“Happy New Year!”
But today is just the First Sunday of Advent. Isn’t it a little early to wish someone a “Happy New Year?” Well, not really. Liturgically speaking, the First Sunday of Advent (Dec. 2 this year) is the church’s New Year’s Day. So then why does the Gospel focus on “dismay” and “fright” instead of on celebration? That certainly doesn’t sound like any way to begin a new year. Well, perhaps Luke is suggesting that we think about preparing to celebrate Christmas a little differently this year and use Advent more as an opportunity to prepare for Christmas than just a time for Christmas shopping. Look at it from that angle. Luke seems to be reminding us that before we can celebrate we must first overcome dismay and fright.
“I feel like a new man.” “It’s like I have a new lease on life.” You might expect to hear this from someone who has joined a 12-step group, been welcomed into a warming shelter or realized the dream of owning his or her own home through the generosity of Habitat for Humanity. But when we listen differently we find that it’s the person who works at the shelter who is speaking and it’s the person who works for Habitat for Humanity who has found a new lease on life.
Luke describes the signs that will precede the coming of the Son of Man. “The powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Victims of recent wildfires can certainly relate to that. “When will the Son of Man come?” The answer is, he is already here. Every time we turn on the news and see firefighters and rescue workers searching through burned ruins in California the Son of Man is present, if only we open our eyes. We don’t have to work in a shelter or for Habitat for Humanity, we only have to see things differently and be “vigilant” for opportunities to recognize Christ present in our homes, our workplaces and our communities.
This year, let’s celebrate Christmas a bit differently — right where we are. “Happy New Year!”
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.