By Brian Niemiec
Over Thanksgiving weekend, I had far too much time on my hand, so I started to read the New York Times at my parents’ house. Bad idea. I ended up feeling rather depressed about the state of the world. War in the Middle East, Ferguson, MO, corruption in Iraq (and everywhere else), domestic violence, and the depressing articles went on and on.
As I was reading this bleak picture of humanity, I realized how easily this explains the indifferent and gloomy selfishness that pervades our society. There is an overwhelming amount of pain and suffering going on in the world today, and we are exposed to all of it thanks to instantaneous and comprehensive media and social networks. No wonder apathy reigns in American society, and events and issues that should move us to compassion often make us shrug our shoulders and bury our heads in our own little worlds.
Yet, my new-found interest in newspaper reading was in stark contrast to the Thanksgiving season and the readings from the first Sunday of Advent. We have heard for a number of weeks now about the coming again of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of all creation. These readings which are filled with hope for the future will continue to dominate the Sunday readings until we seamlessly transition from the second coming of Christ to the infancy narratives later on in the Advent season.
In the face of overwhelming pain and injustice seen in today’s world, these readings and this season remind us that the birth of Christ and the return of Christ are inseparably linked. At a time when Israel was under foreign rule, where kings and rulers oppressed and abused their subjects, and where those who were most vulnerable were left to fend for themselves, Christ entered the world and radically changed everything. In his first coming he destroyed evil and sin’s grasp on humanity and in his second coming the world will be fulfilled and God, who is peace and love, will be all in all. Now if that is not something to hope for, I don’t know what is.
I know, I know, most days it doesn’t feel like Jesus saved anything or anyone. People still sin, still fail to love, and still think more about themselves than anyone else. And yes, this post is very idealistic and probably more than a little naive. Yet Advent reminds us that we are on the journey to that future paradise, we have not yet arrived at the promise that was realized so long ago. What started at the incarnation is to be fulfilled in Jesus’ return. In the meantime, we are tasked with working toward that fulfillment. We are to be the love, compassion, and peace in the world. We are the ones who need to care about the least among us because we are the Body of Christ. At this time of year above all others – where the extraordinary seems to break a little bit more into the mundane of the ordinary – maybe what the world needs is more compassion born out of the hope that Christ will come again, and when Christ comes again, I’m willing to bet that the newspaper articles in paradise will be much different.