Jesus is boring, my response to you is that boring is in the eye of the beholder. If you are a boring person, then I suppose you could twist Jesus into being boring as well. Maybe you are just hard-hearted like Isaiah talks about in our first reading, and really need to pray for God to soften that heart. Have you ever really met Jesus? If you think he is boring, then I assure you that you have never truly met him. He remains for you like an acquaintance that you see from afar.
It’s easy for me to make fun of a person I have never met or whom I don’t know well. But very often, even when I get to know just an ordinary person very well and listen to their stories and hear about their struggles, I am amazed at how interesting and beautiful they are. This happens very often in my priesthood, and is one of my chief blessings. How much more interesting is the person who created every other person in this church, and in the whole world?
Jesus commands us to WATCH in the gospel today. In Greek, it is GREGOREITE. It’s what a centurion would tell a Roman soldier to do when he is leaving him to keep his post. That’s exactly what it means – keep to your post. Stand fast. Watch for the enemy. Be ready. Have you ever been in a fight, or even a war? I assure you that they are everything but boring. I am amazed at how much imagery is used in the New Testament is used comparing the spiritual life to combat, and to the Olypic games. It requires discipline, regularity, and yes, some waiting. But it’s not boring.
But there are things we are supposed to be doing to make this easier on us. When is the last time we really picked up scripture or a scripture study and prayed with it? When is the last time you picked up the life of a saint – someone who made the word of God real in his or her life? Maybe start with a modern saint like Pope Saint John Paul or Mother Theresa or the past couple of centuries – women like Sister Faustina, Therese of Lisieux or men like Padre Pio? That is not only extremely edifying, but it can breath life back into your faith. When is the last time you did some volunteer work with a view towards really getting out of yourself and meeting another person? What usually happens is that God shows himself in those beautiful moments, and they are anything but boring.
Yes, the Lord tells us to watch. But it’s hard to watch unless you know WHOM you are watching for. Reading scripture, reading the lives of the saints, and prayer help you get to know this God for whom we are waiting.
I can testify to the fact that God can heal instantly. I have suffered most of my life with anxiety and depression, and there was a time I went on a retreat desperate for healing, and by the end of it, the depression simply lifted – it disappeared. No counseling. No medication. Poof – gone! And it did not return with any amount of strength for two years. Therese of Lisieux reports a similar kind of healing. She also suffered with panic attacks. One night while praying with an image of the Blessed Mother, she swears that she was healed instantly when she saw the statue smile at her. Healing is possible. But sometimes it comes more slowly than we would like. We must be a people who resolve to wait on the Lord.
I have heard people who say that great literature is boring. I must admit that some of it I don’t care for myself. But I know enough about great literature to understand that there is a reason why it’s great, and I simply haven’t done the work necessary to truly understand it so that I can SEE it’s greatness. I think that a relationship with the Lord can be similar. A relationship with the Lord is not like a comic strip that we read on Sunday and can get a brief laugh about. A relationship with the Lord is great literature. It is an epic poem. We are in it for the long haul. Jesus tells us along with the saints to watch, wait, and while we are doing that — TO LOVE. And ultimately, it is up to us whether it is a tragedy or that we live happily ever after.