Monday, November 29, 2021

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent, "Déjà Vu All Over Again", by Rev. Richard S. Vosko


 

Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees, was also famous for his unusual quips such as it is “déjà vu all over again.” There are various stories surrounding these memes. 1 


The season of Advent is “déjà vu all over again.” We’ve been here before. Every year about this time Christians recycle the liturgical countdown to the mythical date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. 2 At this time in history, when troublesome realities are mixed with visions of hope, we are compelled to rethink the significance of Advent. 3

The passage today, from Jeremiah (Jer 33:14-16), recalls the trouble that God’s chosen people were in. Apparently, they forgot their part of their covenant with God to keep the commandments. As they readied for the invasion of the ruthless King Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah, who was in prison at the time, pleaded with the people of Israel and Judah to once again trust in God and change their ways.


The Bible reminds us that the path to reconciliation, peace and justice is through acts of kindness and mercy. (Psalm 25) Margaret Odell, Professor Emerita of Religion at St. Olaf College, remarked: “In the ancient world, justice was not an abstract concept. It was always a personal practice of care and attention to the needs of others .…” We’ve heard this call to discipleship over and over but now there is some urgency. 


In the apocalyptic gospel passage (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36) Jesus claimed that things would get worse before they got better — “on earth nations will be in disarray.” We could take this dire prediction as a call to change our ways. Or, we could consider it a wake up call to be more aware of what is going on all around us today.


During his ministry Jesus cared for the underdog promising them better days ahead. He also opposed the imperial style of leadership practiced by both secular and religious leaders. The time was ripe for someone like the itinerant preacher Jesus to shake things up and promise deliverance from evil doers.


Today, many wait in joyful hope for the coming of a saviour to repair the world. This kind of hope (waiting for someone else to save us) is not a good strategy. Too many hard-hearted powers working against humanity are out of control and gaining strength. The strains of autocracy, plutocracy, and oligarchy are infecting other countries and making America sicker by the day. 


This weekend the biblical message is familiar … all over again. Yes, “people will die of fright” but not only because of the “roaring of the sea and waves.” The refusals by governments and ourselves to accept responsibility for climate change are unnerving. The gnawing presence of infectious viruses is tiring and frightening. Stormy political and religious culture wars over other prickly ethical issues are dividing this nation into clashing camps.


Advent is not about “preparing the way” of the Lord or St. Nick for that matter. The Christ of faith is already walking among us. The problem is that God is not always recognized in our streets, classrooms, offices, congressional halls, or our homes. 


Christians often fail to see the radiance of Christ’s face not only in the environment but also the stranger, the outcast, the prisoner, the teenage prostitute, the drug user, the homeless person and even people who are most familiar to us.


To make a dent in the maelstrom we are enduring it is important to accept that the Spirit God energizes and implores us to follow the path that the Nazarene prophet laid out for us. Action is required. The disciple Paul, who changed his way of living, urged his followers: “strengthen your hearts, conduct yourselves to please God. You [do] know the instructions we gave you from Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2)


Our task this Advent is to find ways to stop thinking only about ourselves and our destinies. While personal domestic responsibilities cannot be ignored completely we can tailor them to include others living on the fringes of the human family. 


Mindfulness is a good practice to focus on what is happening around us. Although the new Omicron Variant is already spreading globally, tourists are visiting this country again. They ogle Times Square, gasp at the Grand Canyon, and revel in the Magic Kingdoms. 


However, other travelers have been on the move for ages. They are the refugees and migrants seeking a land of milk and honey where they can settle and live with dignity. We have to prepare a land where all lives matter starting with those who are people of color.


Responsible persons have shown incredible resilience in countering many similar troubles before us.  Audrey West, Associate Professor of the New Testament at Moravian Theological College, wrote: “The ability to interpret a future-shaped present depends, in part, on reference to the past.” As spiritual sojourners we remember that history often repeats itself with both good and bad news. 


We can learn to be advocates for the good news, the human rights taught by our ancestors. The voices of women like Sarah, Ruth, Lydia, Esther, Mary, as well as Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Mohammed gifted us with the same sets of golden rules that are being presented to us, all over again, by the teachers and prophets of our time. 

There is still time to make sure there is a better tomorrow for all of us especially our children. This was the promise of the One called messiah. As a legendary baseball catcher once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over!” 4 


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1 Yankee fans might maintain that Yogi uttered this particular phrase after Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit back-to-back home runs in 1961.

2 Most sources agree that the 25th of December was formally established as the date of Jesus’s birth @ 336 CE. 

3 Advent was originally a time of preparation for Christian initiation at Epiphany.

4 Thank you, Yogi Berra.

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