Maybe you noted that in the news this week there was considerable flap about one of the stars of a TV Show “Two and a half men.” Angus T. Jones, apparently representing the ½ was shown in an interview saying some harsh things about the show, and begging fans and viewers not to watch the show, saying that “the show was filth.”
I have never seen the show. And in all candor, I have no plans to watch it any time in the near future. But in watching the news it became evident that Jones’ remarks stemmed from his nascent beginnings in a religious conversion experience. Now, that I found to be fascinating.
Especially insofar as we are surrounded today with these themes:
Advent, reminding us of the coming of the kingdom of Christ,
Those who are overexcited about the Mayan Calendar’s predictions about the end times,
And a general malaise of pessimism that seems to have infested many aspects of culture during the past few years.
And yet our lessons are not over laden with pessimism.
It might be worth noting that the first lesson, from Jeremiah, came from a time in history when there was little in which to rejoice, in which there was little hope. People in his day were very pessimistic about the future. What upset them were not the problems of our day—which are serious enough—where the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling are on a collision course—and where global warming is a serious threat as the permafrost melts. The hopeless of Jeremiah’s day had to do with the fact that people had seen the destruction of their nation. Not only had the nation been conquered, many of the foremost citizens had been deported, sold as slaves. There was little, if anything in which to rejoice. So, Jeremiah’s vision of a hopeful future must have fallen on totally deaf ears. Judah saved? Jerusalem live in safety? The reaction of the people would be simply, “not in our lifetimes.”
By contrast, we may wonder how it is that we might be surrounded by so much, and yet have a leanness in our souls, a dissatisfaction of spirit. A lack of happiness. Could it be that the scriptures and the season of advent have something to teach us after all? Could it be that in the midst of all the business and compulsiveness of our lives that we are still in need of learning something about waiting upon God?
Also in the news this week there was a story of a judge in Oklahoma who sentenced a young man to attend church for 10 years. Was that a harsh, cruel and unusual punishment? District Court Judge Mike Norman did not think so. The young man in question, Tyler Alred, age 17 pled guilty to underage drinking and involuntary manslaughter. A friend of his was killed in an accident in which Tyler was the driver. The judge’s rationale for the sentence was that jail does not really change lives for the better, but the grace of Jesus has a transforming effect on the lives of those who encounter the Gospel.
We have an example of that transforming nature of the Gospel in the second reading, the one from 1 Thessalonians. No external circumstance is responsible for the joy that Paul expresses. It is the joy of shared grace and vision of the love of God in Jesus Christ. And as we are in Christ, that is a vision that we also share with those early Thessalonians.
The operative, pivotal phrase in the Gospel is “be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down.” And I am sure that we picked up on the “not weighed down with drunkenness and dissipation,” but did we pay attention to the “not be weighed down by the worries of life” part. Advent challenges us who are weighed down with the worries of life to not let our anxiety draw us away from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Hope is a priceless commodity. It may be human nature that hope is always in short supply. It certainly was in Jeremiah’s time. But it is even more so in ours. Advent reminds us of the necessity of having hope. And, it reminds us that it takes courage to hope.