First Published in Catholic New Times, November 28, 1999
I suggest, as we enter the season of Advent and hear a call of jubilee, that we might “go home by a different route” into the new millennium.
This new millennium and season of Advent are best expressed in the call of a year of Jubilee that begins on Christmas Eve 1999 and lasts until the feast of Epiphany, January 6, 2001. In Matthew’s gospel, used for the feast of the Epiphany, we read that the wise ones were told in a dream to “go home by another route” (Matt. 2:12). After all, when one encounters Jesus, the presence of God among us, one must go home by another route. Jubilee is the call to do life in another way than that of the “status quo” and that of “there is no alternative” to the way of the market. It is a call and vision of another way home.
Pope John Paul II, in his November 1994 encyclical, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, calls for a new beginning: “The social doctrine of the church that is rooted in the tradition of the jubilee Year is the new beginning.” The pope went on to say: “It has to be said that a commitment to justice and peace is a necessary condition for the preparation and celebration of the jubilee.”
Advent comes to Canadians in the fall season of our year. For Christians, fall invites the season of Advent – the beginning of the liturgical year for the community gathered in the name of Jesus. This year’s Advent is truly special because it brings with it a jubilee year.
Living at the end of an era has always influenced people’s thoughts about the past years of experience and hopes for the future. We live at a time in North America where we experience material comfort along with moral confusion. There is a pervasive feeling of aimlessness and anxiety for some, while others have lost trust in politics and ideologies, in the growing power of faceless corporations and structures. We live in a world where vast stores of information on every individual are kept on electronic records by unknown agencies for undisclosed purposes. We are able today to transform the very nature of life in a test tube and we see and experience on our Canadian streets the widening gap between the rich and the poor as the middle class shrinks. Many are spending their time with the management of distractions. And the 2(yh century has been called the Century of Progress.
Century of progress -century of mega-death
On the other hand, this century has – been called a Century of Mega-death. Never in the history of humanity have so many humans been killed at the hands of other -humans. One need only remember the First.World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, the partition of India, Stalin’s purges, Rwanda, to name but a few. The material progress and spiritual redemption offered by a Hitler, a Stalin, a Mao or Pol Pot ended in bankruptcy. There seems to be, in this century, a destructive potential built right into our very notion of progress and development.
Progress as perceived from our vantage point in the West has brought misery to millions and a destruction of our planet – Mother Earth. The World Health Organization reports that at the close of the 20” century over 800 million persons are half starving and lack proper sanitation, while 1.2 billion lack access to clean water. Progress is the status quo. This status quo at the close of the 20th century has done more harm than all the wars of this century combined.
Pope Paul VI in his encyclical, on the Development of Peoples, describes it well:
“Increased possession isnot the ultimate goal of nations nor of individuals. All growth (progress) is ambivalent. … Both for nations and for individual men (sic) avarice is the most evident form of underdevelopment.
If further development calls for the work of more and more technicians, even more necessary is the deep thought and reflection of wise men (sic) in search of a new humanism which will enable modern man (sic) to find himself (sic) anew by embracing the higher values of love and friendship, or prayer and contemplation.,”
This is the challenge of the coming millennium, the challenge of allowing ourselves to be witnesses to the possibility of a more loving and more awe-inspired world. This is what it ‘ means to believe in God as the possibility of possibility. The believers and the hope-filled ones have not caused the world the most pain; it has been the “realists.” The dreams of 1776, 1780, 1867 and 1968 are a hope-inspiring legacy. There is a way forward; there is a possible dream for a new millennium.
Christians living at the close of the 20th century and standing before a new millennium, can find hope and promise in the season of Advent as we hear and accept the invitation to realize the call of jubilee in our personal and public lives.
This century has profoundly challenged our belief in a loving, caring God. We need only think of the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda. In light of all that has gone on in this 20th century, I believe that it is still viable to hope for fundamental healing and transformation of our planet. We must stand, however, before the loving, healing mystery of God and first of all ask forgiveness as we greet new life and new hopes.
Advent a time of deep yearning
Advent is a time of deep and creative yearning (“God works for those who wait and yearn”). Many in the Christian community cry out: “God, you have hidden your face from us.” Many of us experience exile and know ourselves as orphans. I think of women and their deep yearning for full belonging. I think of the divorced and remarried who yearn for the sacraments. I think of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who yearn for simple acceptance. I think of the poor, the homeless, the hungry and those living on the streets of our cities, towns and neighbourhoods. Their profound yearning phrases the biblical question: “Are you the one who is to come or must we wait for someone else?”
The gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent invites us to “keep awake” and “keep alert for you do not know when the time will come.” In the mystery we call God, the time is always now, and because of the resurrection the Christ is always coming amongst us.
The early sisters and brothers of faith were not called Christians, but rather Followers of the Way – the Way of the rabbi Jesus. That Way was the Way of jubilee, as expressed in Leviticus 25 and lived further in Isaiah 61 and Luke 4. It is the call the Judeo-Christian heritage – a vision forming a cloud of witnesses, a will or an explosion of ,w freedom that, brick by brick, will level the walls of the “status quo” and “there is no alternative.” It is such as these who offer a vision of hope for a new millennium.
Advent calls all of us to enter ever deeper into our personal and collective yearnings and to see there new hopes and possibilities for “another way home.” May this season of Advent be truly a time of conversion and new dreams of hope.
Paul E. Hansen