12/1/13, First Sunday of Advent

I’d like to start with a couple of statements.

“Don’t be overly concerned about attaining your goal, it’s the journey that is what’s important”   A Buddhist tenet subscribed to by Thomas Merton

“It’s really about the process.  It is NOT about the end result.” Jeremy Gilley

In looking over today’s readings, I was searching for a common thread.  In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us “Come, let us climb God’s mountain, to the house of the God of our ancestors, that we may be instructed in God’s ways, and that we may walk on God’s paths” – a journey.

In Paul’s excerpt in Romans, he states.”…you know the time in which we are living.  It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith…” – again, it is time to make our journey.  And in Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells us, “…you must be prepared in the same way.  The promised one is coming at the time you least expect.” – preparation is a part of  journey.

The common message in these three readings concerns action, working through the process.  Whether or not we are successful is really not the important part of the equation.  The important thing is that we know what we need to do.  We know how we need to act because we have been given the tools, in part from our upbringing and education, both religious and secular, in the moral code we have developed and have come to accept and in the type of persons we have agreed to strive to become.

It is not for us to know the outcome.  Jesus spoke to us about compassion and care, love of and justice towards (and patience with) our fellow man, and he taught in a manner which first and foremost espoused  nonviolence.    I’m often reminded of  Gandhi’s statement   that he found it  truly amazing that the only people who seem  not to get the fact that Jesus’ message was based on nonviolence are Christians. 

Matthew’s gospel message for today at first glance may seem to be quite harsh  ”…Two people will be out in a field; one will be taken and one will be left.”  Two people grinding meal – one taken, one left.  Again, it is not the outcome that is important so much as the journey.  The biblical verses from both the Old and New Testament readings speak of a condition here on earth to be strived for and realized.  We know what we must do and we know how to do it, problem is those darned distractions.  Another way of emphasizing the urgency of journey was stated (again by Ghandi) “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.  He didn’t say promote the change you wish to see in the world or advocate or cheer for the change you wish to see in the world, he said BE the change. Jesus was and is that change and he really spelled it out beautifully in the Sermon on the Mount.

Although we have our moral code, we’ve also been indoctrinated by society to believe that the rules really can be broken from, or at the very least bent, from time to time, or that maybe we don’t need to follow that code every day.  We also know however that if we do veer off the path we will suffer the consequences.

Jeremy Gilley, who I quoted earlier, is a British actor and producer turned Peace activist, who started a movement called “Peace One Day”.  One of the first successes of this movement was the establishment of a designated day for the UN International Day of Peace.  That day is now observed on Sept. 21, each year.  He began by simply writing a letter describing his thoughts about a way  to build an immediate response for a greater awareness of the need to work together for a more peaceful world.  He sent this letter out  to world leaders to see if he could obtain a reaction.  One of the first responses came from the Dalai Lama who loved the idea and wanted Jeremy to come and see him so he could learn more about this idea.

There is a TED talk video of Jeremy. (TED started in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from 3 worlds: TECHNOLOGY, ENTERTAINMENT and DESIGN.  TED conferences bring together many of the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers who are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less and these talks are available on line for free.)  This video of Jeremy talks about how the idea came about and some of the things that have been accomplished since the advent of “Peace One Day”.  To mention just a couple;   through Jeremy’s efforts he was able to sell his idea to The UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, the Dalai Lama,  Nelson Mandela and Oscar Arias to name just a few and the International Day of Peace (Sept 21) was adopted in 2001.

In 2012,  the International Day of Peace’s put forth an initiative called Global Truce Day 2012.  Among those who officially signed on as participants were numerous warring factions from around the world, particularly in the Middle East, Africa and also,  the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Violence in Afghanistan was down 70% on that day in 2012.  Additionally, because of the day’s observance, several hundred thousand Afghan children received the Polio vaccine.   

What I’m trying to say here is that a few people can make a difference and even when reality slaps us in the face and suggests otherwise, change can and does happen.

Even though Jesus spent his entire life living,  teaching and preaching how to accomplish a peaceful condition, he died a violent death and we’re still seeking solutions to attain that peaceful world he strove for.  The same can be said of Ghandi, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. and so very many others.  We know that violence begets violence yet it has some uncanny hold on far too many of us.

But at the same time, there are signs of hope.  A US invasion of Syria was recently averted because a conversation was allowed to continue about disposing of Syria’s chemical weapons and the current situation in Iran looks very (or at least guardedly) optomistic.  These hopeful signs came about because the lines of communication remained open.  As long as people are willing to talk (and by all means listen), violence can be avoided.

So  maybe, as we usher in Advent in this first week of the liturgical year, just maybe the message isn’t quite as bleak as the initial impression of our readings might have led us to believe. 

If we can keep focused on the journey and celebrate the message that we are community and that we have both the ability and the obligation  to serve not only our sisters and brothers,  but also to deliver Jesus’ message of peace and cooperation and hope to those who may not have heard (or not wanted to hear) it and by all means listen to their response, perhaps then we can begin to hope for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy:  “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation will not raise the sword against another, nor will they train for war again.”   

                                                                                 HAPPY NEW YEAR!

By Mike Caruso