During the season of Advent we deepen our sense of God as King of the Universe and Lord of History. This double focus begins with belief in the God who uses all the currents of human history to further his plans for the ultimate salvation of the whole world. Not only deeds (and misdeeds) of nations, but even the patterns of the contemporary thought of every age are woven into God’s plans for the world.
Material creation also becomes a recipient of the transforming glory which is manifest when God arrives on the scene, either covertly or ultimately in majestic glory, as Judge and Savior of the world. The poetic imagery of Isaiah 35 invariably feels, at least to me, like a Walt Disney cartoon … with deserts laughing, flowers singing, lame people dancing, fountains bubbling up whenever and wherever a thirsty person might be standing, and a big carpet rolled out across the desert for “people with a journey to make.”
Lent, of course, has a very different focus each year, namely repentance for sin and the renewal of the church as the Body of Christ. Lent is the immersion of the whole community into the Paschal mystery. Individuals renew their lives and the entire church comes alive in a new way. As I often point out, the ashes signal a personal promise to belong to a Christian community which will be different by Easter. We often tend to make Lent only individual, but that season should also be profoundly social and communitarian. Lent is about the whole church.
Similarly Advent has a community focus too, but I would suggest that its scope is more universal. All the nations of the world are drawn into the arena of God’s attention and care. We dream of the Kingdom of God … or the Kingdom of “Heaven” as Matthew’s Gospel calls it out of the ancient Jewish respect for God’s name … and we imagine the final conclusion of God’s plans for all people as well as for the material world within which we live, love and work.
Those reflections are a backdrop for the primary point of this column, namely the Advent obligation to take a closer look at the culture within which we exist at this time in history. Pope John Paul II often spoke of the evangelization of culture.
American and Western European culture, for example, has been described as one flawed by excessive radical individualism. To recognize the unique individual dignity of every person is a grace, but when that individual focus stands without the balance of care for the common good, or slides into a self-preoccupied sense of personal entitlement without responsibilities, our world is infected with a serious if not fatal disease. Western individualism needs to be evangelized … and quickly, lest we destroy ourselves!
In another area under potential Advent scrutiny, we might add that the contemporary culture which we call “post modern” is characterized by a forgetfulness of history. The digital clocks which only flash the current hour and minute become a sad reminder of a society without memory. Anything “before” or “after” is removed from sight. Today’s criteria are casually retrojected into the past and the earlier age is judged and dismissed. A fully Catholic mindset, however, which cherishes God’s work throughout human history and which respects the development of doctrine over the centuries, must be conscious of the unfolding history of all human thought and movement. Our memory must be evangelized, too!
During this holy season of Advent, the morning paper’s headlines and the blaring “breaking news” of early morning TV needs to be scrutinized in order to see what is true, to see what is flawed about the news, and what still needs to be permeated by the Good News of God’s final victory over all sin and evil. Marana Tha … Come, Lord Jesus!