Thoughts on the 4th Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, email@example.com
A central irony of Advent-Christmas is that with all the necessary plans, the set gatherings of family and friends, the detailed lists and preparations as well as the scheduled ceremonies, with all that, what is celebrated is the barely known and hardly recognized appearing in a time that is seemingly unexpected and in a space of a backwater village what is celebrated is the appearing of the Incarnate One.
Surprise! Here is the Word made flesh.
On this 4th Sunday of getting ready – applying now a bit of hindsight – we recognize that through it all, time is not our own, not in our individual lives and not in the life of the deep cosmos. This year, as so many others have in the past, has given lessons in this central irony all over again – time is not our own.
For Jean and me 2019 has drawn this home in a very particular way. I’m certain you will have experienced similar events and will think of them as I relate our experiences.
This year we lost Jean’s oldest sister and her husband within less than 6 months. After a long period of debilitating pain Jean’s sister started to feel better. In one of her last conversations with Jean she said, “I think I’m ready to travel again.” She suffered a stroke in mid-March and died three weeks later. When we were leaving California in July following her Memorial Service we talked with her husband, now widower. He said he thought he would get a dog to walk with around the block so he could visit with the neighbors. Within weeks he received the diagnosis of inoperable and untreatable cancer. He passed away less than two months later.
He just wanted a dog. Time is not our own. And because it’s not, it matters how we respond and act.
I’ve mentioned before my brother who, for the past year or so, with his wife has been living and struggling with multiple myeloma. This has involved stem cell replacement and has been a horrific time including a totally destroyed immune system. He has come through with what I guess can be categorized as remission. The last update we received from them was that he had good numbers.
On this question of what does one do with the realization that time is not one’s own recently my brother sent a message to family and friends. He said that he has met death and he is thankful.
What does one do when time is not one’s own?
This surprise of uncontrollable time in spiritual matters has been called the irruption of grace – irruption, not interruption. In medical usage irruption refers to things from within the body that break through the surface of the skin. In actuality, not a pretty sight.
In the spiritual life irruption can be that event of God’s surprise. All the planning in the world, all the controlling that we think we are in control of – these pale in comparison to divine irruption.
God’s surprises, of course, and happily so, do not only apply to death and tragedy and pain. Signs of life and happiness are also included here.
For example, things happen when we travel, perhaps they do for you as well. I call them our dumb luck experiences. They make trips memorable in a way that is better than any planned activity. Surely you have them too.
On our first trip to the west of Ireland we were driving through that ruggedly beauteous landscape of Connemara. Jean said what she wanted to see was a Connemara pony. Do you know Connemara ponies? They are the small horses who were bred to pull the carts through the peat bogs. Along with being especially skillful they are totally cute.
Well, we no sooner drive out of Galway into Connemara and go up a rise of the land and there in front of us was a Connemara pony waiting for Jean. In all our times returning to the West this has never happened again. The surprises that make life’s events memorable are irruptions of grace too, I think.
We heard in today’s Gospel passage the angel’s message to Joseph which stands for all those irruptions of grace. They are the opportunities we all have to be either annoyed by interruptions or rather to see these life events as the divine presence showing the way – irruptions of grace.
Now, in this realization, we see the further irony at work in this season of the untimely surprise. This irony is that these surprises, these irruptions of grace, can become a way of life.
Not so long ago I said that given the current state of our socio-political reality I was tired of being angry. Perhaps, you are too. I choose to search in the spiritual life for ways to acquire vision and hope without abandoning a citizen’s responsibility to work for common good, for justice and for peace.
In the past few days I have seen again the surprise of divine messengers, of people who make a way of life out of thankfulness for God’s surprises. I see this through the following contrast. On the one hand, think of how exhausting the past 3 years have become by leadership in this country that is vile, cruel, divisive, mean-spirited and claiming to be Christian yet denying ever having to pray for forgiveness.
On the other hand, there is Tony Reis!
Some of us went to the funeral service for Tony on Friday. Tony and Jean, his wife, are among the original members of this community. Though anonymous at the time, Tony and Jean donated the funds to purchase our first sound system. Many more people than I are aware of all that Tony did in his life to accept the irruptions of grace to do good. It is clear that he was one who turned those surprises into a way of life. As the homilist said truly on Friday, Tony was a faithful and a generous man.
When the choice is either exhaustion from divisiveness or the uplifting and energizing way of life of faithfulness and generosity – it will be no surprise what way to go!
A Prayer (JR)
Giving and receiving, we are Christ.
Loving and caring, we are Christ.
Dying and rising, we are Christ.
Emmanuel, we are the stream that brings life to the desert.
Glory and praise in our hearts and in all creation.