“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 (Nov. 28, this year) is the church’s New Year’s Day.
So then, why does the Gospel focus on “dismay” and “fright” instead of celebration? That certainly doesn’t sound like any way to begin a New Year! Well, perhaps, Luke is suggesting that we consider celebrating Christmas a little differently this year and use Advent more as an opportunity to prepare for Christmas than just a time for Christmas shopping. Looked at 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 fire and famine can certainly relate to that. “When will the Son of Man come?” The answer is: he’s already here.
Every time we turn on the news and see firefighters searching for survivors of devastating wildfires or rescue workers distributing food in war-torn countries, the Son of Man is present, if only we will open our eyes to see him. 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 who is present in our homes, our workplaces, our communities and our world.
This year, let’s celebrate Christmas a bit differently — right where we are. “Happy New Year!”
Van Benthem is a longtime pastoral minister in the Diocese of Green Bay.