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Meditation for the First Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:37-44

As I sit to finish this Advent meditation, on the street just outside my window, a gang war rages. In the past few days, two houses have been torched by molotov cocktails, there have been two car shootings, one drive by shooting, and a policeman has been wounded. The night before Thanksgiving, the house next door to me burned due to a slumlord's indifference. The electricity had been giving the tenants problems for three months, but appeals for repairs were not answered. Five adults and ten children lived in that three bedroom house. Very early this morning there were shots in the street right in front of my house.

In such a situation, Isaiah's words seem almost surrealistic. But I can think of several places in this world where swords need to be made over into plowshares. From Iraq to Palestine, Central Africa to the Phillippines and on to Oakley Street in Kansas City, the ugly curse of violence and hate brings death and destruction. The US is murdering the poor of Iraq with utter abandon, and few Americans seem to be bothered even a little bit about our murderous foreign policy. In Washington, we slash means-tested social programs while handing out extra billions to corrupt corporations that are laying off employees, exporting jobs, and exploiting the poor to fatten their quarterly dividends. How can this situation ever be changed?

Paul faced a similar dilemma when he wrote to the Church in Rome. In today's second reading, Paul expresses his hope for and belief in an early "parousia", or coming of the Lord Jesus. We still await this event, and truly no one knows the hour or the day. But I often think -- especially when I hear the gunfire -- "Even so, come Lord Jesus", and the advice that Paul gives us is as good for our situation today as it was 2,000 years ago when he wrote his letter.

The Church was surrounded then -- and now -- by a great, powerful, and cruel military empire. The power of Babylon always seems strong and invincible, but it remains founded upon the culture of death, beautiful on the outside, but rotten and full of decay within. What does Paul tell us to do? Give up in despair? Eat drink and be merry because who knows what tomorrow may bring? Lose ourselves in lust and instant gratification? Surrender to the evil about us? Not likely. He calls us -- as the Church calls us today -- to reject the culture of death and embrace the culture of life. When the bullets are flying, that is a time for us to plant flowers -- seeds and signs of hope for better times.

Matthew's Gospel gives us advice regarding this prudent watchfulness. Stay awake, Jesus says. Nobody knows the day or the hour of the coming of our Lord. Think of this when it seems that the power of the culture of death is so strong that it cannot be resisted. Within its imperial pride and arrogance lies the seeds of its own demise, for those who embrace the culture of death are asleep when they should be awake. They turn away from the signs of the times. They do not see the warnings that blow in the wind. They are deaf to the cry of the widow and orphan for justice. They sow daily in the furrows of injustice, and expect that somehow, they will not reap the inevitable bitter harvest. They frantically re-arrange the deck chairs on their imperial Titanic, and ignore the resources that could become lifeboats to save everybody on board the ship.

Let us remember all those -- such as Archbishop Oscar Romero -- who stand against this madness and work instead for peace, truth, and justice. They -- we -- are the co-creators with God of a culture of love and life, the reign of God on the earth. Let us wait with patient watchfulness, bearing one another's burdens, lifting each other up in prayer, living justly and in solidarity with all human beings. Let us be prudently engaged in God's work of healing and reconciliation. Then we can joyfully sing with today's Psalm,

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May those who love you prosper! May peace be within your walls!

Robert Waldrop, Justpeace webservant

First Sunday of Advent, AD 1998

Oakley Street, Kansas City, Missouri