Sunday, December 6, 2015

2nd Sunday of Advent

Readings: Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6

They killed without mercy in San Bernardino.
They killed without mercy
fourteen coworkers and acquaintances,
alongside whom they had previously
lived their lives in peace.
They killed without mercy,
seemingly in the name of God,
the God whom the Qur’an invokes
at the outset of every chapter
as “the Compassionate, the Merciful.”

He, too, killed without mercy in Colorado Springs.
He killed without mercy or discrimination
three people who happened to fall
within the sights of his weapon.
He killed without mercy,
seemingly in the name of God,
the God whom he was convinced
would mercifully cover his sins,
no matter what he did.

Some of us reacted
by taking to Facebook and Twitter,
posting and tweeting
our “thoughts and prayers” for the victims;
others of us rebuked these sentiments,
saying that thoughts and prayers are not enough,
that concrete action must be taken
to end such violence.
Many of us simply felt
immense perplexity and sadness.
We huddled,
wrapped in our robe of mourning and misery:
wanting to pray,
but not knowing what to say;
wanting to act,
but not knowing what to do;
wanting maybe simply
to hide and hope it all would go away.

I am not without sympathy
for The New York Daily News,
which responded to the politicians
who sent out their “thoughts and prayers”
with a headline that read
“God isn’t fixing this.”
I’m sympathetic because I too grow tired
of politicians and pundits
who turn prayer into a placeholder
for prudent action infinitely delayed.
I too sense with weary irony
the ambiguities of praying to God
for those who have been killed in the name of God,
by those who probably also prayed to God
before embarking on their merciless missions.

But even my weariness and my cynicism
cannot keep me from calling out,
“Lord, have mercy.”
Aware of the ambiguity and abuse
that sometimes accompanies
talk of thoughts and prayers
I still cannot suppress the primal cry
that wells up
from the depth of my heart:
“Lord Jesus, have mercy on us.”
We should never be ashamed to pray
in response to the horrors of the world,
to beg that God would have mercy on this human race,
a people that has,
as St. Catherine of Siena put it,
“declared war on [God’s] mercy
and become [God’s] enemies” (Dialogue ch. 13).

Yes, we must act to try to curb
the merciless violence
that afflicts our nation and our world,
but we must also recognize
that this violence has roots
deep within our human nature,
a nature that has been devastated by sin.
There are things we can and should fix,
but there are also things wrong with us
that only God can fix.
The large-scale acts of war against God’s mercy
that we witness in California or Colorado
grow from seeds of destruction
that we all have in our hearts:
seeds of resentment and pride,
seeds of spite and selfishness,
seeds of indifference and malice.
I, too, am at war with God’s mercy;
I, too, am a merciless combatant
in sin’s war against goodness.
Perhaps we should not expect God
to fix those situations
that call for the exercise of human wisdom
and political prudence,
but surely I must beg God to fix my warring heart.
Confronted with the darkness around and within me,
I am not ashamed to call out:
Come, God of mercy,
come and bring us back
from the darkness of our exile,
come and take from us
the robe of mourning and misery.

And so we gather together on this day
as God’s people ,
seeking God’s mercy.
And we hear in our Gospel
the voice of John the Baptist,
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths….
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
We hear the voice of the prophet Baruch,
“take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever....
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.”
In this season of Advent,
we light our candles of hope,
visible signs of our prayer that God’s mercy
would bring peace to our hearts and to our world.
We light our candles of hope
because we believe that God has come to us,
that in the life, death, and rising of Jesus
God has, as St. Catherine of Siena wrote,
“[given] this warring human race a way to reconciliation,
bringing great peace out of our war” (Dialogue ch. 13).
Yes, we must act to restrain
the violence that grows
from our war against God’s mercy.
But we must also pray for that mercy,
because in the end
it is only God’s mercy
that will disarm our hearts.
In the face of merciless killings
done in the name of a merciful God,
we light our candles of hope
as a sign of our prayer
that God the Compassionate,
the Merciful,
will one day reign victorious
and that we will find ourselves,
joyfully defeated,
prisoners of war
who have surrendered to mercy.